Sophia Hadjipanteli has long, wild hair, two piercing ice-blue eyes, and one thick smear of jet-black hair stretched out messily across her brow.
At first glance—or prolonged, ogling gaze—Hadipanteil is a demure Tara Leigh Patrick (a.k.a. Carmen Electra) in the peak of the late-nineties. But with a soft thatch of soot thumbed out on her forehead (the humanity!)
She is drop-dead gorgeous, embodying the pinnacle of all typical, even hyperbolized traditional western beauty standards: a long mane, big eyes, small waist, great ass, and perfect lips, teeth, skin and cheekbones. And then, there in the centre of her face: a big metaphorical “fuck you” growing out of the dark follicles that connect her right and left eyebrows—as if each coarse, disheveled sprig was a counter-culture protester, linked hand-in-hand with another on either side, standing in unison against society’s arbitrary rules.
Th 21-year-old first graced Italia Vogue’s website when she was 15 years old, and then again three years later. Until recently, she’d been carving out her place on the cyberspace runway before being thrust into overnight social fame when one of her selfies appeared on Instagram’s explore page, reaching more than a million people.
The daughter of a Greek (Cyprian) father and British mother, Hadjipanteli grew up in Maryland, was bullied by her peers, and always felt a little out of place.
Today, the moonlighting model/marketing major has about 150,000 Instagram followers and receives just as much praise and support as she does hate messages and death threats.
VICE: So, your eyebrows, or your unibrow—obviously a very significant part of your look. Why do you choose to have the unibrow? Did you always have it? Have you ever waxed or plucked before?
Sophia Hadjipanteli: Growing up, the reason I always paid so much attention to my eyebrows was because my mom would always tell me, ‘do not over pluck your eyebrows—your eyebrows are gorgeous the way they are.’ In most cases, we kind of look to a certain role model in our lives, and for me it was my mom, and she has really nice eyebrows, so I kind of idolized her in that sense. It wasn't until recently—I think it was about two years ago—I just kind of decided to stop [waxing them]. I don't think it was anything in particular that happened that made me want to boycott doing my eyebrows, I think it was just a preference thing.
Growing up, I was always different, I was known to have really quirky outfits—and I was really bullied for it. I hate to throw that word—bully—around, because it’s so loosely thrown around these days, but it was so horrible in high school. And I guess that is how it is for a lot of people. But if anything, it just made me want to wear even quirkier things, because I did grow up in a really conservative area in Maryland, so I think that sort of stubbornness has followed me through to this day. Even at the time I was deciding to let my eyebrows do their own thing, it really was a stubbornness thing, like: well, I like myself and I don't know why I have to do this if I don't like it.
I was in Cyprus and I wasn't plucking my eyebrows because I didn't really have time—I was always swimming or something. So when I got back to my grandmother’s house in London, she told me how pretty she thought I looked, and I kind of realized I had a unibrow at that point. And I just left it. I never really thought twice about it until recently when everyone [started making] the biggest deal out of it. That’s kind of the story.
Do you think it’s kind of ridiculous how society puts so much weight and emphasis on this little bit of hair that’s on your face?
Yes. I’m constantly asked, ‘how do you deal with the negative criticism?’ Definitely take this at face value—but a part of me loves having that control over someone that they get so annoyed and mad. It’s laughable at first. I was a little taken aback because the attention I did get online did come all at once for me [though]. I was put on the Instagram explore page one day when I was going to a motocross show—right before I posted this selfie and it reached, like, a million people, and there were hate comments I've never seen in my life before. That day I remember feeling really down. It took me quite a few months to understand why people have this [disposition].
A lot of people will say, ‘well how come you groom the rest of your body?’ And I think it’s just a preference thing. I genuinely can’t describe it as anything else.
Do you think it’s almost like a fashion statement or an accessory?
Yeah. I think it definitely looks kind of cool on some people. I love having mine black. Even before I had the unibrow, I tinted my eyebrows black. People always say its so harsh [looking] but [my eyebrows] have always been harsh and I just love the shock factor.
