Brows

I want to pluck my eyebrows badly right now and I can’t.  It’s too dark anyway, and I don’t have tweezers, but even though I can’t see all those stray hairs clearly, I know they are there. I spotted them on the last hopeful but unproductive bathroom visit before the long drive to LAX, and I wanted to get my tweezers out of my luggage and pluck them then and there but there wasn’t time. I thought about the stray hairs on the drive to the airport and now I am on the plane and I am still thinking about them.

These are the times I know I am OCD but there’s nothing I can do but acknowledge this frailty and just suffer. Could I go into the tiny airplane toilet now and try to pull the offending hairs out by the root with my bare hands? Probably not. I don’t even have fingernails, cut to the quick earlier this week in anticipation of holiday jam sessions, loosely planned easy days where my guitarist friends come over and marvel at my tremendous collection of 6 and 12 strings.

I don’t think I can grab at the hairs with my fingers, especially with the newly re-formed calluses from all the feverish playing between Christmas and New Years. My hands are not tight enough and the hairs are too fine, after being plucked diligently for more than two decades. My shiny Asian hair is slippery and defies the grip of even the most needlenosed of my Shu Uemuras.

The girl who showed me how to pluck my eyebrows was the girlfriend of a guy I know well. They had a tumultuous relationship that tortured him and cost him many friends who hated watching him wither under her gaze. It is strange and something that afflicts the young more than the old, groups of friends that shatter under the weight of a new relationship, opinions about him or her becoming the concern of the whole rather than the individual. There is the splitting and the taking of sides and possibly attempts to reconcile, which never quite works, the initial break too traumatic to recover from, the cracks irreparable underneath the facades of certain kinds of friendships. When we age this happens less, friends being harder to come by. The machinations of life kicking us all into higher gears, it is a pleasure to downshift with those you know you love and can go slow with.

Fashions have changed and browstyles have come and gone but I still use her technique, plucking all the hairs in the direction of their growth. Her initial pattern remains the one I adhere to. I haven’t plucked them more or less from the shape she first created, in the exact image of hers, looking each like adam’s rib, delineating the space between my eyes and my forehead. It’s like she did it yesterday, or actually the day before yesterday because now they are growing in and driving me crazy.

She was slightly older than me and I remember she held herself in a great importance, which was one of the reasons why my friend loved her so, and also why she infuriated his friends. She was always frustrated and sighing over some insult. Every day brought forth a new calamity. She made an art of her dissatisfaction because she wholeheartedly believed she deserved better, whatever better meant. She sighed at my eyebrows and she sighed as she plucked them. She didn’t ask permission to do so but I didn’t need her to. I desperately wanted her attention because it seemed incredibly valuable and much more than I could afford. She worked on my brows and her steady exhale into my face made me shake visibly but of course I hid this as best I could.

When she was done I was shocked at how different I looked and also how glamorous and pampered I felt. She made a gift of her $20 tweezers and my heart leapt out of my chest. She gave me a tight smile that showed both her indifference and her kindness. “They look good. Pluck them every day.” and I did. And I have.

It took many years for my friend to finally break up with her but she and I never hung out again. He brought her up in conversation recently and I could feel the love he still felt for her freeze the air around us for a moment until it was warmed over by a joyous interruption from his young son.

I tried to keep my eyebrows the same way, and probably will until they turn grey and are framed by wrinkles. All these years have not changed them. They are a symbol of my youth but also my coming of age. They remind me of the moment I knew that I was queer and loved women as easily as I loved men if not more.

13 Comments. Add To The Mix…

  1. wasn’t going to write, but i have to say that i have known and loved your work for years — from living in new york (the frolicking 90′s, pre-bottle service + bryant park schwag lip service) going forward. being on the road and in the streets after being displaced from my tribeca flat on september 11, 2001, i embraced your concern for many things which you addressed from a socio-cultural viewpoint that were challenging this country and world in an age of hyper-consumption and technical hyper-distraction, but i have to say that you personal expository with which you are playing and exploring at present is equally if not more enjoyable. also, years ago, i am sorry that i missed your burlesque as i’d been looking for the party in silver lake but the weight (if not the wait) from my heavy backpack — which also walked across the country with me — took it’s toll and i gave up on finding the mexican cantina where all of you were frolicking about 6 years ago. yes, relationships are a challenge and hopefully they are more up front than the curricula of today that showcases psychosexual and chauvinist interplay. culture shock doesn’t help. keep on rockin’ your beautiful self and i enjoy the luna(r)cy of a new year and hopefully a brighter era. yes, reconciliation and forgiveness are important but our current culture doesn’t really embrace that because so much is disposable and we have drones to kill everything.

  2. You would be the coolest girlfriend in the world! Damn, all the good ones always taken..Can I name my band after you? Kat Russell and The Chos! hee hee carry on….

