Melissa Markoff had never given much thought to her eyebrows. That is, until strong, bold brows started trending a few years ago. Paging through a copy of Lucky magazine, the Bryn Mawr resident came across a term that resonated with her: “guppy brow.” Referring to a partially over-plucked, partially under-plucked shape, she realized the term applied to her very own eyebrows.
At about the same time, Markoff’s friend, illustrator Julia Hartling, was working on a series of images reflecting the variety of different standards of beauty. Though the pair met through a mutual friend and their children attended the same school, their beauty backgrounds couldn’t have been more different. Hartling grew up in the then USSR, where people didn’t pay as much attention to their appearance as they did in America, which had a thriving consumer industry. Women in countries with an expansive beauty market incorporate so much detail into their appearance—especially eyebrows—that even Markoff, who grew up in America, felt “ashamed by [her] lack of grooming skills.”
Bringing their skills and views of beauty together, the pair created a book called Pluck This: An A-To-Z Eyebrow Fantasia with Markoff writing the text and Hartling creating digital art. The book plays on the idea that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. They spent a couple of years depicting and describing dozens of types of eyebrows, sending each other iteration after iteration of beauty failures, successes and trademark looks they believed would resonate with readers. “Who doesn’t have some kind of funny or traumatic beauty-related story?” Hartling says.
The book is made even more accessible by its format, an A-to-Z guide to eyebrow shapes. The children’s book layout idea came organically, as both Markoff and Hartling are mothers who were reading picture books to their own children. “It’s a good organizing tool,” Hartling says of the alphabetical arrangement. Each letter is accompanied by a digital illustration by Hartling and a loosely-metered poem written by Markoff, which, combined, offer readers a hilarious glimpse into the extensive imaginations of these women and wittily highlight the absurdity of certain beauty trends.
Rife with pop culture references, the book includes iconic brows, as well as the author’s favorites. Markoff favors Lena Dunham’s clean arches, while Hartling loves perhaps the most iconic pair, found on Frida Kahlo. “I love Frida Kahlo,” she says. “I think she’s so flippant and cool.”
Beyond those readily recognizable, the pair waxes poetic on vaguer concepts such as why fashion icon Anna Wintour hides her brows behind bangs. Similarly, titles like “Queen” and “Rebel” serve as a color commentary on a facial feature whose trends can fall on the more subjective side of beauty. “I think our book is a little edgy and I felt like [the title] sort of fits in with that mood,” Markoff says.
Markoff and Hartling chose to self-publish their book to ensure elements of independence that might have been squashed by another publisher. “We really wanted total creative control,” says Markoff.
“We wanted to see what we could do on our own,” Hartling adds. “It was a true collaboration. If other people are excited and love it, then we’ll be really happy.”
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Pluck This is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. For more information, visit their website.