Friday, June 8, 2018

Brews and Brows: Shaping Stories from Eyebrows to Scousebrows

We’re a city that appreciates eyebrows, and with that comes a booming industry to capitalise on. We’ve invited Dr Niamh Thornton from University of Liverpool and Dr Liz Greene from Liverpool John Moores University to guest blog for us on the art of scousebrows. Find out more about their project and get involved! 

Have you ever spoken to anyone about your eyebrows? If so, who do you talk to? A technician, artist, the staff at the make-up counter, hairdresser, barber or your friends or family? Do you ask for advice or share tips? Do you have specific requirements? Are you someone who grooms them yourself? If so, do you turn to Instagram or YouTube for recommendations? Or, maybe, you tweeze and tweak whenever suits you. Irrespective of what you do (or do not do) and how often or how little you have ever spoken about it, we know that everyone has a story to tell. We are a group of academics from the University of Liverpool, Liverpool John Moore University, Edge Hill University, and Manchester Metropolitan University keen to gather stories about eyebrows.

 From our research into film stars and the evolution of the brow we have seen how ideas of beauty have changed through time. This becomes important when thinking about self-worth and identity in everyday life. Although, eyebrows are such a significant feature they have received relatively little attention from academics. A quick survey of the literature unearths research by psychologists considering the ways micro-gestures facilitate communication. This means that they are not concerned with particularities of the shape, but with movement. Another recurrence in the literature is plastic surgeons interested in the correct (re)positioning of the brow in either cosmetic or corrective surgery. Again, shape is not significant. It was heartening to read new directions in research, such as the recent work by archaeologists from the University of York, revealing how brow movements are integral to our survival as a species. This shows that eyebrows matter.

Eyebrows tell the world much about your aesthetic choices and are often judged accordingly. When you, or your technician, carefully groom your brows by shaping and crafting them you have numerous decisions to make. Much like the decisions we make on getting a haircut, which determines how your class, racesexual orientation, and gender are interpreted by others, eyebrows carry the added burden of being integral to how your emotions are read. Whether you give them a lot or a little attention, they tell others much about you. Some people have a regular beauty routine, for others, it involves occasional upkeep and a battle with certain hairs, while, for a small number, it is a source of anxiety because of hair loss. When we speak to people - irrespective of appearance and background – most of them have some account to give and story to tell about their brow habits, the skills involved, the losses they convey, the histories they hold.

Our project is putting together an archive of stories on eyebrows and will result in a documentary film. It is about starting a city-wide conversation. Liverpool is known for a particular type of brow, the Scousebrow, that is belittled and denigrated from outside and inside the city. We want to reconsider the Scousebrow and ask why some feel it is right to sneer. We want to shake off the idea that paying attention to detail and beauty is something trivial and silly, and, instead propose that it be seen for what it is: an important marker of identity, place, and of being ourselves in the world.

In order to gather stories we held an event in April at FACT, Liverpool, where we set up a brow booth, had a brow scanner, gave participants the opportunity to get a photograph taken. This was a great start. We heard an amazing range of stories from men and women who shared what their brows meant to them. We are keen to gather more stories because we know there are more to be heard. We want to find out more detail about the many everyday decisions we all make, to hear more to think about daily choices, and to understand what is important to you about your brows.

We want to hear your stories. See more about this project on our website and contact us via  

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