learning to see myself

yesterday i was on a plane and looked across the aisle at a beautiful woman. she was round in every way a woman could be, a round soft chin, round breasts pillowing out of her shirt, round thighs pressed into leggings, round tummy. her hair was curled and sort of floating around her head.

and she looked just delicious to me.

i couldn’t take my eyes off her. when she picked up on me seeing her, i reduced my attention to sneaking glances, not wanting to send the wrong message. i wasn’t flirting, just observing something, and having a visceral reaction.

she looked beautiful.

and she looked like me.

this has happened to me more and more lately. my head is being turned by new bodies, genuinely turned. i am not stretching to see the beauty – i am being struck by it. the curves are immensely pleasing to me, i see an inspiring soft that i know for a fact to feel good.

i also know it is possible to be round and healthy and do yoga and eat right. to be losing weight and be beautiful already.

i was sent an article recently on america’s forgotten pin-up girl, a ‘zaftig’ woman named hilda. her arms, the proportions of her small feet and hands to her plump arms and calves, felt familiar and, again, pleasing.

i was sharing all of this with a dear friend last night and she said, it is a retraining of the eyes.

yes, i thought, exactly that. i have spent several years building up my capacity to see myself. taking pictures. sharing those pictures. looking in mirrors. not looking away. and realizing that this is a political act. because women who look like me are not presented in the mainstream, or most streams, as beautiful.

and now it isn’t just a capacity to see myself, which is in and of itself a revelation, a freedom, and a falling in love iterated with stolen glances. but it is also an authentic joy that i am now able to see this wider realm of beautiful bodies. it feels like a jailbreaking of my mind. the life and strength, resilience, the sweet weight of life in other bodies and in my own – it has taken my whole life to learn to see myself.

and, somewhere between a mantra and a reality i can say: i am a beautiful woman.

why i stopped plucking/letting my brows grow

my sister autumn and i have been in a conversation for a while about letting our brows grow out. we touched on it again and last night and wrote down some thoughts. i wanted to share the conversation, interested in hear how others navigate their beauties.


why i stopped plucking (autumn):

I remember the first time I had my eyebrows done. I was in high school, and had traveled from dc to nyc to visit my big sister, a student at Columbia university. It was my first trip to visit her on my own (!!) and after about a day, adrienne granted me the enormous privilege of getting to go out and roam morningside heights alone, while she did something. Honestly I have no memory of what she was doing. I only remembered that she trusted me enough to send me off on my own, and I trusted myself enough to enjoy it.

I did what felt like the most adult thing I could do. I went to a salon to get a manicure. But when I walked in the door, the first thing the woman in the salon said was, “here to get your eyebrows done?” Embarrassed, unsure, suddenly feeling that all of my years of misgivings about my bushy brows were now confirmed by the truth, essentialized in a moment, I said, “yes” and was led back into a room, laid down on a bed, and unceremoniously had my abundant brows waxed.

I felt cool. But I looked ridiculous. Red, puffy.

It was not until I got back to dc that I realized the fullness of my mistake, the level of upkeep I had consigned myself to with one decision.

Had my eyebrows done one other time, took skin off, never had waxing again.

Continued plucking, even after I stopped shaving my underarms (age 16), even after I stopped shaving my legs (age 17). It was a recognizable (hypocrisy) but by then I felt like I had dug my own grave. If I stopped plucking, I would look even more ridiculous. I thought…

Then I had my daughter. She was only a few days old when I realized she not only had my face, but MY EYEBROWS. As she has changed from an infant to a toddler, the similarity has become more pronounced. She is going to have the thick eyebrows I had. The ones I got from my dad.


One day I grabbed tweezers from the drawer while she and Finn were in the bath, raised them to my face, then stopped. I felt a profound sense of shame. I was about to pluck in front of my daughter. What kind of message would that send to her? In that moment I decided to stop plucking. It’s been weird, trying to let my brows grow out, but I don’t regret it. I want Siobhan to know that she is beautiful, and the best way to do that is to let her know that I am.

autumn and siobhan

letting my brows grow (adrienne):

i am one of three daughters of a man with big expressive eyebrows, the brown family brows.

i have always loved them on his face, the way they move and let me know his moods. but on my face i’ve sought to control the bush, to feminize, to keep expression but in a way that was elegant and slender and arched.

my sister autumn and i have ‘the brows’. our sister april somehow ended up with dark sharp slender arched brows that are almost too perfect. i have paid lots of money over the years trying to get those brows, with lots of hi-jinx. folks going too far and leaving me with lines of tragic surprise, or odd uneven shapes that pointed at my vanity.

and sometimes i would negotiate just the right brow and experience a week of happiness. i have had two different women who did it perfectly, consistently, and with whom i developed the gentle and submissive relationships we can have with those who make us feel beautiful.

i have never been great at keeping them up between waxing because the pain of tweezing doesn’t appeal to me. every time i would go in to get them done it would be with a sheepishness – yes i know there’s a wilderness on my face, yes i know i should have come earlier, yes i know it will hurt more now because ‘it’s so much, my god. so much hair!’.

i didn’t really consider how beautiful my brows might be until i saw them on my sister’s face. and that was while she was holding my niece siobhan, who was also blessed with the brown family brows. on them the brows look full and fierce, in the realm of strength, self-expression and boundaries. autumn told me she was intentionally not plucking.

i arched a waxed brow. i felt moved inside, towards her.

with no conscious connection i came home and covered my bathroom wall in frida kahlo prints. every time i look in the bathroom mirror i am flanked by a wall of shameless and powerful eyebrows. and slowly i’ve stopped plucking. i haven’t gotten them waxed even thought the AMC starts today. i’ve watched them grow.

now i am so grateful autumn inspired me to stop plucking, waxing, threading and shaving these brows into submission. as they have slowly recaptured their natural glory it’s been complex.

and…i do still want to get them waxed sometimes, mainly whenever i’m going to nyc. i love the clean lines and contrasts of done brows, how high femme/drag queen fabulous i have felt at times with my brows (and nails and hair) did. i find myself admiring the art of eyebrows on other faces even more.

but i’m also generally loving the power of being a woman with these brows – it says something about my self-love. i am learning a new beauty in my face, a beauty that comes from seeing what is without wanting to improve it.

and i feel in an authentic place when siobhan lays next to me in the morning and touches my face. there is something healing in the knowledge that when she sees me she sees that her beauty is whole.

amb and siobhan

a poem on purpose

(written by hand on plane, transcribed with a cacophony of frog songs all around me)

i am often now looking into beauty
wherever i am
seeing a falling down around me of cages, perhaps
some bar, some steel, something thought to hold me
or i thought it up to hold myself
through the awakening

when it is a chaos inside it helps to say
i am this
(tired) {known}
and not that
(desired) {unknown}

but in all the space i found a chaos without
a world, a familiar
an unreasonable joy
an unrealistic life
and i have decided to live it

because i don’t remember anymore when the heartbreak started
that emptiness larger than any single slight or withholding or person
but i do know this world will keep it burning and aching
twisting you and i away from any purpose
filling up the sight

i could, and i have, but
i don’t think i was put here to see the world and weep

i have full hands,
my work is to create more beauty
tho…there is enough and so much
so then, to show it, to let it be, and let it out
to conduit that love which is also always present
in this same plane, in this same little world
to notice the ways it is good to be of my species
on my planet
in this age
to remember how to love
all through these forgetting times