This month, Rihanna became the first black woman to appear on the cover of British Vogue’s September issue, the largest and most important release of the calendar year for any fashion magazine. Riri was a natural choice for editor-in-chief Edward Enninful’s first September issue: She’s a fashion icon with distinctive, often outré tastes who has her own clothing line with Puma, collaborates with a wide range of designers (Dior, Manolo Blahnik), and recently launched a wildly popular cosmetics company.
But you know what was not a natural choice for Rihanna’s big debut? Removing her eyebrows and penciling them back in as sad little two-dimensional stripes. Yet there they are, twin pinworms squiggling across her face, mocking the millions of dollars that have gone into recent fashion-world messaging that says bigger eyebrows are better.
It was but three years ago that Rihanna showed up on the cover art for “Bitch Better Have My Money” with thick, super-dark brows that almost certainly required artificial enhancement. That image, pictured above alongside her more recent look, foretold the era of Boy Brow—the flagship brow-enhancing product of millennial beauty brand Glossier—and the rise of models like Cara Delevingne, whose bushy eyebrows are her best-known features and quite possibly the muses for several St. Vincent songs. Those of us who overplucked our eyebrows in middle school struggled to regrow the hair we’d once been eager to banish from our faces. We persevered despite suffering catastrophic, sometimes unrecoverable losses in crucial areas (inner corners, tails) and continued our relentless assault against those tenacious buggers in the unibrow region, which Rihanna and Delevingne had neglected to make cool.
Now, as people attuned to the cyclical inevitabilities of fashion no doubt saw coming, it has become clear that those efforts were for naught. All eye-adjacent hairs must be removed, for Rihanna has decreed them superfluous. There must be maximum flesh space bookended between brow and eyelash. One or two rows of hair should be enough to serve an eyebrow’s purpose—keeping sweat out of the eyes—especially since the lack of hair will mean cooler eye areas and, thus, less sweat.
I understand that a certain degree of ugliness is pivotal to cutting-edge fashion and that ugliness is subjective and morphs to fit the beauty standards of a particular time and place. But Rihanna’s penciled-on Vogue brows look too spare to accentuate any pair of eyes and too complicated to be practical for everyday wear—just ask any drag queen who’s shaved off or sealed down her own eyebrows to draw in something slimmer. And yet, this is almost certainly the beginning of the end for natural-looking brows, at least for now. When some of us protested the resurgence of straight-leg, wide-leg, and cropped jeans a couple of years back, since our wardrobes were freshly stocked with skinny jeans, our cries went unheeded. So here we are, back in the era of jeans that are way more difficult to pair with shoes. This eyebrow thing, too, seems to have passed the point of no return: On Tuesday, Delevingne herself endorsed Rihanna’s 1920s-inspired pluckdown, foretelling an age in which young women decimate their follicles to get Rihanna-like stripes.
We all should have known the end of the bushy brow was nigh when the Today show, perhaps the nation’s least of-the-moment source of fashion content, lauded the eyebrow-tattooing trend of microblading in May. “Eyebrow trends come and go, but this new brow procedure might be here to stay,” the show’s site proclaimed. Tell that to the freshly microbladed, who will have to wait a year or three for their Delevingne-esque tattoos to wear off before they can hope to imitate Riri.
Fashion cycles are usually tied to some sort of capitalist imperative. Jeans manufacturers have to shift public opinion every now and then, or at least convince a few high-profile fashion influencers to change their habits, so they can sell new and different kinds of denim. It’s the apparel industry version of forced obsolescence in tech. And so it goes with brows. Several months ago, Rihanna promised that Fenty Beauty, her makeup line, was “building the illest eyebrow situation”—in other words, preparing to release a brow gel, pencil, or powder, perfect for crafting sleek, delicate lines on a heavily plucked face. The plot thickens! Or, should we say, thins.