Let Me Clarify #6: Unsolicited Advice by Genia Blum

The Eyebrows Have It

My acquaintance is overly concerned with age and appearance—especially mine.

“You should lose a few pounds. It’s harder when you’re old.”

We’re the same age and I’m not overweight. She’s noticed the way her husband stares at my ass.

Eyebrows are another sore point. I coax mine into shape with tweezers. Hers went AWOL after a 1980s plucking frenzy, and she’s been tracing half-circles on her forehead ever since.

We meet for coffee. She looks well rested, but also surprised. I’m certain I haven’t startled her, so my first thought is: What’s up with the face? We engage in small talk. Soon, she’s bragging about Botox. I stare at her waxy forehead and realize her two, hairless arcs are much lighter now: a shade of taupe well in the grayscale range. Permanent makeup, she confides. Tattoos. They’ve knocked minutes off her daily makeup routine. I nod appreciatively, and concentrate on relaxing my own, involuntarily raised brows.

My Aunt Irena knew how to do eyebrows. A former opera singer, she distracted from the signs of aging through her expert use of scarlet lip color and blacker-than-black eyebrow pencils. Madame Irena Turkewycz, the diva, would have been unrecognizable without the bold arches dancing up and down her forehead, peeking out from under the veil of one of her fanciful little hats. Like my ballerina mother, her distant cousin, she wasn’t merely theatrical. Generous and nurturing, both women instilled a love of the arts in the offspring of the Ukrainian Canadian community by staging elaborate, folklore-themed children’s performances in Winnipeg’s old Playhouse Theater. While rats and cockroaches scurried through its subterranean dressing rooms, I joined other young performers onstage, where we danced, acted, and—far less successfully than my friend Irena Welhasch, whose musical talent surpassed that of every other child—sang our hearts out. As my aunt prophesied, the younger Irena grew up to be a celebrated opera singer, while my own, reedy voice at least never hindered my ballet career.

For a theater artist, strong eyebrows are crucial: their movement adds depth to a performance, and a well-defined pair can convey subtle changes of expression to the most distant seats in the house. Dancers, constantly in motion, are especially reliant on this—without the visibility of their brows, a performance might be perceived as indifferent and bland.

When I was still a scowling baby, a Zornesfalte—German for “anger wrinkle”—began forming on my forehead. It etched itself deeper as I grew into a resentful teenager and, later, a worried young adult. In a reversal of what usually happens to the disgruntled as they age, I evolved into an optimist, but the indignant furrow remained. Now, my frown line competes with the smile wrinkles around my eyes.

I’m not against Botox—but it’s not for me.

In a few years, as I age, my eyebrows will thin, and I might use a taupe-colored pencil to fill them in.

Tattoos? Never.

Genia Blum is a Swiss Ukrainian Canadian dancer, writer and translator. Her literary work has received several Pushcart Prize nominations. When not writing her memoir, Escape Artists, she tweaks fonts and photos on her website geniablum.com, and haunts Twitter and Instagram as @geniablum.

"Let Me Clarify: Unsolicited Advice by Genia Blum" a series of short pieces, based on Blum's personal opinion and experience. Essay amended in 2022.

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