Color Me Confused

Hello! We took some time off to tend to ourselves and truthfully there wasn’t a lot to be said about having BPES. Taking care of our needs in the second half of 2020 meant tending to much more basic things offline. We’re making a slow comeback to the blogosphere. Welcome to a new year, and for those in the Northern Hemisphere, hopefully a spring filled with hope and good health. 

I get my eyebrows threaded and I love it! I mentioned in previous posts that after my eye surgery in 2012, I stopped getting my eyebrows waxed based on my surgeon’s advice. The consultant I usually see to have my eyebrows threaded had a repetitive stress injury in her hands (her money makers!) and she was on medical leave towards the end of 2020. I was waiting for her to come back from leave (instead of just going to see someone else) and five months seemed like a very generous window of time to recover. Yes, I see your face recoiling! I went five months managing my brows on my own.

I went to visit her this week and thankfully she has fully recovered. She was back at work. She fixed my eyebrows, which truthfully just need to be trimmed. They mostly keep their shape at this point after years of threading. She asked if I wanted to have her fill in my brows. I was intrigued so I said yes! She also asked if I wear make up for work. I belly laughed. I do not wear make up on a regular basis. I might throw on tinted moisturizer, blush, and tinted lip balm for a major occasion or something. My sister and I have discussed elsewhere on the blog the pains of eye makeup as a woman with BPES, so ever since my eye surgery, I steer clear of eye shadow. Based on my reaction to my consultant’s query, our conclusion was she would fill in my brows “for fun.”

I was amused, nervous, and a bit excited to see what she would do. I have noticed over the last so many years that my eyebrows are not remotely symmetrical. This is normal. HOWEVER, I suspect that after my surgery, I think my sling is stronger/higher in my left eye compared to my right eye. I am convinced my eyebrow symmetry changed after my eye surgery. My consultant did extensive filling in on my right eyebrow to make it appear more level with my left. From afar, things looked okay. Up close, you could see that the pencil color probably matched my hair color better than my darker eyebrows. It was very obvious that my eyebrows were filled in.

I am glad I tried it for fun. I felt as if I had come full circle. When I was high school, I was very self conscious of having very thick eyebrows. In college, I didn’t really understand how to pluck my eyebrows, but I attempted it based off of the encouragement of my dorm mates. I would pluck some to ensure I didn’t have a unibrow. My high school drama coach always made fun of people with unibrows and I have this unfortunate psychological scar around this. Being impressionable and insecure as a teenager, I remember being very self conscious that he might call me out as having a unibrow. Laughable now, but I was so concerned at the time. After college once I had a stable income, I started getting my eyebrows waxed. I felt like a NEW WOMAN. My entire face looked different and I loved it. With intention, I do see the power in grooming your brows if it serves you. I then went through a phase where I grew my eyebrows back in before I transitioned to eyebrow threading. What is so funny to me is that I’ve been threading for so long, some hairs don’t grow in anymore. When my consultant filled in my eyebrows this week, it was essentially artificially creating the size and volume I used to naturally have before I started interfering. Hmmm…

Which leads me to wonder, between surgery and threading, did I make my eyebrows thinner and uneven? What is wonderful about this inquiry is that it doesn’t really matter and I suspect most people don’t even notice. Even if they did, I don’t care – it’s MY face! Experiences like this bring me back to that constant question floating calmly at my side as a lady with BPES whenever something weird happens to me – do other people have these eyebrow quandaries or are my eyebrows super wonky because of BPES?

Bitmoji Image

Rub me the wrong way

I am tactile. My hands are forever moving. If I go out to eat where they provide a straw with the drink, I will save the straw paper and twirl it in between my fingers throughout the meal. I get disappointed if the waitstaff clear away the straw paper during the meal. Borderline compulsive? Maybe, but many of you can probably relate in one way or another, which leads me to believe something else is at play here.

In the age of smartphones where many of us have shorter attention spans and a compulsive twitch to have our thumbs nearly constantly swiping our devices, it is even harder for me to keep my hands still. I remember distinctly watching my mom twirl the cord on her jacket absentmindedly when I was in high school and I thought – that’s where I get it from. The sad part for me is that I’ll never know how ingrained this habit was prior to smartphones. I wonder if my phone exacerbates the problem or is creating a new problem built off of my childhood urge to have my fingers always in motion.  I’m not sure if I would have outgrown this habit or if smartphones just offered a new vehicle for an existing behavior that was going to manifest itself regardless.

