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The Brow, Beaten

Going to a professional 'shaper' to tame those unruly eyebrows--for a '40s movie-star look--is all the rage. Of course, you can do the plucking yourself, but the pampering is part of the process.


I have heard the tale of the vanishing eyebrows so many times that I believe it qualifies as an urban myth. A young woman, the story goes, inexperienced with the intricacies of female grooming, over-plucks her eyebrows and the extracted hairs never grow back! For the rest of her life, she must draw on faux brows, forced to cosmetically compensate for her youthful mistake.

The story was supposed to be a warning, I guess, for girls bent on self-improvement who sometimes become overzealous. I never believed it, mostly because it didn't happen to me. I plucked my plentiful brows as a teenager, all through college, (often when the argument could be made that my time would have been better spent studying), and throughout the years that followed. My eyebrows always grew back.

I have my father's eyebrows. They look better on me than on him, if I say so myself, but only thanks to daily tending. Each morning, I simply take tweezer in hand and remove any unwanted growth my triple magnifying mirror reveals. I'd always been satisfied with the result, until eyebrow shapers began establishing themselves as personal advisors whose attentions you couldn't leave home without.

One hears the complaint that women are secretive and competitive, but that isn't always the case. My friends instantly share news of a just-discovered facialist, the most talented applier of silk-wrapped nails, the doctor who delivers practically painless doses of Botox. Several years ago, this beauty underground began humming with the names of brow shapers.

Did I really want to add another name to my team of groomers? A professional regularly polishes my fingernails and toes. A facialist, a waxer, a haircutter and a colorist all hold honored places in my phone book. My personal maintenance is costly enough without adding an eyebrow expert. If the list of appointments I need to keep before leaving town gets any longer, I might never get away. And what would I do between visits to the eyebrow lady--part my brows in the center in order to see?

Now here is a cautionary grooming tale that is absolutely true: A Frenchwoman I know spent her early 20s in exotic locales like Cambodia and the Ivory Coast. In each colonial outpost, servants were inexpensive, so she never learned to iron clothes or to wash and style her hair. Even after moving back to France, she remained dependent on others to smooth a wrinkled skirt or arrange her coiffure. The moral here? Choosing to be pampered is one thing, but being just plain incompetent is another. And if you can do something yourself, why pay someone else to do it, unless you're bucking for the title of princess? Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Robyn Cosio, a makeup artist and one of the eyebrow-shaping elite, maintains that princesshood is beside the point. She can do a better job on your brows than you, because she sees your face in a way that you can't. "I see both your eyes at once and both eyebrows, which lets me create a balanced look. I can really see you the way the world sees you. You can only see one side of your face at a time."

Cosio's written a book, aptly titled, "The Eyebrow," (Regan Books; $30). In addition to tips on how an amateur can best create beautiful brows, the book traces the evolution of the eyebrow from ancient Egypt to the present. "Eyebrows used to be the most neglected part of the face," she said. "Now, they're the focus."

The book is filled with photographs of many famous faces. Think well-groomed brows won't change your appearance? Compare Julia Roberts as a young, furry-browed starlet with her sleek look now. The color, size and shape of Madonna's brows varied each time she reinvented her style.

Some women come to Cosio's Melrose Place salon, the Bungalow, clutching pictures of famous brows they'd like to see on their own faces. Cindy Crawford and Gina Gershon are favorites (Gershon is a client). "I say to women, 'How do you expect to look like this? You have four hairs in each eyebrow, and this is a woman with a full brow.' I tell women not to copy anyone. Have your own look. There isn't any trend in eyebrows. What looks best is completely individual."

The biggest influence on today's most admired eyebrows is the style popularized by actresses of the 1940s (think Lana Turner, Lauren Bacall). It's a glamorous look with a definite arch that such beauties as Ashley Judd and Halle Berry have adapted in a modern way.

Cosio works with surgical swiftness, taking five minutes to shape a brow with wax, before fine-tuning with tweezers. In L.A., she sees 35 clients a day, and charges $50 for shaping. Once a month, she holds court at the Peter Coppola Salon in New York.

Some women depend on Cosio to create the right brow shape, then handle the upkeep themselves. Those whose brows grow in heavily take charge of keeping the area between their brows pristine, but return every three to four weeks to let Cosio maintain the ideal brow shape. "They become addicted," she said. "They become slaves to the process because they look so good."

Cosio confirms that the vanishing eyebrow story is based in fact, but can't explain why it happens to some and not others. A dark-haired woman with voluptuous features, she has, not surprisingly, beautiful brows. She took one look at mine and said, "You need help."

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