Wednesday, February 01, 2006


Last night I was lying in bed and getting ready to sleep. Everything was great. Bob was falling asleep. I was in my own bed and comfortably tired. And for a moment, the world just turned awful.

It doesn't happen to me very often anymore and it went away in a moment. I was thinking about it and it occurred to me that the feeling was a lot like when I really noticed eyebrows.

I was watching TV the other night, just killing time until Bob, who was playing his WWII submarine game and had to sink one more freighter, would come to bed. They were talking about fashion and they mentioned the fashion sin of over-plucked eyebrows. They showed Pamela Anderson, who apparently is the poster child for over-plucking and then went on to mention that Whoopi Goldberg has no eyebrows. Which I admit, I never noticed.

I, of course, went for a number of months with no eyebrows or eyelashes or body hair. I learned to draw in eyebrows pretty well. The idea being that when you glanced at me I didn't have that boiled egg look, that perpetually surprised look I had without eyebrows. To draw in my eyebrows, which I admit I had not paid huge amounts of attention to before, I looked at other people's eyebrows. And eyebrows are weird.

First of all, human hair distribution is weird. Non-aquatic mammals tend to have hair. The ones that don't we think are weird. Like Chinese Crested dogs. And eyebrows are these two patches of fur (okay, one long patch of fur for some people) that are stuck between our eyes and our hairline. I know what they do. They act as gestural punctuation. They go up, they go down, they come together. When someone's face is a rest and the eyebrow rides on the edge of the orbit, the bone depression where the eye goes, they look okay. Raised they ride in the middle of the forehead and they are more clearly just these weird bars of hair stuck on our face. Sit at lunch with a group of friends when you are noticing eyebrows, and watching them go up and down, and thinking how hairless we are in general and how weird our distribution of body hair is (I mean, are they supposed to keep our brows warm and insulated?) and if you are like me, you'll find it very hard to concentrate on what people were saying.

Sitting at lunch one day with friends, watching eyebrows, the world was briefly very strange. People looked odd. They didn't look like people I knew but like these animals with weird fur. There are a lot of ways to invoke this feeling of the strangeness of ourselves. Bob once pointed out to Adam (who was a kid at the time) that your tongue is really a little too wide to sit between your teeth. Adam said, yeah, it is. And then was self-consciously aware of his tongue for some time. Which is the whole point of the observation, of course. They laughed and kidded and then we rode in silence (we were on a car trip) and Adam had the annoying experience of really noticing his tongue.

Lying in bed last night, this sudden feeling that the world was awful, that everything was filled with malevolence, went away in just a moment or two. When I was younger, it sometimes used to persist for weeks. I never told anyone about it. I didn't know how. It never occurred to me that other people probably had the same experience. It took a long time for me to learn how to relax and let go of the feeling and I suspect that anti-depression medication played a part in that. It goes away. And my feeling that eyebrows were weird went away.


Anonymous Bob said...

I told you not to watch the SOTU last night!

If you think eyebrows are weird, get a load of this hair helmet.

February 01, 2006 2:12 PM  
Blogger Ted said...

I mean, are they supposed to keep our brows warm and insulated?

Is that a rhetorical question? You already said what eyebrows are for: they're for emphasizing facial expressions.

We're social animals; we have specialized neurons that fire whenever we see someone else's eyes move. It's believed that the whites of our eyes are white because it makes it easier to see what direction someone else is looking in; they facilitate non-verbal communication. Eyebrows are presumably the same thing.

February 01, 2006 2:26 PM  
Anonymous Tim Pratt said...

Now I can't stop thinking about how wide my tongue is. Sigh.

February 01, 2006 3:03 PM  
Blogger Maureen McHugh said...

Well, yes, I was being rhetorical. It's just that they are so weird. And the whole idea of evolving patches of hair on one's face for communication, well how weird is that. In some sense, not weird at all, when I compare it to things like peacocks tails and baboon butts. But still.