It astounds me when I sit in meetings at work and observe how many people rub their fingers in some way, when they don’t have them on their keyboards. Do we live in an age where we can’t keep our fingers still due to the addictive nature of mobile technology? Or does my line of work just attract the kind of people who are always moving their hands in some way? Several people in my office purchased the latest rage of fidget toys intended for children with emotional or learning disabilities. These small hand held toys are meant to give them something tactile to fiddle with in an effort to calm them and help them to focus. Most notably, several of my colleagues independently started bringing the Thera Cube toy to meetings in the last year. Is this brought on by smartphones or has the research just advanced in a way where we can more accurately diagnose this constant need to fiddle in certain people? All this just to help adults keep their forever twitchy fingers occupied. It actually makes me think about the character “Thing” in the Addams family a bit. Forever moving.

At some point in high school (I think) I adopted the nasty habit of transferring my tactile need into rubbing my eyebrows. At this point, I don’t even remember when I started doing this. I think it was around the time I started plucking my eyebrows, so perhaps I didn’t pick up this nasty habit until college. Whenever I was reading a book, studying, or concentrating on something in front of me on my desk, I would start absentmindedly rubbing my eyebrow. Part of the reason for this was that my hands were searching for some type of tactile stimulation and my eyebrows (dedicated companions) are easily accessible and always present. Likewise with my plucking, as individual hairs grew back in, my brow line provided a stimulating landscape to sooth my forever twitchy fingers.

In the last few years, I have realized that if I am not mindful, I can actually absentmindedly rub my eyebrows so much that they start to ache. Essentially, the behavior is getting worse. Unclear if I am doing it more frequently or if the toll of years of rubbing is starting to add up and my eyebrows are making their grievances known. I now have a few individual brow hairs that are almost impossible to tame and always curl up to stand on end in what I can only assume is the result of my incessant rubbing. As I mention on other pages on the site, I was really concerned about this leading up to my surgery. I cannot stress enough how terrified I am that I will now damage my sling from surgery or hurt my eye in someway. And yet it is so hard to stop.

I am embarrassed by this behavior, which I mostly do at home, but now it is so ingrained when I look at a computer screen and concentrate, or at my phone, I also sometimes catch myself doing it at work. Having watched myself in a mirror, I can confirm it looks bizarre. In the off chance I catch myself doing it in front of a colleague, I feel extremely embarrassed, as if I were caught picking my nose. It is something intimate almost that I would not want someone else to catch me doing. This feels extremely unprofessional for me. I mostly do it at home and occasionally at my desk by myself at work. If I do catch myself doing it in meetings, I immediately stop and feel very embarrassed. It is almost like thumb sucking in a way.

When I became aware of how bad this was getting, I did try a few different interventions in the past. I used to use brow gel on my eyebrows as a tactile reminder to not rub. That was somewhat successful, but I would still touch the brow. Once I felt the crusty brows, firmly in place with gel, I would mostly put my hand down. I also tried putting olive oil on my brows, but unfortunately as the day went on and if I started to sweat, the oil would slowly seep down into my eye, which was quite uncomfortable and caused my eye to tear up and have my face to be dripping with oil. Although it made my eye water, as I write this it is kind of funny that I had olive oil seeping down my face all in the name of my inability to calm my forever racing fingers down.

In a wave of shame and curiosity, as many people now do, I took to the internet to see if I was alone. I found many resources around people with compulsive behaviors for picking out their eyebrow hairs until they are practically bald. While fascinating, I do not have that problem. I couldn’t really find any reputable source that just referenced this idea of rubbing your eyebrows. While it sort of made me feel better to see that many people struggle with something like this at some level,  it wasn’t particularly reassuring. I was hoping to understand why it was happening, so I could try to make my situation better. I also don’t feel like I do this so much that it is a mania, a compulsion, or an addiction. It really is just a bad habit that I fall into absentmindedly depending on what I am doing. I do think when I am stressed or tired I am more likely to do it. This is logical though based on how we handle habits and what our default behaviors are when self control is diminished. After spending more time on the internet on this topic than was probably needed, I concluded that therapy didn’t seem like the appropriate intervention in my case. Wary of all the sensationalized internet blog posts, I didn’t feel any better and I wasn’t any closer to finding a way to stop.

I am really hoping with meditation and being mindful, I can break this habit. It bugs me that I let it get so out of hand that it is now taking a LOT of my energy and self control to make it stop. It has become such a nasty automatic habit that I rarely catch myself starting to do it. Only after I have started rubbing my left eyebrow in a fit of concentration, do I realize what I am even doing.

With a huge move, you have an opportunity to set up new habits and leverage your new environment to shake off old habits. When my sister was here with me when I first got to Singapore in August, I made it a point of telling her that I wanted to shake this habit. I keep repeating that in Singapore, I don’t rub my eyebrows. The problem, I have quickly discovered, is that even though I am in a new environment, my trigger behaviors – being on my personal or work laptop or my phone – came right with me to Singapore. I have caught myself rubbing my eyebrow (usually my left eyebrow) in times of working on my laptop, deeply concentrating while reading emails for work, or just plunging into the wormhole that is social media on my phone. Even though I am doing it less, I have still caught myself doing it. I am still wondering how the heck I stopped doing this cold turkey back when I had my surgery.

