When I was in elementary school I was made fun of for a number of reasons. Being a visible minority in the 9/11 era and living in a waspy neighbourhood sucked on a few different levels. One of my most vivid memories of these events was being told I was ugly because my eyebrows were thick and bushy and full of Persian life. The whole “sand n*****”, “terrorist”, “get out of our country” thing was pretty bad too, but a lot of my childhood was filled with hating the way I looked because I wasn’t a white girl.
I remember going home and looking at myself in the mirror and resenting my heritage for causing me the struggle of not being totally hairless and blonde. One day after a notably bad recess break, I went home after school and took my sister’s razor. With the fierce determination to lessen “the damage” of my thick eyebrows, I went to town. I looked ridiculous, of course, because I was 11 and I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing.
Today, thick eyebrows are everything. Terms like “on fleek”, “on point”, “proper” have been used to describe a girl with eyebrows like the ones I once tried to eliminate from my existence. There are multiple memes floating everywhere praising the holy thick eyebrow. I’m not gonna lie, my eyebrow game is proper. Why? Because my eyebrows are thick as fuck because I’m Persian, and we are born into the world covered in hair. Which is still not okay, by the way. Just the eyebrows are okay.
I hated them until about 4 years ago. I would pluck them into tiny lines like the magazines just to avoid looking the way I was born to look. Now? Now it’s cool. Now I get compliments. Now there are white girls asking me “how I got them so thick” so they can snag some tips. The same type of girls who once called me ugly. Nope. Now I refuse to ever let Western media determine how I feel about myself, and this happened after I was finally validated by it. Funny, that something as minor as eyebrows could have caused my life so much grief. So sad and alarming at the same time.
The cultural appropriation conversation is typically pretty cringeworthy. It’s a lot of political correctness vs. ignorance vs. oversensitivity vs. a lack of empathy. It goes in all different directions. I’ve thought a lot about what it means to me. Am I guilty of it? What is it even really? Why can’t we all just get along and appreciate whatever we want? Because it’s not that easy.
I’m not even on the bad end of it. Eyebrows are universal, I know that. I’m not saying anyone is appropriating Middle Eastern eyebrows. I’m saying how come it’s only okay when a specific group says it is? What about headscarves? What about bindis? And crownrows? Headpieces? Where’s the line? What’s okay and what’s not?
Girls like me, who were shamed for looking a certain way and then later praised for it, often feel resentment towards the people who are now embracing what they once rejected. It’s not fair that it’s only “cool” to look a type of way after white girls do it. Plain and simple. It’s not fair that my friend was thrown rocks at for wearing a culturally traditional bindi and now some 18 year old chick from LA is wearing one to Coachella and being photographed for Nylon. It’s not cool that girls with afros were bullied into relaxing their hair, then told weaves were “ratchet” and now you can clock a weave on any given white girl. It’s not fair because it was never okay until someone else said it was, we were never given the choice and never given the chance to actually enjoy the way we looked or the things we did until someone else said we could. Yes, it’s important to empower yourself via yourself, but it’s hard to do so when you’re young and being bullied by both your peers and society.
There’s a big difference between appreciating and embracing other cultures and exploiting them. My experience has been that my “exoticness” was never really appreciated until certain aspects of my image were sought after. I’m a curvy girl. I feel good about that, but I grew up hating it. I wanted to be a size zero, something my body physically will never be. Now it’s okay for me to have thick eyebrows. Now it’s okay for me to be “thick”. Now it’s okay for me to be “exotic”. And that’s cool, thanks for seeing it, but it wasn’t until it became “okay” that I realized how fickle the media and society’s view on me are. Fuck that. Fuck that forever.
That’s why when someone gets offended by you possibly cultural appropriating them it’s best for you to take a minute to think about the journey they’ve gone through. The whole process of learning to accept themselves that they might have faced before you assume they should take it as a compliment. How sacred what you’re utilizing for fashion is to them. It’s never as simple as you think it is.
I’m flattered by every compliment I get about my skin tone, my eyebrows, my hair, my anything that was given to me thanks to my heritage, but I will never forget how this very society looked at me before. I’m not saying walk on eggshells, I’m not even saying stop doing certain things, I’m just saying that it’s important to recognize where the resentment comes from. Empathy goes a long way. Evidently, so do good eyebrows.