Yuen: Why I embraced the Zoom beauty boom and got my new brows

Maybe she’s born with it.

Maybe it’s microblading.

Last summer when I was relaxing on a beach at Cedar Lake with my friend Jamie, I became entranced by her thick, sculpted eyebrows. I figured I simply had never noticed how blessed was she, so I praised those bad boys. “You have amazing eyebrows.”

“Thanks,” she replied. “I just had them done.”

Then Jamie explained what “done” meant. That’s how I learned that on-trend women like my friend were not just tweezing or waxing, but tattooing their faces with beautiful brows.

Jamie pulled out her phone and scrolled through the Instagram page of the in-demand brow artist who had performed this cosmetic sleight of hand. Microblading, I learned, is a semi-permanent makeup procedure in which a hand tool consisting of tiny needles sketches in the illusion of hair strokes. In another technique known as shading, the artist uses a tattoo machine and needle cartridge that injects pixels of pigment into the skin.

For the next several months, I followed the artist’s account and swiped through dozens of images revealing $500 before-and-after brow miracles. Lonely, scraggly hairs were transformed into natural yet assertive arches. Weirdly, I was transfixed.

We are told that as we age, our skin will wrinkle, our necks will sag, our bellies will shift. But we don’t always foresee how the unique physical traits that we cling to — not because they are perfect, but because they are us — may also fade away.

As a teen, I took pride in my feral eyebrows. Even when they threatened to kiss above the bridge of my nose, Frida Kahlo-style, I still cherished them. They’re a genetic piece of my dad I assumed I would carry on my face forever.

It was probably after the birth of my second kid when I noticed my brows were looking sparse, even patchy. I filled them in every morning with pencils or shadow, all the while wondering if I appeared more desperate by doing so.

When the pandemic hit, legions of office workers like myself were confronted with their faces hours at a time over video calls. COVID brought despair, loss and isolation — and for some, a first-world preoccupation with one’s physical appearance. With so much time at home spent on video platforms, we couldn’t escape the worry lines and double chins staring back at us from the computer screen.

It doesn’t help that these images have been distorted by the technological limitations of laptop cameras. Researchers have called this phenomenon “Zoom dysmorphia,” and it’s fueling a boom in Botox, fillers and even surgeries to tweak our perceived flaws.

The quest for physical perfection can go too far — and of course beauty comes from the inside. But the difference today is that the effort of altering our faces and bodies is no longer a secret. More people, led by the example of millennials, are talking openly about the work they’ve had done.

So earlier this spring, I became part of the Zoom boom. I booked a coveted appointment with Jamie’s brow artist. She spent close to an hour mapping out the new shape of my brows, then mixed the pigment, numbed my forehead with a topical anesthetic, and meticulously re-created my brows.

My greatest worry going into the procedure was not that she would botch my face — I trusted this woman’s portfolio — but that the work would look too obvious. The ultimate vanity is not wishing we were more beautiful, but willing it to happen and making everyone think we were born that way.

It turns out there was no need to fret. When the artist handed me the mirror, I saw that my brows looked like me. Just a better, more confident me. I live with three boys, and no one in my house noticed that I went out one day and came back with a face tattoo.

There’s a lot wrong with the barrage of unrealistic ideals of beauty found on social media. But I’m grateful for a growing transparency of women who are willing to admit that beauty, even natural beauty, can take a lot of work.