Someone who will remain nameless read this post and said to me, 'And you say you've never done acid.' Apparently, LSD makes some people focus on discrete aspects of reality in just this way. This same person said that when on acid, they were sometimes unable to recognize themselves in a mirror.

They apparently thought this was entertaining.

I think it's good I never did acid.

February 01, 2006 4:59 PM  
Blogger Greg van Eekhout said...

Sometimes feet freak me out, when I think of them as effed up hands.

February 01, 2006 5:07 PM  
Blogger Darby M. Dixon III said...

I'm a little scared to leave my office now, because I just know all I'm going to see is eyebrows, everywhere.

Also this reminds me a little of how I recently regained my sense of smell. It's funny how compelling the fact that the world smells really bad is when you haven't noticed for years.

February 02, 2006 11:26 AM  
Anonymous Adrienne said...

The other day, while giving the baby a bath, I realized that eyebrows are for more than facial expressions. See, I was dumping water over the boy's head in order to wash out shampoo. He moved, which he does, and I dumped the water in his face. It didn't run into his eyes because the eyebrows diverted it. So there is something going on there, I think. They are good for channeling liquids away from our eyes.

And into our eyes, which is only a minor improvement.

February 02, 2006 12:02 PM  
Anonymous Adrienne said...

Dang it. That last sentence should have been "and into our ears."

February 02, 2006 3:04 PM  
Blogger Justine Larbalestier said...

Adrienne: I was just going to say that eyebrows are for keeping the sweat from our eyes. And, yes, prolly diverting it into our ears.

I love this post, Maureen. I just had my eyebrows waxed and now my own face is freaking me out.

I do love doing the disasociational (spelling?) thing. The veins that I can see so clearly under white white skin. People's knees are endlessly freaky, kind of staring back at you upside down. And noses that are so small it's hard to figure out how the person breaths.

And, no, you are not alone in having those moments of world-awfulness.

February 02, 2006 9:01 PM  
Blogger claire said...


I think we keep our eyebrow hair because this is the hair line that shows emotion. All of the other facial hair can fall off but the mammal survives.

But isn't it funny that women's eyebrows thin as they grow older and the male version doesn't. Hmmmn.

I'm just saying...


February 12, 2006 11:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

jen said....

im from the philippines i also have a problems like that beind discriminated because i have no eyebrows no eyelashes and i reaaly feel that i do not belong in a group because of being discriminated...hope youll help me
in my problems on how can i experience having eyebrows and eyelashes

February 28, 2006 10:06 PM  
Anonymous B. said...

I love how you write about yoru inner experience so clearly- makes mefeel les wierd. :)

I got my eyebrows waxed a little while ago which strangely made me long to see how my eyebrows look with no tweezing whatsoever. I'm growing my eyebrows out now. I thought I hardly tweezed my eyebrows at all, but not that I'm really NOT TWEEZING MY EYEBROWS AT ALL, they are growing in in a lot more places than I thought they would! They are way below my previous brows and way closer together! It's kind of making me laugh. I can't wait till they are all grown out to see what I look like. It's kinda hard to resist the urge to tweeze.

April 09, 2007 7:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ur cool i never really thought of eyebrows like that before.

May 28, 2007 9:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

u suck ass man

May 28, 2007 9:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I always thought that eyebrows served to help us cope with glare and stuff like that.

August 03, 2007 8:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just wanted to add, although it is a year later.
Eyebrows also protect your eyes when its snowing, or really sunny outside.

I hate my eyebrows... I overpluck too much..People love them, but I hate em..

June 05, 2008 10:53 PM  
Blogger kate said...

They are used to stop dust and sweat going into your eyes :)

August 22, 2008 5:46 AM  
Blogger babe_no27 said...

It amazes me that you called it the world seeming awful, if you meant horrible. I think it's staring in the mirror for a half hour realizing you never pay attention to reality/the details very much. People who can't relate possibly don't think enough. And it sucks ass that people like to take drugs to embrace the weird humanity and put holes in their brains.

August 30, 2008 8:13 PM  
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^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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March 24, 2009 1:55 AM  

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