About a year ago, I went on my first cruise. Having grown up with such true-to-life shows as The Love Boat, I decided that a trip to the beauty parlor was in order. After all, one must look fabulous if one is going to Bermuda, right? A new do, maybe a little makeup, and I’d be a fountain of unstoppable glam.
I'd never been to this particular beauty parlor before, but the girl behind the counter was poised, gorgeous, friendly, and offered me tea, which is the fourth quickest way to my heart (after books, chocolate, and Star Trek memorabilia).
The hairdresser, let’s call him Charles, was effusive and welcoming. He took me into the back room to wash my hair. I settled into the chair, ready for the magic to unfold, and looked up to see Charles with his hands on his hips.
“Those eyebrows!” he said (referring to my own). “We have got to do something about them."
"They’re the wrong color. Eyebrows are supposed to be only a shade or two darker than your hair. Your hair is light brown, those brows are black. They need to be bleached.”
I had a sudden vision of myself coming out of the spa with brown hair and blonde brows. Nevertheless, I agreed. He applied some all natural herbal bleach that burned a little as he washed, cut, and styled my hair. Then he took out the tweezers.
“I’m going to shape your brows,” he said.
“Have at them,” I invited, feeling adventurous.
Charles turned me away from the mirror so that I would be surprised by the transformation and began plucking with great energy.
Pluck, pluck, pluck.
“You, see,” he said, conversationally, “as women get older, their estrogen levels lowers.”
“Um, they do?” I asked, not liking where this was going. The glam-fountain was running a little weak.
Pluck, pluck, pluck.
“Oh, yes. And when it does, their testosterone levels rise and that’s when you end up with this thick, dark, abundance of hair.”
So not only was I getting old, but I was turning into a man. Terrific. “You don’t say.”
“Yes. If you want to look more attractive, younger, you want a soft look, light, delicate. That’s why we lightened them. I’m going to shape your eyebrows to your face and eyes because right now they’re entirely the wrong shape and much too big.”
“Yes, see.” He stopped, turned me to the mirror, and pointed. “They overshadow your face. Your eyes are small, close together, and set back too far. We’re going to open them up and lighten up those dark circles under your eyes, too.”
Never before had my appearance been so ransacked with such an economy of words. I went from feeling like a Disney princess to ‘stashless (although apparently I only had to wait for age to provide) Snidely Whiplash in the space of five sentences. As a writer, I could learn a thing or two from Charles.
At this point, I’d been in the parlor breathing in hair product fumes for two hours. I’d passed the point of worrying about my appearance and had reached a stage of scientific curiosity: what was I going to look like when Charles was done? He plucked and plucked. I wondered whether I’d have any brows left.
Finally, Charles handed me a mirror. “The new you. What do you think?”
It was startling. He had shaped away the 1940sish arch and given me two dashes, like a flapper. It’s cute if you’re Carey Mulligan, but I have neither her round face nor (according to Charles) her large, limpid eyes. Even so, the shape wasn’t so bad – it was the color.
“My eyebrows are red,” I pointed out.
“It go better with your hair color. See how the lighter look opens up your face?”
It opened up my forehead all right; there were acres of it. The vastness only seemed to emphasis my beady little eyes.
“Fabulous!” said the loyal girl behind the counter.
I felt a nearly irresistible urge to laugh. Somehow, I managed to keep it together, give out the proper compliments, and left with my dignity intact.
For weeks afterward, it surprised me to see red when I looked in the mirror. Every time I met someone new, I had to squash the urge to point to my eyebrows, apologize, and say, “This isn’t my natural color. Please don’t run.”
Thankfully, eyebrows grow quickly. My black brows are back, but better trimmed. I am not ready to surrender to my surging testosterone levels quite yet.