The tender of the brow

My skin is too thin for makeovers, literally and figuratively. I rarely wear makeup, so when a well-meaning aesthetician paints me up like a stage actress, I break out for a week. My self-esteem wilts when a licensed beauty professional points out tiny lines around my eyes or dark circles beneath them. The inevitable lectures on moisturizer and foundation only inspire confusion.

“I don’t need all this stuff to look good,” I think. “Or do I? After all, this person is a professional. I apply eye shadow with my fingers and believe ChapStick qualifies as lip gloss.”

I avoid high-end beauty situations whenever possible. My cosmetic forays usually take me no further than the aisles of Longs Drugs, where I can buy ChapStick and cat food on the same trip. So it was with some trepidation that I approached the Macy’s Benefit Cosmetics counter in Arden Fair Mall on a recent Thursday evening.

Benefit’s Brow Bar offers $18 eyebrow waxes by a licensed aesthetician with no appointment, transforming a luxury day-spa service to an experience on par with ordering a burrito at Los Jarritos. This no-nonsense, counter-service approach to beauty appealed to me. I felt drawn to the Brow Bar like a fuzzy moth to a hot, waxy candle.

Located on Macy’s first floor, the Brow Bar is easily detectable by its large cursive signage and the dance hits blaring at nightclub volume. I followed the sound of Fergie’s humps to the bar, where a Benefit salesgirl in superhumanly applied eyeliner added my name to a short waiting list.

“Do you want to play with the makeup while you wait?” she asked, gesturing to the neighboring counter stocked with Benefit cosmetics.

Play? Makeovers can be playful? I followed her to a chair.

“So, do you moisturize?” she asked.

Damn. Caught again. I said no and she pulled a face of mock horror. “You don’t? You’re in trouble!”

The old makeover anxiety rose in my chest as she rubbed lotion and foundation onto my face. Fortunately, my name was called before we got to blush.

I swapped chairs and came face to face with Kirk, my brow-tender. I suddenly felt vulnerable. One move from this man and I could end up with an expression of permanent surprise—or worse, having to draw my eyebrows on every morning. I decided to be very, very kind to Kirk.

Kirk removed the same makeup his co-worker had applied seconds before. He explained the Benefit brow philosophy—follow the natural curve of the eye—as he trimmed my brows with tiny scissors.

“You’re lucky you have nice, full brows,” he said. I hoped this wasn’t aesthetician-speak for “Are you related to Groucho?”

Kirk dipped a wooden stick in a pot of pearl-rosin wax. He painted the warm, soothing goop between my eyes and covered it with a swatch of cloth. I closed my eyes and Kirk yanked the cloth off.

Ow. Owww. I looked past Kirk and noticed a man staring at me unabashedly. Two teenage girls walked by and giggled.

Here was the downside of counter-service beauty: an audience. The Brow Bar chairs face out toward the store and the loud music ensures plenty of attention. As Kirk waxed on and waxed off to the beat of Prince’s “Erotic City,” my rapidly reddening face became a floorshow for bored shoppers.

Happily, the upside of counter service is speed. Within minutes, Kirk handed me a mirror to inspect his handy work. I smiled at my reflection, but all I saw at first glance was the flushed skin across my forehead. I swapped chairs again and my initial salesgirl reapplied foundation to cover the redness.

“Don’t her brows look good?” she prompted the other salesgirls. They gathered around and cooed their approval.

I paid and then hunkered down in the accessories section to examine my new eyebrows. I noticed, with relief, that they were still there. They did look polished, and as makeovers go, the whole experience was fairly easygoing. Still, I wasn’t sure the results were worth the pain or the gawking. Sadly, even counter-service might be too high-maintenance for this girl.