Abeir Soukieh is an Arab-Australian poet and writer from Canberra who is currently completing her Masters in Anthropology at the Australian National University.
The other day, my eldest sister and I were having a civil argument about who’d massacred their eyebrows the most in their lifetime, thus far. I was about 98% sure that it was me, but I indulged her a little until more witnesses could be called to the stand.
After several back and forths of “ah, you’s dreamin’, it’s totally me”, Mum entered the room and the question was put to her calmly and without bias:
“Alright, Mum, who’s ruined their brows the most?”
“Abeir,” she said, immediately.
“Ha!” I told ya so-ed my sweet sister, equal parts glowing with argument-winning pride and recoiling with post-traumatic eyebrow stress as I thought back on all the times either I or a ‘brow specialist’ had utterly destroyed my defenceless shoots.
Y’see, it didn’t take long for me to notice that my eyebrows were not very much like the other kids’. And, while the hilarious fun-making of my name was a more overt sort of unpleasantness, the approach to my brows was more of a quietly disapproving, whispering (well within earshot) and confused kind of targeting.
Normally it was expressed along the lines of some kind of cold lament like, “She’s got really big eyebrows,” or, equally as common, a wordless mimicry of whatever eyebrow movement I happened to produce at the time.
And so, in my earlier years, I took pretty immediately to ‘reshaping’ the poor dears to a more ‘acceptable’, though retrospectively less ‘spatially aligned’, design in order to appease, as much as possible, any passers-by in my immediate vicinity.
Little did I know that my non-obliging nose would most certainly not take to these new designs as warmly as envisioned, nor did I know that all tweezers should absolutely come with a disclaimer saying ‘sisters, not twins’. But, obviously, live and learn. Then live and learn again. And then do it again and again and so on and so forth forever and ever and ever.
Anyway, later on, I said “screw it, let ‘em grow”, which then provided some with the chance really to ‘appreciate’ what I was ‘doing’ with my eyebrows. Like I was doing something brave merely by looking like me.
And, to be perfectly honest, I think I might actually have preferred the more blatant childhood bullying to this more subtle kind of ‘benevolent’ racism. It’s like killing with kindness. A kind of ‘you’re different but I’m so progressive that I’m overlooking it. Aren’t I good? Really, I’m the best of people. Other people wouldn’t think to appreciate this poor girl. And what a brave girl she is.’
Ultimately, though, I didn’t really start to feel comfortable with my eyebrows until my mum and sisters and I got hugely into Turkish dramas.
All of a sudden there were these faces more like mine, and, lo and behold, eyebrows that were not like the other kids’, but like mine.
Yes. I look exactly like these women. (Images courtesy of Google, Nurgül, Tuba and Esra)
It was overwhelmingly satisfying to be in the company of these women. They didn’t have to justify their every move, their every look. They just got on with their extremely dramatic lives: looking on in anguish as the lead man they love ends up with another woman because of an extremely avoidable misunderstanding that is only resolved after the lead man marries this other woman but who, after said misunderstanding is resolved, then quickly determines to leave the other woman for the lead woman, but not before this other woman, or second lead woman, cooks up a fake pregnancy or illness, or has a real pregnancy or illness, which makes the male lead stay because of integrity and so there’s all this angst, there’s torment, there are longing looks and arbitrary kidnappings and pointless second male leads who can’t catch a break, and then, finally, there’s the very last episode of like 2 billion 2-hour long episodes wherein the lead man, for whatever reason, is shot dead or dies of a brain tumour, but lives on through the child that the woman lead discovers she’s having just moments before he slips away…
So, my point is that aesthetics are difficult enough as it is without being laced with a kind of racism that regards your aesthetic difference as a thing that is ‘rightly’ made fun of. Equally noxious are the ‘kindnesses’ and ‘appreciations’ that underscore a particular need for some to draw attention to your difference in a misguided attempt at being ‘tolerant’. Just adds another remarkably pointless layer to the societal-appeasement/rebellion continuum, or whatever. And really, if you don’t happen upon good role models (that is, the ones that make you feel less abnormal), you end up blamelessly – but fruitlessly – trying to make you, the oval, fit inside a square.
Which would be such a shame, indeed.
© Abeir Soukieh, 2017