Earlier this month, to mark her grandmother’s 101st birthday, Cara Delevingne, one of the world’s top models, tweeted photographs of the old lady she calls “Gaga". According to fashion observers, these photos revealed uncanny similarities between the looks of the two women. Particularly their bushy and straight eyebrows, a striking and unusual facet, and a top global catwalk trend over the last few seasons, after Delevingne began ruling the ramp and stared back squarely from fashion magazine covers.

Bushy brows, we are now told, will show no signs of waning from beauty look books even in the next season.

It is one more example of how a beauty trend discussed with much gush in the West means different things for India, where lustrous, black and ample eyebrows are a regular feature. Lakshmi Menon, India’s top model—if we can still call her that—has visibly dark and thick brows. Every make-up artist who has worked with her also knows that she does not want to create artificial arches out of her brows, or tweeze or tame them to perfection. Her sinewy features get accentuated by her straight eyebrows.

In fact, no recall-worthy Indian model has really sparse brows. For an Indian make-up maverick, “filling out eyebrows" with a suitable shade of brow powder is an important part of finishing a face.

Model Cara Delevingne. Photo: Ian Gavan/Getty Images
Model Cara Delevingne. Photo: Ian Gavan/Getty Images

Contractor, who convinced film actor Kajol to retain her distinct “unibrow" right from one of her first films, Bekhudi (1992), says “thick and natural eyebrows convey innocence while finely arched ones look carnal—like they have seen the world". Our eyebrow conversation doesn’t dip even for a moment. It is because of the emphasis on defined and dark eyebrows in Indian classical dances that the Indian female form looks incomplete without them, says Contractor.

He makes a good point. In Bharatanatyam and Kathakali, for instance, eyebrows are like separate limbs; they are used to tell a story regardless of the expression in the eyes or on the face. Let’s also not forget the still stunning and sexy Rekha, who has a lustrous pair. A make-up wizard, her eyebrows retain a faultless proportion between the corner of the eye and the outer tip of the brow (apparently there is a technique to it)—but also appear “naturally" glamorous.

The churn of curiosity around Delevingne’s straight, square and “manly" eyebrows urged me to research their shapes (and consequences) in different continents—Indian, Asian, African, European. I stumbled upon a remarkable fashion feature in an issue of the Portugal edition of Vogue magazine, with model Liu Wen on the cover wearing unthreaded eyebrows. The Chinese Wen, also the first spokesmodel of Asian descent for beauty brand Estée Lauder since 2010, hasn’t been on the world’s most glamorous covers without reason. She embodies the link between East and West, warming us up to the significance of diversity in beauty trends. Her eyebrows have a personality of their own (see her on the Red Carpet collections issue of Vogue China, June). For many beauty and fashion shoots, Wen’s naturally light (but not slim) eyebrows have been thickened and darkened, creating a strong peak shift. She looks most attractive with her brows made bushier with make-up, without bringing any harshness to her soft features.

Without becoming banal about it, I wonder if Delevingne will lose her magic hold on global catwalks if the peak shift is reversed and her eyebrows made sparse. Or whether Kajol’s distinctive features would come to nought if she tweezes her unibrow. Probably.

The Body is a monthly column on the body’s language in fashion.

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