“I love the shit out of myself, but damn, I look in the mirror sometimes and I’m like, ‘I don’t like this. This is not cute, you need to get it together.’” Sophia Hadjipanteli, the bushy-browed Greek-Cypriot model responsible for coining the #UnibrowMovement, is currently giving me a crash course in the world of body positivity, without all the bullshit.
Joining me on Zoom from her flat in South East London, Hadjipanteli frantically dips in and out of the frame as she multitasks her way through a killer hangover. While regaling me with stories from the night before, the model explains that she’s not against self-love and affirmations – quite the contrary, actually – it’s just that sometimes this constant barrage of positivity can often ring hollow. “In order to love yourself, you need to know what it feels like to hate yourself,” she says, with the comforting wisdom of a truly-seasoned wellness guru. “I think that society today is so focused on trying to break the box that we’re just putting people back into one. You can be body positive and love yourself, and you can still dislike yourself and want to change.”
Assuring me she’s still in good spirits, talk turns to life before her headline-grabbing brows. Hadjipanteli is a first-generation Greek-Cypriot American whose cultural heritage means everything to her, including her family ties. She lists both parents – her mum, a photographer/Harrods buyer and an accountant father – as her childhood heroes, alongside the likes of George Michael and Alexander McQueen, and tells me of their unabashed encouragement to follow her dreams and outlandish teenage style.
Hadjipanteli grew up in Maryland – the state famous for birthing the national anthem and baseball star Babe Ruth – in a small coastal town, which all sounds very stars and stripes if you pay it too much mind. But despite being more than 5,000 miles from her homeland, Hadjipanteli’s parents brought a strong affinity for their culture to the states, with Hadjipanteli’s first-spoken language even being Greek. “I never even thought that I was different,” says Hadjipanteli, “I just felt like I just didn’t belong – so I didn’t feel any sort of need to ‘fit in’.”
Of course, this all only dawned on Hadjipanteli in her early teens, when she was digging deep to find out who the real ‘Sophia’ was. Coming into her own as an art- obsessive – a godsend for anyone with severe ADHD – she took on her mother’s fashion industry pointers in with wide-eyed detail and began a frenzied obsession with thrifting, rocking up to school in punky custom denim and leather jackets painted with her own immersive compositions as she channelled her teenage angst into something truly real.
Though it put a major target on her back from the Abercrombie crowd, the resistance of her peers made Hadjipanteli push back even harder, strutting through the halls in T-shirts covered in swarms of bedazzled crystals, sometimes gracing her midday maths class
“in like, full latex”, as if she was a part of the hedonistic, runway-wearing world of HBO’s Euphoria. “That small town mentality gave me a thick skin, because it showed me that the world is not as kind as the lens that you see it in,” says Hadjipanteli of the whole ordeal. “I wasn’t even getting bullied for my eyebrows, it was for my outfits.”
That thick skin would turn into something of a protective armour when Hadjipanteli’s social media took off. Landing her first campaign at just 18-years-old, the model’s unique style (and particularly prominent brow- game) saw her become an in-demand face at some of the biggest fashion houses across the globe. Hadjipanteli had always thought she’d follow in her mom’s footsteps and become a prolific photographer – a career move she still isn’t ruling it out – so it’s only fitting that she’d find herself on the other side of the lens for industry giants like Jean Paul Gaultier and GCDS.
But as her profile began to rise in the fashion world, Hadjipanteli’s DMs suddenly became flooded with abusive messages and death threats alike. “It was so bizarre and kind of sad to think that on this big platform, there wasn’t anyone out there that had the same mindset as me,” says the model. So, she launched the #UnibrowMovement hashtag, intending to foster a community for the individual souls that exist – and indeed, thrive – outside of traditional beauty norms. “I wanted like-minded people to feel like they had a tribe, like they had a group of people who were there as well,” says Hadjipanteli, “whether they had a unibrow or not.”
Now, if anything, Hadjipanteli finds the sheer amount of focus and attention people place on these archaic perceptions of beauty to be pretty asinine at best, and plain stupid at worst. “It humours me to think that I am shaking their perception of beauty so much,” she laughs. “It’s so frustrating to them that I have something on my face, that in their mind, absolutely just cannot be there – so what more do I have to do than absolutely keep it here?”
Driven by an unrelenting tenacity to shake-up the world around her, Hadjipanteli is living proof that the last decade in beauty has seen a positive shift in the right direction. But what of the next decade? The model has a few guesses at how things will pan out, predicting that all the caterpillars will find their way out of the cocoon and into butterfly-dom (not a bad brow joke, we promise), and the ever-advancing world of tech will grace us with a mug-obsessed virtual space that would rival Facebook’s Metaverse by letting us create robot versions of ourselves.
“I just hope we start seeing a variety of people – especially in fashion – and inclusivity not just for the sake of inclusivity,” elaborates the model. “I hope we see it in the executives, in the people who are putting out the content, in the people who are creating the content. All over.”
Though we might have to share a couple of mirrors (and laptops), at Hadjipanteli’s table, there’s more than enough room for us all.