In honor of Mizrachi heritage month, we invited comedian and artist Natan Badalov, a proud Bukharian Jew, to share some of his childhood memories. He was featured on Adult Swim, New York Comedy Festival, Funnymmigrants Comedy Festival, and others. For more info, read his bio or follow him and his eyebrows on Instagram and Tik Tok @natanbadalov.
The ‘that’ she was referring to was my unibrow. The ‘they’ she was talking about were Americans. And she was right. I mean, it’s not like there’s a rule or law or anything. There’s not a sign at JFK that says, ‘WELCOME TO THE U.S. NO UNIBROWS.’
But it’s pretty much implied. When’s the last time you saw a movie star with a unibrow? None. All we got is Frida Kahlo when she was played by Selma Hayek. And she had to glue hers on. She was doing unibrow face. (Shoutout to Anthony Davis. Stay strong. #unibrowlivesmatter)
The first day of third grade was coming up, and there was a strict two-brow policy my mom felt needed to be adhered. For some reason, 1st and 2nd grade were more acceptable to rock the face snail. Maybe it was because kids were still learning not to piss and shit their pants, so having a few hairs above your nose wasn’t that big a deal. You can’t really make fun of anyone when you smell like ass most of the day.
But once third-grade hit and potty training were over, there was eyebrow permanence.
My mom usually did her eyebrows once every two weeks by this woman named Tamara in Rego Park. She had a pretty good rep for being the brow lady in town, and she was also from Uzbekistan, so my mom gave her a vote of confidence. They talked about the old country if they had any mutual acquaintances, all that.
‘You remember Olga back in the day?’
‘I haven’t seen her in years! She’s still alive?!’
You know the deal.
We would go to her salon aka apartment. I’d be in the living room watching channels we didn’t have at home while eating bowls of candy I’ve never seen before. After the 5th hard candy, a sugar rush would kick in. My legs would start swinging on the sofa and then I’d hear, “Natan! Enough with the candy!”
‘How do I look. Pretty good, eh?’
And every time I’d go, ‘Yeah, looks great.’ but in my head, I’d just think, ‘I can’t tell the difference.’
Now, though, it was my turn. Time to be a man. A man with two brows. We went into the apartment. My mom handed me off to Tamara and off we went.
‘Davai’ Tamara said.
I sat in the chair and watched Tamara roll up her sleeves to unveil some of the bushiest forearm hair I’ve ever seen. They looked like 70-year-old butcher arms. Looking back on it, this was a vote of confidence. Who else would know how to manage hair than the hairiest people? They gotta shave their stuff all the time. This was like getting food from a fat chef. They know what they’re doing.
5 minutes later, and a few hairs lighter, Tamara washed her hands.
She put a mirror in front of me. The separation was complete.
I walk out and show my mom.
‘Nice. Very nice. You look like an American.’
The next day, the school bus picks me up. My bag was packed with stuff. Notebooks, textbooks, pens, and pencils. It was probably about 20 pounds, but I felt like I was walking on air. I got two brows, yo. Nothing can stop me. ‘Murica.
I went into the bus with a giddy energy. You know that feeling you have when you buy new shoes, so you just stretch your legs a bit extra in social situations so people can notice them? It was like that, except my shoes were my face. I started conversations, pretended to care about what people were saying, just so I could stand way too close to people’s faces. I wanted them to see the new me.
But no one noticed. Everyone just kept talking about Pokémon and Yu Gi Oh.
‘I got Blue Eyes White Dragon…’
‘You see when Yugi messed that kid up…?’
So I just thought, screw it.
Heads swiveled in my direction.
‘Notice anything different?’
They look at me up and down.
‘What?’ One kid asked. ‘What’s up?’
I looked at them harder. Trying to maintain eye contact.
‘What are you doing?’
‘You guys notice…?’
‘What? What am I looking at?’
I massaged the skin above my nose.
‘I shaved my hair here.’
Faint groans filled the bus.
‘That’s disgusting! You had a unibrow?!’
The rest of the bus ride I was getting shit for having a unibrow that they didn’t even know existed.
‘It’s not there anymore!’
‘Yeah, but it was!’
I was getting bullied for my looks. Like a real American.
Moral of the story: Tweeze your unibrow, then shut up about it.
Like the great American philosopher, Lil Wayne once said, ‘Real G’s move in silence like lasagna.’