  3. Very interesting. I too, am OCD about a number of things. I don’t feel secure until I do that particular thing at that particular time. I can understand why this plucking of your brows is so important. The look of your eyebrows was a gift given to you by someone you admired. The unspoken understanding was that you were supposed to keep them plucked, always!!! no matter what. Those brows are a part of what defines you, at least appearance wise. I have an obsession with keeping my head as close to bald as I can without using a straight razor. It fits my image of myself, and once my hair turned grey, then white, I didn’t want it on my head any longer. I feel so much better after all that hair is cut off!, and younger. I also wore an old black motorcycle jacket (even though I never rode a bike). I wore it till it was literally falling apart. Another OCD, having to do with a symbol of my identity. Thanks for another well written look into the mind of Margaret Cho.

  4. thanks so much everyone for commenting! you are all so awesome!! and russell – your writing is great too! i really enjoy reading your writing and you are incredibly supportive and also amazing with your detail and descriptions. xoxoxo m

  5. First, the eyebrow thing: I didn’t even pluck my eyebrows until I was 33 (long story involving religion, a douchy husband, and various other neuroses-causing circumstances). But now not a day goes by that I don’t run my fingers across the bottom edge of them, or pull out the magnifying mirror (usually a few times in a day) to check and make sure they didn’t start taking over my eyelids while I wasn’t paying attention. I have one rogue follicle that produces a hair that feels like I have a little piece of super-strength fishing line growing out of my face and about every other day I feel it…usually when I am nowhere near a pair of tweezers, and it then consumes my thoughts until I can get to my tweezers. It happened today in my Art History class (where we were discussing Ancient Egyptian Art, which made it worse because the Egyptians were not big fans of any sort of body hair, which made me obsess even more…).

    So anyway, I thought I was the only one. Thank you for writing this. =)

    Second: My Women’s Studies prof had us watch part of your ‘I’m The One That I Want’ for our chapter on Women in Televesion and Film, and I am so glad she did. You are incredible…and I ended up ditching the rest of my homework to watch moremoremore.

    Thank you for what you do.

  6. Have boyfriend. Several months. Love sex. First time we sixty-nine, I notice he has a little turtlehead sticking out. You get me? Second time, he has bits of toilet paper stuck in that area. CAN I ADDRESS THIS? And how do I do it without giving him a permanently flaccid penis? I love this man to pieces and know this is a humiliating topic. Please help!

    — Mired In The Mud
    ///////////////
    this in from dan savage, and i thought of OCD, body hair, and egyptians using nair funneled down their back to their crack as baby fresh through toxic duplicity. thank you for those amusing pieces of peace.

  7. So one day (like a week ago), my mom has her tri-fold vanity mirror sitting out on her desk and as I walk by I see her THREADING HER EYEBROWS.
    I completely freak and start grilling my mother—”HOW DO YOU DO THAT?! DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH PEOPLE WILL PAY FOR THAT?! WHY HAVE YOU NEVER SHOWED US?!”
    And she just non-chalantly brushes it off and says it’s so easy and I lose her halfway between thread-twirling and plucking a few errant hairs on her chin. Which is all the same because I never really plan to pluck my eyebrows, as I like to keep the few body hairs to rock that whole gay panda bear look, but I couldn’t help feeling cheated from this transmission of knowledge to be passed down from my ancestors.

    #secretsofmymother

    //love free or die

  8. I still don’t have the eyebrow thing down and I’m turning 65 next week. I really want the old hollywood harlow style thin upside down crescent moon eyebrow. The closest I ever came to that was trying to shave the hairs with the razor I shave my pits with but only succeeded in shaving off half the brow so then I had to pencil it in which looked more like a bipolar person in the manic phase tends to apply eyebrow pencil than the greta garbo look. Then I tried those as seen on tv battery operated mini brow shavers but they skimmed over my fine delicate brow hairs like a dragonfly dancing on the surface of a pond. The slanted tweezers seem to be designed for freida kahlo. So I’m now going with the needlenose which works better, altho seeing my face in the magnified side of my mirror freaks me out. Anyway, I’ve finally decided to embrace my perfectly imperfect face, brows and all. Like the Buddha said, you as much as anyone in the universe deserve your love and affection. Or something like that. Rock on!

  9. I need to buy one of those mirrors that light up when you touch them. And they magnify your entire face so you can see everything. My grandma has one, so I always pluck my eyebrows when I’m visiting her.

    . . . not while I’m visiting her, when she’s taking a nap or something. . .

    It’s becoming a thing.

    ~I love you, Margaret~

  10. I remember knowing that I loved men because they were different and loving women because they were different from men. Now I try to find one thing to love in everyone, because everyone has something unique and worthy of love. I recently sunk a relationship with a man from a different culture because I was blind to the fact that some people still grow up being told that kissing and touching and loving others is wrong and I love you Cho, because you’re the opposite of this and just the antidote I needed to my husband moving out and moving on. Watching beautiful saved me. Thank you for loving vibrators and giving me the gift of queer, because I was never straight enough or lesbian enough for those judgmental people in my history.

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