Your Eyebrow Obsession Might Be Tied to Feminism

November 5th 2015

Laura Donovan

Actress Cara Delevingne is known for her artistic talents, but she is also well-known for her distinct eyebrows, which even have their own Twitter account. She and "Game of Thrones" star Emilia Clarke, who also has thick brows, went viral earlier this year for having an "eyebrow-off" contest on "The Graham Norton Show."

It might seem odd that the "eyebrow-off" clip garnered more than a million views and prompted dozens of articles, but societal obsession with thick female eyebrows is a real thing, and it might be tied to feminism. A 2003 study in the journal Perception found that women with thicker eyebrows stand out from the crowd and hold our attention because females tend to embrace the thinner eyebrow look. Thicker eyebrows, therefore, indicate a woman is veering from societal norms and aligning herself with a more traditionally masculine look, according to the findings.

Waxing and threading services, after all, make up a significant portion of the beauty industry, and many women pay lots of money to style and clean up their eyebrows. A 2014 Cosmo UK and QVC study found that British women spend $3.6 million on their eyebrows annually.

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Thick eyebrows on women stand out.

“I don’t think you’ll find any models going for the Frida Kahlo unibrow,” Jean Carruthers, a clinical professor of ophthalmology at the University of British Columbia who was not involved with the study, told Yahoo Health. "But just a little bit thicker [than the female norm], just a little bit less arch — that’s definitely going to get you attention.”

Cara Delevingne

Javid Sadr, who worked on the Perception study with other researchers, told Yahoo Health that the process of waxing, tweezing, and shaping one's eyebrows to look thinner enhances gender differences between men and women. This makes a woman appear more feminine.

In this scenario, Sadr said "the eyebrows become a much stronger signal of a person’s gender."

Eyebrows shape our perceptions of others.

Sadr said the study also reveals that eyebrows determine how we perceive people.

“If the eyebrows aren’t there, it really messes up the way the visual system is designed to find and process faces,” Sadr said.

So while women like Delevingne and Clarke are rewarded for their unique eyebrows, females with thin or no eyebrows can sometimes experience shaming. Earlier this year, "The Bachelor" contestant Carly Waddell was famously mocked on social media for having thin eyebrows:

Even when her brows appeared thicker in a later Instagram post, she was mocked by those who felt it was about time she fixed her appearance:


A photo posted by Carly Waddell (@carlywad) on

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