You don’t need to spend more than about five minutes in any online space for trans women before someone will mention eyebrows. It’s so common it’s something of a stereotype at this point.
But why are eyebrows so important that everyone comments on them? And how are you supposed to style your eyebrows well? I’ll try to answer that below and also point out a few mistakes trans women in particular often make and how to avoid making those errors.
Why are eyebrows so important for trans women?
This is about the difference between feminine and masculine bone structures and features. Males typically have a more pronounced brow ridge, which means that their eyes look deeper set in the face and narrower. In comparison, female skulls don’t have a brow ridge or such a pronounced one, so their eye sockets are rounder and wider, and this in turn makes their eyes look wider and more open.
Men’s eyebrows are also typically straight and thick, and angular, which adds to the heaviness above the eyes and emphasises the masculine shape. Women’s eyebrows are typically higher, more arched and thinner (plus, women tend to also groom their eyebrows and thin them out) and frame the eyes, emphasising their roundness.
So if you are male/assigned male at birth, but you want to feminise your face (without dropping a small fortune on surgery), your eyebrows are one of the first things you can change to begin creating a female impression.
So what do you do?
This is one of those difficult things, because what you actually do and how you style your eyebrows is very much dependent on your own personal face shape – so most generic advice is only going to get you so far. But, I’ve started so I’ll finish. Plus, this guide is more about the basic principles of what you need to do to your eyebrows so should help give you an idea of what needs to be done in any case.
- Clear out the uni-brow: if you have hairs coming in over the bridge of your nose, or your eyebrows run in one clean sweep across the whole of your brow, then you need to clear out the middle. Be careful not to over-groom here – you want the eyebrows to start roughly just above the inner corner of your eyes, not too much wider than that. Not too much narrower either, as this will make you look frowny.
- Figure out where the brow should end: take a make-up brush and hold it along the side of your nose so it lines up with the inner corner of your eye. Holding the bottom end in place (roughly beneath your nostril on the top of your lips) swivel the make-up brush outwards so that it lines up with the outer edge of your eye in a diagonal line… At the end of the make up brush is where your brow should end. (The picture below makes it so much clearer. I don’t own copyright for that image…)
- As you can see from the image above, the point on your eyebrow that’s in a diagonal line from your nose to the centre of your eye is roughly where you should aim to create an arch in your brow. So now you basically know the shape… Here’s where it gets tricky.
- Once you know where your brow should start, end, and arch, you can start shaping it. I recommend tweezers and home plucking at first if you don’t feel confident enough to go to a salon, or you’re not comfortable asking for a female-shaped brow while still presenting male. Beware, plucking is painful, so if you’re highly sensitive to pain, take a paracetamol about twenty minutes before you start.
- First up, clear out any hairs that are too far past where you want the brow to start and end. Step back from the mirror regularly and check your progress. If you have a brow brush (or ‘spoolie’) use it to brush your eyebrows upwards so you can see the hairs more clearly.
- When it comes to creating the shape, take a sharp eyeliner pencil and draw the line you’re aiming for, or use an eyebrow stencil. Feminine eyebrows start fairly thick in the centre and then taper out towards the outer edge. Draw in the line, including the arch you want to create. When you’ve done this, pluck from below the line you’ve drawn and remove any hairs that are outside that outline.
- To try and minimise any pain from plucking your eyebrows, you can rub an ice cube over the area first to numb the skin a bit. Then, with one hand, stretch the skin of your brow up towards your crown. Take the tweezers and hold onto the hair you want to remove, then pull sharply in the direction of the hair growth to yank it out. Yes, it does hurt. Go slow, and really focus on pulling the skin there as taut as possible as this will really help to reduce the pain.
- Go slowly, and don’t try to go too thin straight away. Maybe even make this a thing you work on over the course of a week – start by clearing the hairs at either end of the eyebrow, then gradually pluck into shape. Pause, allow yourself to sit with this slightly more groomed eyebrow for a couple of days, and then go again if you still feel they are too thick or wild.
- Trim, trim, trim! A tip that a lot of people forget about is to trim their eyebrows. If you are older, your eyebrow hairs are likely to be fairly long and a bit wild – you can tame them by trimming using a sharp pair of nail scissors. As with plucking, do this gradually; don’t take the whole lot off at once. You can also use nail scissors to define the shape at the top of the brow, trimming any hairs that stick out of the line.