I am determined to break this habit. One of my largest fears around this as I’ve alluded to in other blog posts is the impact on my surgery. I do not want to have surgery again and I am terrified that all my rubbing will mess up my sling in my left eye. I know that one strategy will be to find a replacement activity. How I got here in the first place was essentially by transferring this need to always be rubbing my fingers to my eyebrows. Previously, I may have picked at my cuticles, pulled at a loose thread on my clothing, rubbed my thumbs together, or ran my fingers repeatedly over my manicured nails. Regardless, I have carpal tunnel syndrome (a story for another day) so any repetitive movement I do with my fingers is not great for my wrists. Ideally the goal is to retrain my brain to keep my fingers still. The real question for me is – is this something I am just hardwired to do or did I teach myself this behavior over time? I am excited to unlearn this nasty habit and fingers crossed it has not done any damage to my eyes.

Eyebrow Taming

My eyebrows have a story to tell. It’s been a journey to figure out what to do with them. Now that I’ve gotten to a better place in how I maintain my brows, I love looking at past pictures of me to see what eyebrow phase I was in at certain stages in my life. First, there was the pre-plucking stage, where I had very thick natural eyebrows that looked a bit like Oscar the Grouch. Until high school, it never occurred to me to do anything with my eyebrows. When girls in high school would exclaim their eyebrows looked a mess and they needed tweezers, I never really understood what they were talking about. Maybe it was in part due to my poor vision, but when I looked at my friends, their eyebrows looked perfectly normal to me. High school was the first time in my life when it occurred to me that maybe I should be doing something to take care of my eyebrows.

My theater coach and director in high school had an interesting approach to managing high schoolers – he would often times insult people. Not optimal, but his insult comic style approach to classroom management worked for some. I liked theater and wanted to act so I kind of weathered the storm of his verbal cruelty in order to get do what I liked. I remember so distinctly when one day he jokingly told one of the boys in my grade that he had a unibrow and he would help him to pluck it. I immediately became very self conscious and was terrified that the director would call me out for having a unibrow as well. It wasn’t until that day that I thought my eyebrows were so thick they could be a unibrow. It pains me to write this, but we try to keep it real up in here so I’ll admit it. I was so scared he would insult me, I ran home and plucked the nearly invisible hairs in between my eyebrows that very day. He never did comment on my eyebrows, but that episode was the first time I took tweezers to my brows.

Other than managing the unibrow that was mostly visible only to a self-conscious teenager with no beauty knowledge whatsoever, I didn’t do anything else to my eyebrows in high school. Eyebrow maintenance was still a mystery to me. I still laugh when I look at my high school senior pictures and see how thick my eyebrows were. In retrospect, if someone had just taught me how to clean up my brows a bit, I think I would have beautiful thick eyebrows today.  Growing up with a mom who never wore make up, all my beauty knowledge for better or worse was self taught. I am somewhat low maintenance in my hygiene routine. My friends are probably rolling over thinking that is an understatement. I would read beauty magazines where they would have all these rules about shaping brows and I just didn’t get it. They said not to pluck from the top, line up a pencil with your nose to figure out where your arch should be, etc etc. I could not figure out how the heck this was supposed to work and why my eyebrows looked nothing like the models on the pages of the magazines. I’m a little wiser now.

When I got to college, I was surrounded by experts in beauty with lots of dorm mates who were far more well versed in all things – from ironing your hair on the floor in lieu of a straightening iron to using a lash curler to perfecting cat eye with eye liner. All of this was completely foreign to me. I was caught up in the thrill of redefining myself in a collegiate atmosphere and I had so much to learn. Friday nights were often spent primping in front of the mirror with all the ladies who lived on my floor. It was so much fun. Here’s the stage in my life where I picked up the tweezers and quickly transitioned into my “surprised” phase. I still had no idea what I was doing, but at the suggestion of my friends and my own curiosity in self exploration, I decided to expand my eyebrow plucking beyond my “fear of unibrow” minimalist approach.

I had NO idea what I was doing. In retrospect, none of my new found friends really gave me great advice, but at the time I thought they were so helpful. I just carried that knowledge from beauty magazines and my fellow 19 year old dorm mates. Always pluck from underneath. Thinner eyebrows were in fashion when I was in college. I also kept channeling one of my friends from high school who always had very thinned, arched brows. I ended up over-plucking my eyebrows into high half circle type arches. No matter how many pencils I held up to my nose, I never really grasped the concept of how to shape to your natural arch. I can tell right away from any picture I see of me taken during this time period because my eyebrows are thin, highly arched, and I look chronically surprised. I thought at the time that I was so hot, gorgeous, and chic with those brows. Ahh – to be young and ignorant!

