When I meet people, the first thing I do is look at their eyebrows.

When I was in Year Nine, I saw there was a stray hair in my eyebrow. I didn’t have tweezers, so I used my fingers to pluck it out.

A week later I had a maths test. I was overwhelmed by the first question and everyone else writing furiously,  I started to pull at my eyebrow. 40 minutes later, I came out of the test, my friend turned to me and said, “What the fuck is wrong with your eyebrows?”

From there it just became a habit. When I got stressed, I pulled hair out of my eyebrows. In upper high school, I really didn’t have eyebrows. I criticized myself when I looked in the mirror. But after my two minutes of shame I would go to school and hang with lovely friends who didn’t make comments. I thought; maybe I’m the only one who really notices, besides, pimples seemingly the size of a mountains were filling our faces, and everyone was focusing on their own insecurities.

Apparently, when people met me, the first thing they did was look at my eyebrows.

I was playing netball on a primary school team and was being driven home by the coach. She turned to me and asked what was “with” my eyebrows with her two sons in the car. They turned to see, I started tearing up and said nothing. My driving teacher asked me every time I got in the car if I was going to tell him about what I had done to my eyebrows. In Year 12, in the last week of school, a music teacher walked up to me. He stopped me and said, “So, why do you not have eyebrows?” I walked away.

After a year, I realised this wasn’t a habit that was going to subside quickly, so I started to talk to people. Telling people about my habit is weird and uncomfortable for me, I’m on the defensive immediately. Before you’ve had time to process what I’m telling you, I’m apologising and telling you how weird this habit is. This is definitely so you don’t tell me how weird it is, which would be infinitely worse. Each time I put myself down but at least people will know I’m self aware.

Mum didn’t really know what to say. We would discuss my assignments, and whether or not I had a plan, so I was less stressed. This was good advice considering that stress was the main reason I pluck my eyebrows; I may not know how to start on this essay but at least if I can get these hairs out I have achieved something in this moment.

In Year Ten I saw my first counsellor. After the first introductory session, she told me I had OCD. I did not go back.

In high school I thought about using makeup, but I worried that I would look ‘fake’ and everyone would notice. When I finally used it; brow pencil was great. I often relied on pencilling my eyebrows to have confidence, a successful strategy until the pencil didn’t work. I love the beach, but when I rubbed my face on a towel I knew my eyebrows were bare and patchy. Pencil was no match for the sweat my pores created playing team sports.

I told my first friend when my mum was in the bank. Once my friends knew, I would have great brow days and they would say, “Yeah, I noticed they are looking great,” and to this day if anyone compliments my brows I am internally overjoyed.

Dating was a weird time. I would often look at my mirror and think, “How is a boy supposed to like this face without eyebrows?” I had a shower with a man and was thinking about what his reaction to my eyebrows would be, whilst he was considering so much else. Even dating, I still didn’t want to go to bed with my face fully washed.

I saw a second counsellor in my second year of university. This was much more constructive, I was told I have a hair pulling disorder called Trichotillomania. There was no quick fix. It was just something I had to work at to control and stop myself doing. Whilst it was great to have someone name this thing I did, we also realised it wasn’t always stress induced. It was sometimes just a habitat and that was frustrating, because it meant I wouldn’t just stop when I wasn’t stressed anymore.

Some of the best people I have told about my eyebrows have responded as if we were discussing someone playing soccer, “Oh yeah, I know someone who does that.” Ultimately, no one who knew me cared if my brows were patchy, I was the one linking it to my confidence. I was using pencil because it made me feel ready for the world.

I got to my third year of uni, 21 years old and still with a habitat I assumed I would have grown out of. It was around this time that I started googling featherbrow tattooing, a semi-permanent treatment.  With the bold brows trend comes many websites and not a lot of solid reviews or direction. I googled for a couple of days, was overwhelmed, and thought, I will get back to that later. Six months later, mum mentioned a lady who had been doing brows for three years, with some good before and after pics. I looked at the natural brows of ladies who had a range of before brows from a bit patchy to relatively non-existent. This was a good sign, I needed someone who knew how to build from nothing and honestly wouldn’t judge me. The next day I emailed and got an appointment for a couple of weeks later. I was so goddamn excited.

So, on a Thursday morning, my best friend and I drove to Joondalup and I got my eyebrows done. The whole experience was honestly amazing. My brows were numbed so I felt close to nothing and after an hour I had eyebrows which were natural, beautiful and everything I had wanted for seven years. Before I lifted the mirror for the first time I was thinking, this is when people cry right? This is when they cry and hug and its magical. When I did hold up the mirror I didn’t cry, but I was close.

I can now go swimming without worrying, wake up at someone’s house and not stress, and can talk openly about my whole experience. I told someone recently I had just had my brows done and she said she had never met anyone else who had Trichotillomania. Whilst I had guessed we shared a habit, I hadn’t felt comfortable discussing it because it still felt very personal. The tattoos made me feel proud of my brows, a rare feeling, and I knew she would connect beyond a purely beauty level. Tattooing is not a quick fix, by no means have I stopped plucking my brows, but I do feel a lot better and will be going for touch ups until I choose not to.

When I meet people, the first thing I notice about them is their eyebrows, but now I want it to be the first thing they notice when they see me.

Georgia Hadlow | @georgia_hads

Georgia loves to hold baby versions of Australian wildlife. She also sings songs from musicals a lot, with or without the correct lyrics.