- Finally: polish with make up. Use your spoolie again to groom the hairs so they follow the line of the brow. Step back from the mirror and look to see if there are any thinned out bits or gaps, or areas where the brow is uneven or untidy. Use a sharp eyebrow pencil in a similar shade to your own eyebrows, draw in hairs to fill in those gaps using lots of thin lines.
The first few times you do this, it’ll look a bit silly. Eyebrows take some practice, so be prepared to go slowly, have a lot of make up wipes with you if you’re applying eyebrow pencil, and remove it before anyone sees. Practice when you’re on your own, and maybe ask a trusted friend for advice. Take the time to really get this right as it can make a big difference both to how feminine your face looks, and how confident you feel.
Also, really don’t overpluck. Take the plucking stage very slowly, and step back from the mirror every thirty seconds or so to judge the effect. As you get more comfortable and familiar with doing this you’ll be able to think less about it, but trust me, just because you’ve done it hundreds of times doesn’t mean that you’ll never get trigger happy with your tweezers and give your eyebrow a bald patch. (I speak from bitter experience…)
A few common mistakes
- Too dark: I often see trans women who may have groomed their eyebrows really well, but they want everyone to know how well they’ve groomed those brows… so they fill in the whole brow with very dark pencil to emphasise the new shape. This might work well for supermodels like Cara Delevigne, or for instagram influencers with sponsored eyebrow kits, but super-dark eyebrows (particularly if they are darker than your natural colouring) will look fake, rushed and draw attention to your face in a bad way. The dark colours close down your facial features, emphasising your brow line again and that might just show up a strong brow ridge rather than disguising it. Plus, if you’re not very confident at doing eyebrow pencil and it looks messy at all, darker colours here are really unforgiving, so it’ll look very scrappy. Not a good look.
- One thing in particular to bear in mind when thinking about people like Delevingne is that cis women who deliberately stylise and emphasise their eyebrows like this are deliberately masculinising their facial features by doing so. If you have naturally male bone structure, no matter how feminine your face, then darkening and emphasising your brows is likely to have a masculinising effect. We can discuss what gender means to everyone individually over a martini some other time, because it’s an interesting discussion, but if you want to go heavy on the brows you should be aware of the signals you may unintentionally be giving.
- Over-plucked: On the flipside, some women internalise the message that thick brows are very masculine so go as far as they can the other way, either plucking them down to a very thin line, or just removing them altogether and drawing them back on. Not only is this not very stylish, it isn’t flattering. A super thin eyebrow often looks quite peculiar and can create a bit of a drag impression. If you’ve removed your eyebrows and then painted or drawn them back on, that also definitely brings a drag aesthetic – and since in the popular imagination, drag queens are perceived as (very glamorous) men in dresses, that’s not an impression you want to go for.
- Really instagram brows: You know the kind of thing, right? There was a fashion (that’s fading a bit now) for people to do their brows really elaborately on instagram, with an ombre effect from light at the centre, to dark and defined at the outer edges. It does look cool done well, but here’s the truth: that particular eyebrow style is something that typically only younger millennials and gen-z women do, or instagram ‘influencers’. So doing your eyebrows like that if you’re older will show that you’re sort of out of touch with styles and trends in your own generation. Plus, most (cis) women don’t tend to go that all in with make-up most of the time, so if your day to day make up look involves really elaborate eyebrows, you risk looking more clockable. The trick with make up is to wear enough that it gives the right impression without wearing so much that it attracts the wrong attention
Basically, eyebrows are hard
Trust me, I know: my own are unruly, thick and dark, despite the fact that I’ve got pretty pale Irish colouring. It’s taken me nearly two decades to get the hang of making my eyebrows look good, and even then I still don’t really maintain them very thoroughly so I only have good eyebrows for about one week in every six. It’s easier for me to get away with this, though, as I’m cis – which gives me the luxury that I can let myself not worry about some of these elements of my presentation while knowing that it won’t affect how people perceive my gender.
I guess what I’m trying to say is – eyebrow-shaping is a challenge, but because of how much of an impact a well-groomed eyebrow can have on the overall feminine appearance of your face, the more worthwhile it is to put the time and effort into learning how to do this well.
If this has been useful, but you want to talk to me about it further, I can help you figure out how best to groom your brows in a one-to-one session. For further details or to set up an initial consultation, please contact me.