After college I toned down my plucking a little bit, but I still felt like things just weren’t quite right. What I kept reading about and seeing on TV just didn’t seem to match what my eyebrows looked like. After starting a fairly stressful teaching job, I decided to focus on self care and treat myself. Looking back, I think I was also paranoid the kids would make fun of me. One of my students told me I had a mustache (kids can be so cruel when they are actually looking to be loved and noticed) and that rapidly prompted my journey into the world of waxing. I booked an appointment for a lip and brow wax at a spa in the city. I was terrified, but also felt like such a grown up. I had never been to a spa in my life and certainly never waxed anything in my life. I thought, finally paying a professional to do this, somehow I will get my whole eyebrow shaping thing right. I might solve the mystery of eyebrow shaping that I was always reading about in those beauty magazines that were so captivating to me as a teenager.


I had an amazing experience at the salon and left thinking I looked incredible. There is something to be said for the power of brow shaping. It can really change your entire look. I felt amazing! After I got my eyebrows waxed, this was a game changer. I finally realized how shaping your brows can truly change your entire face. I entered into the waxing stage of my life where I looked like a grown up. My eyebrows were thinner than they’d been in high school, but they were now shaped appropriately to match my face. I officially left my half moon surprised face college eyebrows in the dust and never looked back.

I mostly stuck with waxing and a little bit of plucking to maintain between waxes. I don’t think I went too often because waxing was an expensive indulgence for me at the time. I now knew what was possible with my brows. My eyebrows and time marched on. Eventually I moved into a phase in my life where I was trying to reduce my plastic footprint.  There was a brief period where I tried to make sugar wax and use strips of cloth to wax my brows at home. That was a very short-lived plastic free failed experiment. This then led me to eyebrow threading as I was trying to be more natural, plastic free, and realistic about what I am capable of doing. There was a tiny hole in the wall threading studio near my house that only took walk ins. It was amazing. I could stop by whenever I felt I needed a clean up. I loved how threading didn’t yank on my brows, it was less painful, cheaper, better for the environment, and I was supporting a local female owned business. The owner was a genius at shaping my brows in a beautiful way to compliment my face. Life was great.

Around this time, I decided to have my eye surgery that I talk about in detail on other pages on our site. I was really nervous about what was going to happen with my eyebrows. I went and got threaded close to my surgery in the hopes that my eyebrows would at least be tamed and take some time to grow out in case I could never shape again. My surgeon during my consult lectured me on the evils of threading and how it can lead to infections. While I respected her opinions and expertise, I decided I felt comfortable with continuing to thread post surgery.  Post-op after surgery, they run through a litany of things you can’t do – don’t wear make up and a bunch of other things I now forget. My favorite part about this was that you’ve just gotten out of surgery and they run down this long list of things you can’t do, but nowhere do they give this to you in writing. I remember thinking, when the anesthesia fully wears off, how the hell do you expect me to remember this? And I remember being super entertained that they gave me this laundry list of items that I couldn’t do for the next two weeks and then they dropped this bomb at the end – stay out of the sun for A YEAR. I burst out laughing. It was meant to ensure I didn’t have scarring around my eyes, but every time the sun came out the year after my surgery I would laugh and half jokingly think “Oh god, get OUT of the sun!”

I actually don’t remember anymore if they said I could wax or thread again post surgery. I was really nervous because I had slings put in place, so I was paranoid threading might irritate them. I waited a long time post op (like months and months) before I decided to start threading again. I am still a bit cautious with threading, but in general it is really gentle and it hasn’t caused any pain or seemed to affect my slings in anyway. I now use threading and a little bit of plucking in between trips to the salon to keep my eyebrows shaped. I worry a bit that threading isn’t good for my post-surgical brows. This seems like a good question I want to ask the next time I see my eye doctor.

I didn’t do this post op, but over the years I’ve returned to a really nasty habit of  compulsively rubbing my eyebrows. I really want to kick this. I vigorously rub my eyebrows (sometimes until they ache) more than I should and I am very nervous that I might damage my slings with my compulsive eyebrow rubbing. I am grateful that post surgery I can still get my eyebrows gently shaped via threading, even with all my worries and unexplainable compulsive rubbing (which I want to write more about another day). I kind of miss my bushy caterpillar eyebrows of my youth and maybe if my thick brows were still around, they’d better conceal my tiny surgery scars. I wonder if I’ve come full circle and I should just let Oscar the Grouch come back in all his glory.