How My First Time Plucking My Eyebrows Changed My Views On Beauty

How My First Time Plucking My Eyebrows Changed My Views On Beauty

Even as a 5th grader, I was 11 going on 30.

I distinctly remember a conversation I had with my teacher during the last few days of my elementary career, wherein I told her I was worried about entering middle school. She looked at me as she would a peer and said, “You’re ready.”

I believed her, and entered 6th grade that fall knowing I was ready to be there. I felt competitive in the sense that I wanted to keep the academic pace I’d already set by taking honors classes and meaningful electives. I played an instrument, made good grades, and minded my own business—until my closest friend started hanging out with the popular girls.

These girls wore Abercrombie & Fitch polos and had a different pair of flashy sandals for every day of the week. I didn’t know that the teal Saucony tennis shoes I wore every day paled in comparison.

These girls weren’t necessarily mean, they just seemed to know things that felt beyond their years. They knew how to curl hair and apply eye shadow so it didn’t clump up by 2nd period. Even though I felt mature for my age, these were not things I knew about, or even knew that they mattered. To put it best, they were true pre-teens who spent their weekends with much older real-teens.

As Natalia, my best friend, spent more time with these girls, I got to know them too. We all sat together at the same lunch table and I tried to feign interest (and understanding) of their go-to topics. This was short-lived.

Before I found my own group of friends who shared my similar interests, I left with one major takeaway from the Teenage Table. And it was wisdom gifted to me by Sarah Shrader.

Sarah was the friend nucleus of this group. Her father worked as a school administrator, so all the teachers knew her—and knew she wouldn’t get anything except her way. Again, she wasn’t exactly mean, just too powerful for her age.


As I sat with the group to eat my reduced-rate school lunch, Sarah and I chatted about something that escapes me now. It must have been related to looks, because the next words out of her mouth followed me through the next 10 years of my life.

“You know, you would be pretty if you just plucked your eyebrows.”

I’m sure I wanted to cry in the moment, but I don’t remember anything except total embarrassment. Plucking eyebrows was an option? What else was I doing wrong? Am I not considered pretty now? Is there a list somewhere I can get ahold of?

So, I started plucking my eyebrows. And when Sarah also mentioned that my arms were a little hairy, I shaved those too. My actual arms, not my armpits.

Every day, even after I left the cool-kid table, I wanted to briefly check in with Sarah to ask if I had done it. Had I achieved “pretty” yet?

When I think of this now, it makes my chest ache. My teenage years, like most girls’, were plagued with insecurity and thoughts of “If I could just be this one thing, then everyone will like me.” Sarah gave me my first taste of the insecurity Kool-Aid, and I was hooked.

I plucked and shaved and tried to dye my hair lighter. I started to feel insecure about my clothes and backpack, about all the things I was proud of as I left my 5th-grade classroom. As I got older, I realized some of this was just part of puberty.

And as I aged even more, I realized a lot of this was based on the conditional introduction to Beauty 101 I had been given. Now, I occasionally pluck my eyebrows because I like them cleaned up a bit, not because I’m trying to achieve what Sarah thinks makes a person pretty. My beauty regimen is no longer based on an “if this, then that” equation.

Today, Sarah is everywhere. She’s the perfume ad in that magazine on your coffee table, and she’s the actress in your favorite rom-com. It’s not new news that Western society has carved itself a pretty ridiculous beauty standard, but I think it is worth noting that the language accompanying these standards can make a big difference.

One day when I have a daughter, I hope to offer her the choice the pluck her eyebrows or wear eye shadow based on her personal preference. I hope to beat Sarah to her so that my daughter knows curly blonde hair isn’t a stepping stone to perfection, that her appearance—like her mind—is her own and hers to shape.

*The names in this story have been changed.

Cover image courtesy of  Shutterstock