LOSING one’s hair — including eyebrows — is one of the traumatic side-effects of cancer treatment, so no perfectly healthy woman would choose to pluck out her entire eyebrows, would she?
LJ O’Rahilly has done just that, to raise funds and awareness during October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. What’s more, she filmed the process on the first day of the month for all to see on her social media platforms.
LJ is the Mallow-based blogger behind Anything But Marzipan. A peculiar name for a blog, I note.
“It’s got nothing to do with anything, it’s just a random word”, she laughs.
“Although I do remember in secondary school, one day the teacher passed around a bottle of liquid and said ‘smell that and tell me what it is’. No-one got it but then I got it — it was marzipan! Then we had a discussion about how marzipan was a love/hate thing. It’s very random, but at the beginning when I was blogging, I just wanted to feel I could talk about anything.”
LJ started blogging around five years ago, initially as a travel diary to stay connected with family and friends when she travelled to Australia. A fully qualified hairdresser when embarking on her trip down under, she began doing beauty reviews on her blog and upon returning to Ireland completed a make-up course.
The travel bug hit again a year later and she went off to Canada for two years, where she says the blog became even more beauty-based.
Back home since last April, she has her own beauty room at her house, where she does her filming and has clients in for make-up and hair styling. And it is there that she concocted her plan for what she is calling ‘Browtober’, raising funds for Look Good Feel Better Ireland, the Irish element of a global charity. It’s a non-medical, brand neutral, free service that supports women with the visible side effects of cancer treatment by providing practical advice in workshops, facilitated by experienced beauty advisors in hospitals across Ireland.
“I wanted to focus on a global charity and eventually found Look Good Feel Good and thought ‘that’s perfect!’ I didn’t know about them before. Last month I went into CUH and volunteered for their workshop. We had seven ladies that day.”
LJ talks me though the day: “When they come in they have no make-up on, some have discoloration on their skin, some have eye-brows; some don’t. It’s heart-breaking to see really. They sit down and we have everything set up on a table with what we call ‘confidence kits’ of skin care and make-up.
“One woman gets her make-up done and we guide everyone through the steps. We help them open up the packages if they don’t have the energy to do it.
The others do the make-up themselves because they need to know how to do it when they get home. If they’re stuck with anything we help them out. The transformation is unbelievable. They are literally glowing walking out the door. It’s very rewarding.”
In getting rid of her eyebrows, LJ is standing in solidarity with the women who have no choice in the matter.
“I’m empathising with them”, she says. “Although I can’t even imagine what they are going through.”
Viewing the video of the plucking process, there is definitely an ‘ouch’ factor.
“I took a painkiller a half hour before doing it!” she admits. “The pain looks worse than it was, although it was pretty bad. I got the rest waxed off then so that I would have a 100 per cent blank canvas.”
And how has the experience of living without eyebrows been playing out for her since?
“The next morning I got some shock when I saw my reflection in the mirror. You don’t realise how much of an impact they make on a woman’s appearance; it’s such a feminine thing.
“I did go to yoga without any make-up on and I had a lot of stares alright. I felt so naked and I felt really vulnerable.”
As a make-up artist, one would assume that she would have no problem using make-up to camouflage her brow-less features but LJ says it has been a learning curve.
“I need to improve my own technique. Trying to create that shape from nothing — it’s hard work.”
LJ has also been inviting others to join her in the challenge and on day one Stephen Salter, a trainer at Studio Fit in Mallow, stepped up to the mark.
“It was his mother’s anniversary. She passed away in 2005 after a ten year battle with cancer. He wanted to remember her but in a humorous way, like she’d think it was funny that he’d do that.”
LJ’s sister Rachel, of Rachel’s Beauty Basics (specialising in eyebrows and nails), arrived with her waxing pot and they turned the experience into a Facebook Live video.
The internet is instrumental in LJ keeping everyone up to date on how Browtober is going, with brow make-up tutorials and virtual raffles.
She has created a public group on Facebook for Browtober, where she hopes to build up a community, while she can also be found on Instagram and her Anything But Marzipan You Tube channel.
She is also offering free dry haircuts for the month of October (donations welcome), with bookings through Facebook — and even when October is over she plans to continue brow tutorials to show what services are available after eye-brows start to grow back.
Away from the online world, she has two fundraising events planned for the end of the month: a fun yoga class with snacks and refreshments at Studio Fit, Mallow, on Saturday October 27, plus a skincare and make-up masterclass the next day, for which she is currently looking for spot-prizes.
Meanwhile, donations can be made via www.justgiving.com/fundraising/browtober.
Also for more information see Facebook; Browtober
For more on the Look Good Feel Better, charity, which runs events at Cork University Hospital, see www.lookgoodfeelbetter.ie/