Browbeaten.

The eyes may be the window to the soul, but the eyebrows are the window to the ego. If you want to know whether or not a girl takes pride in her appearance, look no further than the space above her peepers. While approaches range from the full form of a Camilla Belle or Olsen twin to the majestic, bordering-on-drag-queen swoops of a Sara Ramirez, the general consensus remains that any choice is better than no choice, and a refusal to participate in female facial landscaping is a relegation to beauty purgatory. Pick apart any Hollywood makeover and there’s a 98% chance that “dramatic transformation” was brought to you by a pair of contact lenses, a well-executed eyebrow wax, and Anne Hathaway. When it comes to universal standards of beauty, eyebrows talk.

I don’t think of myself as an exceptionally high-maintenance person, but I’m admittedly fanatical about my eyebrows. In fact, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t fanatical about my eyebrows. They’re thin, somewhat patchy, albino blonde, arched at almost imperceptibly different angles, and viciously maintained by yours truly to combat all of the above. Brow patrol isn’t a hugely time-consuming process – think biweekly pluckings and three to five minutes with a silicone pencil every morning – but for me, that minimum baseline is pretty much non-negotiable. As a brunette, I refused to so much as go to the gym without my eyebrows done (in my defense, I looked like an alien au natural). With my natural coloring, I’m a little more laid-back, but I’ll still abandon my unfinished morning crossword to fix my face. And those three to five daily minutes add up to half an hour a week—nearly 34 hours a year.

According to classic wisdom, beauty and brains are incompatible by nature. A woman can be smart, or she can be pretty, but she can only be both if she’s some sort of dark spirit or tragic orphan or socially stunted disaster (or, evidently, post-makeover Anne Hathaway). This, of course, is ludicrous. I can name any number of women who are both brainy and beautiful. Most days, I consider myself to be one of them. And that’s why it makes me queasy to think of the time I spend actively, ritualistically cultivating my eyebrows, my hair, my clothes, my body—while consequently expecting my mind to take care of itself. Because that’s the catch. You can be born brainy, and you can be born beautiful. If you’re lucky, you can be born both brainy and beautiful. But you can’t spend any given moment becoming more brainy and more beautiful at the same time.

Time I spend plucking my eyebrows is time I don’t spending reading, or watching the news, or even watching the world go by. It’s time I spend thinking of literally nothing but metal on hair on skin, and that is a choice I make—a choice that not only reflects my values, but affects my character. It’s not about the eyebrows. It’s not about the media, or Photoshop, or society’s unrealistic expectations. It’s about the time I spend getting prettier when I could be getting smarter. And while the pursuit of beauty has a maximum return – assuming, that is, that you are willing to devote maximum effort to beauty on a regular basis – I would argue that the same cannot be said of intellect. There is enough to know and see and do in this world that the mind can continue growing far beyond the confines of vanity’s outer reach, and the mind doesn’t reset every time you take a shower. From a strictly economic standpoint, ritualizing beauty over brains is illogical.

I don’t see brow patrol disappearing anytime soon. I don’t see myself wearing sweats every day, or bypassing the gym for the library. Nor do I believe that any of this should be required of me. I see genuine value in beauty—in its ability to instill calm, to inspire confidence, and even to ignite the intellect. I’m at peace with the fact that I love things that are ostensibly frivolous. But I can recognize that the time I devote to my appearance is a choice with a consequence, and I can perhaps schedule a counter-ritual that pays my mind the same unremitting regard I do my face and physique. A mandatory weekly writing date. A commitment to finishing the crossword puzzle. A book on tape, so that maybe, just maybe, even as I stare into refracted images of metal on hair on skin, I can absorb a little something more.

Do you ever think about the long-term consequences of your daily routine? To what extent do you ritualize your personal growth?

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