Thursday, October 23, 2008

Threading is the New Waxing

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By Jennifer Obakhume

What’s the new What? Threading is the new waxing. But threading is actually old. Let me rephrase that, extremely old. It’s an ancient South Asian beauty practice. And thousands of years later, it’s the hippest new thing in LA.

If you've never seen threading, picture a long strand of thread around your hands, crossed in the middle. And then some up and down motion that makes the thread catch and pull hairs. And voila your new eye brows are complete!

(Sounds of Jennifer at WOW! beauty center about to get threaded)

Jennifer: "I feel very nervous."

Salon employee: "Don’t be nervous."

That's me getting my eyebrows threaded at WOW! Beauty Center. And honestly, it’s not painful. On the other hand waxing feels like pulling your bottom lip over your foot, lighting it on fire, and then stepping on it.

Salon employee: "Because when you do it, after three or four times, your hair is going to become thinner, and lighter. So it's better."

South Asian women have opened threading businesses all over Los Angeles. But threaders weren’t always welcomed in established beauty salons. Just ask Indira Karki, originally from Nepal, and one of the co-owners of WOW! Beauty Center.

Indira Karki: "When I didn’t have a job, I went to so many beauty salons like American and they asked me, “Oh we need to have license to do threading.” So many places I don’t have a job because I don’t have license."

But even if she wanted to, she could not get a license – because threading isn’t taught in cosmetology school.

Tony Mendoza: "Ever since I’ve served on city council, there has been issue with surrounding the practice of threading."

That's Assemblyman Tony Mendoza, who represents a district which includes “Little India”. He wrote a California state bill that exempts threading from being licensed. And now it’s the law.

Tony Mendoza: "This bill in particular empowers immigrant women because it allows them to practice their culture and create a business for themselves."

Sumitra Batra: "Threading is such a regular, normal, prevalent part of our society. It’s street art form in India."

Sumitra Batra is the CEO of Ziba Beauty, an international chain of South-Asian themed salons started in LA. She has been credited with putting threading and henna tattoos on the map. She was the one who painted Madonna with henna for her 1998 music video, "Frozen".

Sumitra Batra: "There’s a certain amount of authenticity to us and our salons. We haven’t lost our ethnicity and our Indianness."

But what happens when cultural practices like threading become part of a corporate brand? Batra has recently created controversy by trying to trademark the term “art of threading.” There is now tension brewing between Batra's company and some independent threaders, such as Indira of WOW! Beauty.

(Instead of doing threading...)

But beyond the disputes, one thing is for sure... in Los Angeles, threading is becoming more and more popular, a trend that has helped Indira and the ladies of Wow! Beauty Center get their business off the ground.

Indira Karki:"Every time I think about my beauty salon, WOW! Beauty Salon, I feel like I'm happy. I feel like I'm in the heaven, you know. So I’m really glad."

And... (laughing) you should dig my new eyebrows.

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