I used to have great eyebrows. But in high school, I attacked my Brooke Shields-thick arches with a pair of tweezers, methodically ripping each strand from its follicle. I looked down into the sink and was shocked by the mass of loose hairs in the basin. Skinny brows were supposed to make my face seem more open, lighter, and less aggressive — that is, more feminine. I thought the look was timeless, but two decades later, I am trying to revive what came to me naturally. Not because they’re back in style, but because I’m transitioning, and I need to look a lot less like a girl.
Everett McCown, MS, LPC-I who counsels transitioning people as Program Manager for Outpatient Mental Health and Addictions Services at Cascadia Health in Portland, Oregon, tells Allure that temporary appearance changes can help alleviate body dysmorphia. He says, “The exploration looks like folks trying on different clothes at home, sometimes wearing a more gendered item like glasses that others may not notice. People can express themselves in a safer and more subtle way.”
Cis people automatically assume many trans people want to assimilate and “pass” for cis. That’s not true: many of us simply seek to alleviate our gender dysphoria, hoping to align our inner sense of self with our physical appearance. While many trans people do opt to have gender-affirming procedures, like facial feminization surgery (FFS), vocal cord surgery, laser hair removal and electrolysis, trachea shaving, and certain kinds of liposuction to change our bodies, these options are expensive and invasive. Not all insurance plans cover them, claiming they aren’t “necessary,” though for many trans people, they’re an essential part of transition, not elective or casual grooming.
In addition to the wardrobe experimentation McCown mentions, using makeup, selfies, and other non-invasive approaches to aesthetics such as eyelash extensions to align our outer appearance with who we are are more accessible options for many trans people. There’s no post-op recovery time. Aside from the pain of waxing, there is minimal discomfort. Also, although none of these procedures are permanent, they aren’t as expensive as surgery. One minor change, like Bambi-length lash extensions, can make someone’s face look more typically feminine; after the initial installment, monthly upkeep is usually under $100. Maintaining even up to five personal care services a month is often less per year than a single surgery, paying out-of-pocket. It may not be ideal, but for many people, it’s the only option to get the look that eases the extreme discomfort of gender dysphoria.
My Quest For Masculine Disney Prince Brows
During the beginning of my transition, I coveted Disney prince eyebrows. In my imagination, I have eyebrows thicker than Aladdin’s magic carpet, wide dark wedges that wiggle when I talk and make my face look serious and handsome. During my transition, I noticed subtle changes in my facial structure: my brows thickened, nose got a little bigger, cheekbones moved, and jaw squared. Within a year, I no longer looked like a woman. I looked like my own brother. The only place where femininity still lingered was in my eyebrows.
Given that I’m no stranger to aesthetic experimentation gone wrong, which is probably why I was reluctant to make any major, permanent changes to my brows. I found two options that would give me the results I wanted, but the side effects and risks — not to mention the price — was prohibitive for me. Latisse, one option, might permanently change the color of my eyes. The other option, microblading, is a semi permanent brow tattoo that lasts about a year, with results that vary widely depending on the aesthetician. I couldn’t rationalize dropping such a huge wad of cash (the average for both procedures being around $1000) on anything semi-permanent that wasn’t medically necessary and also didn’t guarantee good results.
However, I found a compromise: brow lamination with tint and shaping. An aesthetician would perm my eyebrow hairs, dye them, and comb them into a new, bolder shape. For less than $200, I would get about eight weeks of the effect. It was the perfect solution for me, so I booked my appointment at Urban Waxx, a waxing and aesthetics salon in Portland.
My Experience With Brow Lamination
“Some masculine people want to look really groomed, but most of them don’t want to look like they spend a lot of time on their brows,” said Shannon Beekman, founder of Urban Waxx. Beekman notes that fewer than 10 percent of the salon’s clients are men, but that her staff is trained to help anyone “[develop] their look based on aesthetic goals and gender expression.”
My aesthetician explained how the brow perm works. She asked me about my goals for the procedure and selected a slightly darker tint than she would use for a client who wanted a more feminine look. She warned me that the first few days post-brow lamination, my brows might seem brighter or bolder than usual. She said that the initial effect would fade and that I’d get the most from my procedure if I didn’t get my brows wet for at least 24 hours after my appointment, used a brow conditioner to avoid dryness, and gently combed my arches once a day.
The perm gel smelled terrible but the whole procedure was painless and completed in less than an hour. My aesthetician showed me how to style my brows in a few ways, pushing the permed hairs up for a dramatic, Disney prince-worthy look or smoothing them to the sides. It was like looking at myself with an Instagram filter: finally, I had the ultra-butch arches I coveted. I couldn’t believe that was my face.
“You look very handsome,” She said, handing me the mirror.
When I left the salon, I felt like I’d taken a small but important baby step toward aligning my outer appearance with my inner self. I caught a glimpse of myself in a store window and was surprised by how noticeable the change was. In less than an hour, brow lamination had transformed into someone who looked a little more like me. I stopped at my favorite coffee shop to get a celebratory latte.
“Here you go, sir,” the barista said as they slid my drink across the bar.
Sir. I was thrilled. The Disney brows worked.
Over the next few days, my dark, bold brows softened into a more natural look. The dye faded by subtle degrees and within a week, I looked as though I’d always been a Disney prince. Mornings, I brushed my brows into place and added a tiny amount of conditioning cream to set them. I felt styled but not done. The extra 30 seconds I spent on my beauty routine were negligible, the same amount of time I might need to check the corners of my mouth for toothpaste foam.
Having more masculine brows made me feel balanced. I booked my next appointment within a few weeks. I couldn’t believe that such a small alteration in my appearance did so much for my gender expression or my self esteem. Paying $200 every eight weeks to be called “sir” every day? Yes, please. Sign this prince up.
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Originally Appeared on Allure