Some days I think it looks so good on me, and other days I'm like, I think I should put glasses on because it doesn't quite look good with this look. But I love it whatever way it is and if I decide to change it tomorrow, I will on my own terms. But if I don't want to, I won’t. I think it has to do with not feeling pressured do so anything because of society. And it’s also about control. You want to make sure you have your own sense of control.
“I think this is kind of just an ongoing battle against some beauty standards that have stuck around too long.”
Do you think that overnight internet thrust into more followership put you in this funny place where you're now an eyebrow or body-positive activist, whereas before that wasn’t really something you thought of yourself as?
Before I had a unibrow, I was very big on anti-bullying. Growing up, me and my brother, we were severely bullied, especially me. From elementary school [being bullied] for having a foreign dad, to middle school for being chubby, to high school for being different —I was always bullied. I did have quite a large platform before I really blew up online and I always used to talk about how to just be yourself, ignore people being mean to you and this and that. But there was never anything specific driving it. As I did begin getting more followers online, I started paying attention to it. It just kind of got worse and it took me back to the place where [I thought], well, no, this is not a conversation I'm going to grow out of—I have to keep talking about it.
I know so many amazing people who are online promoting body positivity and equal rights and I commend them so much and they’re so bold. If I can have any sort of impact—anything—as much as just having a unibrow [then that’s positive]. Even though I have a lot of followers and I'm getting shamed every single day for having a unibrow, I'm not changing. I'm not being pressured by thousands of people to change either. I don't know, I think, in a way, I don't like the criticism, but I also feel that you always get critiqued if you do things that are quite different.
Your unibrow is obviously your most discussed asset. Is that necessarily your favourite asset or is there a part of you you wish people saw more?
I think the frustrating thing about social media is it’s kind of visual-based. Although a lot of people do think of me first and foremost based on my appearance, which in a way is kind of discouraging, another part of me [thinks] if I have to draw them in with my appearance, I'm going to keep them with my determination and how close I am to my culture and how motivated I am.
I think this is kind of just an ongoing battle against some beauty standards that have maybe stuck around for too long. I think beauty in itself is great because it’s so subjective across cultures but I also think there’s a big community that shames people for certain types of beauty and I think that’s wrong. So instead of just getting rid of beauty standards, it should just be more inclusive. There’s nothing wrong with filling in your eyebrows and plucking them—nothing wrong with that at all, it’s gorgeous. But I think there needs to be change when the people are so fixated on the one beauty [norm] they pursue and they're not accepting of what someone else wants to do. They don't [even] really need to be accepting, but they have no right to bash them and make them feel like any less of a person.
So you're almost using your followership and your connections with these people, and with the world, to start really making a shift in what traditional beauty standards are and how we perceive those.
Yeah, and it’s not going to be a tomorrow thing. It’s like a movement. If it’s going to be gradual, I hope to speed up the pace. I just really hope if it’s a celebrity or an incredible professor or an older woman or an older man or just a social activist, someone that is of power and influence, I hope they make the move on a grander scale than what I have, to do something to kind of speed up this process.
I just want to continue this thing about accepting people's preferences, not bashing people. I think the internet has been a bit too mean these days.
Do you ever receive death threats from people?
Oh, for sure.
How do you reconcile that?
I got into this bad thing the other day. Someone—in my area that I live in—sent me a death threat. It was so instinctual for me to just: click, block, swipe, delete. [But] someone said, ‘Sophia, why did you do that? You need to report that to the police.’
For every beautiful and really heartwarming comment that definitely changes my whole week around, there’s a bunch of comments [that aren’t]. Like, very descriptive [comments]—not just comments that say ‘ugly.’ I don't care if you call me ugly. Ugly is beautiful. But for someone to say very detailed things, it definitely kind of shakes me a bit. But I do also realize I'm never going to know who they are. A part of me used to always want to respond to these comments and a part of me still does, but I don't want the negative comments to outshine the positive ones.
I definitely don't have it the worst online, so I try to consider that, but it shouldn't be like this to begin with.
Do you think you’ll ever ditch the unibrow?
I don’t know. I don't have plans to do that now, and when people ask me, I’m like, should I say no? Because in the future, I may want to. But I feel like in the future it’s going to become more a part of me. I just want nature to take its course.
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This article originally appeared on VICE CA.