Eyebrows and Facial Recognition
Through the ages, trends in women’s hairstyle and grooming have changed drastically. Often, these changes are associated with other fluctuations of the era. A study published in 2003 by Izzat Jarudi and Javid Sadrs in Perception, a scientific journal specialising in the psychology of vision and perception, suggests that eyebrows play an important part in facial recognition. While this study may provide further insight into the development of artificial facial-recognition systems, it can also potentially provide better understanding as to why the eyebrows have become so important in women’s beauty standards.
The study consisted of a test in which a group of people were shown 25 snapshots of celebrities without eyebrows, and then another 25 images of celebrities without eyes. The participants in the study correctly identified 56% of the celebrities without eyes, but only 46% of the ones without eyebrows. The study concludes that eyebrows play a bigger role in recognizing faces than eyes.
Eyebrow Trends Through the Years
By taking a look at different eyebrow trends through the decades, some patterns about will emerge that the study in Perception could shed some light on. Starting in the 1920s, women wore very thin, dramatically shaped eyebrows, either with long, curved tails or with exaggerated arches. The 1930s retained the thinness of the previous decade, but incorporated rounded upward bends as well as straight lines that only dipped down on the very edge. In the 1940s, arches were generally shaped less severely and thinly. By the 1950s, women wore brows a little thicker than the previous decade, with a more sharply angled arch and a shorter tail. Elizabeth Taylor, an icon in the film industry, applied matte pigment to darken her heavy brows even more. In the 1960s, Audrey Hepburn popularized the practice of filling in the brow to achieve a thicker look. Also in this era, English model and actress Twiggy wore her brows thin and arched, recalling the trend of the 20s. By the 1970s, eyebrows were once again thinned out and shaped into arches and bends. However, the thick brow trend made a comeback in the 1980s thanks in part to celebrities like Brooke Shields and Madonna. The 90s resurrected the pencil-thin shaped brows, which slowly grew out in the early 2000s.
In the last ten years, lips microbalding have returned to favor once more, re-popularized by celebrities like Cara Delevingne, Kylie Jenner, and Emma Watson. The thick eyebrow trend has had several iterations in past century. And each return has been associated with an iconic figure of the era, like Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, and Brooke Shields. This suggests a relationship between the thickness of the eyebrows and the memorableness of the face.
The Empowerment of Thick Brows
According to one of the study’s co-authors, Jarudi, thicker brows stand out because they resemble a more masculine shape. The result of thicker brows on women is a distinctive, attention-grabbing effect. Stars like Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey Hepburn are remembered for the intensity of their expression, accentuated further by their thick eyebrows. Similarly, Cara Delevingne frequently makes headlines for her bold brows.
The stand-out quality of thick brows on women can be useful in situations which require women to make an impression, such as meeting someone for the first time, being considered for a job promotion, modeling during a photo shoot, etc. Co-author Sadr goes as far as to compare the thick brow movement of today to the popularization of shoulder pads on women’s suits in the 1980s–both trends were statements of female empowerment through the use of masculinizing features.