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We Can Thank Drag Culture For Our Gloriously Full, Fluffy Soap Brows

Close Up Shot of a Woman's Eye
Image by CoffeeAndMilk / iStock
June 9, 2022
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Take a quick scroll through your Instagram or TikTok feeds, and chances are you'll notice more than a few users with fluffy, brushed-up eyebrows. Call it a countermovement to the pencil-thin brows of the '90s and early aughts, but full, fringy arches have commanded the last decade—and it doesn't seem like they're going anywhere. 

As such, you can find a host of techniques, tricks, and professional treatments meant to define and thicken the brow hairs: stronghold brow gels, conditioning waxes, eyebrow tinting, microshading, and so on. Since 2019, people have even started using bar soap to fluff the brows upward for a feathery look, resulting in a buzzy beauty trend dubbed soap brows.

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But a new trend, this is not: We can thank drag culture for the flattened, defined brows we know and love. Performers have been using soap (and glue) on their arches for ages, and they continue to influence the look today.

A history of soap brows. 

Consider soap brows a lesser version of brow lamination: Instead of committing to the semi-permanent salon procedure, you can coat the hairs with bar soap, which helps flatten down the strands so you easily mold them to your liking—almost like a glue stick. "Drag culture and the drag community was up in the genesis of that movement by gluing down their brows to perform," notes brow expert Joey Healy

Your eyebrows are your face framers, after all, and re-forming the arches can quite literally change the shape of your face—and no one knows this better than drag queens. "The first thing I do, before I put on any other makeup, is get my eyebrows in the right place," says Jackie Cox, who starred on Season 12 of RuPaul's Drag Race. "When you are able to glue down or soap down a brow, you're able to truly master the shape that you want or create a new effect—something that is so important to drag." 

After applying even layers of glue onto clean, dry brows and setting them with powder, Cox draws her arches a bit higher than her natural brow bone to make her face appear more elongated and feminine. "The two [facial features] that are most identified with masculine or feminine are the brow bone and the jaw," she explains. "And both of those things we can affect with makeup and change how they're perceived." Covering the brows provides a blank canvas, so Cox can become anyone she wants to be. 

The soap brow trend reached a fever pitch in 2019, as breakthrough brow lamination procedures became more and more popular, notes celebrity brow artist René de la Garza. But the sentiment behind it remains the same: Whether you prefer brushing up the hairs to add volume, moving them to cover gaps or scars, fluffing them out to make them wear wider, or redirecting stray strands, the way you mold your brows can help you achieve various looks, and thus change the way you are perceived. 

Brows are transformative, both on- and off-stage.

They say the eyes are windows to the soul, but experts argue the eyebrows can convey just as much emotion. Think about when you lift your arches in surprise, furrow them in confusion, or raise a brow in suspicion: Your brows can quite literally shape your mood and portray it to the people around you, and that's exactly what makes them so integral to performance art. 

"Drag is so much about sharing emotion through your face [while] lip-syncing," says Cox, and perfecting the brows allows her to exaggerate her features and fully connect with the audience. "[It influences] how my drag is going to come through and how the emotions of the song or the performance I'm doing is going to happen," she adds. 

Your brows can sway your own emotions, too: Over time, Cox has discovered what techniques can help make the arches appear more fierce, versus how to fashion something sweeter or more elegant—and that influences how she feels onstage. Soap brows, while less extreme, can similarly help you nail whatever role you'd like to play for the time being, be it soft and feathery or bold and ultra-defined. 

"You can have something that's sexy, something that's surprising, you can do Betty Boop, you can do brows from the '20s or the '30s or the '60s, or you can put rhinestones on your brows…the possibilities are endless," says Healy. It's the very definition of freedom of expression and celebrating your identity—whoever you choose to become.

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