What eyebrow makeup, visiting home, & the ocean have in common
This post is a little more ramble-y & less polished than recent ones. Stepping away from social media for a bit, there's less pressure to share my "best" writing here.
When I don't wear eyebrow makeup, I almost don’t recognize myself.
At some point in my early 20s, I discovered how an eyebrow pencil could transform my eyebrows from light & shapeless to dark & defined, balancing the other features of my face. Something about that balance felt key to greater confidence.
There's this meme about Asian girls with makeup vs. without makeup: the same emoji, except the one with makeup has eyebrows. To some extent, it's true — very thin, light eyebrows are a common feature among women of East or Southeast Asian descent. It's a feature that mainstream representations of beauty don't exactly celebrate.
Bombarded with these representations, many of us grow up idealizing dark eyebrows as an elusive prerequisite to beauty. We equate the natural density of our eyebrows with "less beautiful," therefore "less worthy of being seen."
To feel worthy of being seen, we reach for that eyebrow pencil.
Of course, it isn't wrong to derive satisfaction from darkening & adding shape to my eyebrows. As someone who used to resent the label "soft-spoken," doing my eyebrows made me feel more assertive. I've associated darker, "stronger" eyebrows with a stronger presence.
On days when I struggle more with body image, doing my eyebrows helps generate confidence to get through the day.
But while this is the case, I also want it to be the case that I can see myself & be seen with my eyebrows as they naturally are, without feeling less like myself — to work towards a relationship with my body that doesn’t cling to something external in order to be enough.
This past week, I had the gift of traveling to my hometown & spending precious time with family. As a friend put it, going home can be like seeing all these pieces that form a person-shaped hole of who you used to be.
For me, going home is also a reminder of how it feels to be cooked for & cared for.
Going home, I catch glimpses of my nieces & nephew growing up. They remind me of the early childhood I've forgotten — the petty arguments & tantrums that demanded almost heroic levels of virtue, the moments soaked with intimacy & effervescence.
For a few days, going home whisks me into this idyllic space of safety, comfort, contentment.
Surrounded by those who’ve known me since I was born, going home is like setting down the pieces of everything I have labored to become — pausing in the act of construction, the performance of who I want to be. For once, there's no urge to impress.
Going home is like seeing myself without eyebrow makeup — jarring at first. But over time, I identify less with an external concept of how I should look, or who I should be. Slowly, I sink roots into who I've always been.
Ever since I left California, seeing the ocean became almost a necessity when I visit.
My family teases me for it — not only do I have to see the ocean, but I have to wade into it, no matter how cold the water. Each time, without fail, a wave catches me off-guard & drenches me from the waist down.
This time around, we visited a beach in Guadalupe near Santa Barbara.
At one point, walking further along the shore than my family, I turned around. Within seconds, the waves erased my footprints, swallowing any evidence I'd been there.
You can imagine my headspace in that moment: after an hour of ocean waves filling my ears, that crisp breeze washing my face & piercing my clothes, legs tingling as drops of seawater evaporated from my skin.
Bear with me, but I think this is the heart of why I sometimes go without eyebrow makeup, even though it makes me cringe; why I visit home, no matter how humbling; or why I wade into the ocean, even when it's freezing cold.
Each of these things connects me to an element of what feels inseparable from being alive. Something to do with bareness bordering on, if not interlaced with, discomfort. Something to do with lightness of heart — so light that when a wave rolls across the sand in its wake, you'd never know it was there. A sense of abandonment to ephemerality.
All of this, as opposed to the heaviness of presence I've associated with darker eyebrows. Within light eyebrows, there is a suggestion of levity. Of not carrying too much, not holding on to too much. Of bearing, instead, an expansiveness towards everything else that might be.