From making curry to marrying Nick Jonas, being an Indian woman certainly has its perks. Still, there is one part of my brown heritage that I could happily do without: facial hair.
In light of the deaths, economic collapse, racial injustice, and general anxiety of the COVID-19 pandemic, thinking about excess facial hair is the smallest of problems, echoing the inane “I want a haircut” signs of those protesting shelter-in-place orders. I wasn’t going to be getting threads anytime soon, as such a practice would be an unsafe and unnecessary risk. However, when I stumbled upon Flawless, a gold-plated, rotary hair removal device that was painless and effective, I couldn’t help but breathe a sigh of relief that I wouldn’t have to spend the rest of my quarantine experience feeling self-conscious about my face.
Like many Asian women, I have been plagued with dark, persistent hair on my upper lip and eyebrows my whole life. All types of body hair remain stigmatized for women nationally. This stigma was one that I was aware of: I was comfortable enough in myself to not give in to it, to know that excess facial hair doesn’t define my beauty. But I have always loved how my face looks without the hair, relying on painful threading techniques to ensure that I could wear bright lipsticks without drawing attention to my moustache—could don glittery eyeshadow without emphasizing imperfect eyebrows.
Threading is an Indian practice that has a rich and popular history. It is far better than plucking: it leaves no redness, lasts longer, and is much quicker, as long as one is willing to stomach the sensation of your skin tearing. When quarantine hit and salons closed down, I was one of many brainstorming creative alternatives to keep my face hair-free, even if others could barely notice the change on low-quality Zoom calls.
When I managed to find Flawless, it felt like a small victory. With just one $20 purchase, I saved myself from a costly and painful biweekly threading routine for the rest of my life.
Yet although Flawless is exceptional, I cannot help but feel bittersweet about this change in my life. When I think back to how my first two years of college were shaped by this regular routine, I think that there is something worth missing.
Every two weeks, I went to Perfect Eyebrows, a reasonably inexpensive salon on Wisconsin, right next door to Safeway. My Orientation Advisor from freshman year recommended the place, and its location meant that I could save time by combining my visits with grocery store runs. In other words, Perfect Eyebrows was convenient for me in every way.
But Perfect Eyebrows offered me more than convenience: its employees became a constant in my life. The store felt like a safe, empowering place, consisting of mostly Asian women like myself. Even the other people who came in to get a thread were charming, often striking up a conversation with me while we waited. The same woman almost always did my thread, and over time I got to learn some things about her: she was kind and funny, thoughtful and accommodating even when my flinching probably made me an annoying client. But I hardly knew anything about her as a person. Walking into the shop every few weeks, I continuously told myself to ask more about her life, to actually get to know her, considering I saw her so frequently. Yet I never did. Even now, I wonder: What was her background? How is she holding up during the pandemic?
In a way, I’ll even miss the immense pain of threads themselves. Perfect Eyebrows was the first place that I had a thread, and I started threading there purely by accident. I showed up at the store in the middle of a rain shower during my first week of college, discovering that the store did not have wax available that day, which was my usual hair-removal procedure. When I walked out of the store post-thread, I started sobbing because of the pain, my tears mixing with the rain drops.
Luckily, the more I went through it, the easier the pain got. I learned to repeat mantras to myself: I am a canvas and these are but brushstrokes on my face. At times, the pain was almost refreshing. There were many days that I walked into Perfect Eyebrows at some of the lowest points in my life, whether it was coping with loss or imposter syndrome. Those threads and that space were like wake-up calls telling me that whatever was weighing me down was not all that made up my life, that I still had so much to be grateful for. They allowed an escape, providing a physical reminder that, just like the pain of this thread, all things pass. There was a satisfaction in the aftermath that felt like a rebirth—that allowed me to feel like my best self.
Staying home has changed the way many have thought about their hair removal routine, just as it has allowed people to teach themselves how to thread. Now may be a good opportunity to rethink beauty standards altogether, to not make people feel like they have to go through pain to clear up their face. Am I using Flawless for myself, or am I caving into looking my best right now because I have never considered the alternative? No matter the answer, my previous “cure” for my hair was one of many small things I took for granted, and one of the many small habits that I, like many others, didn’t realize I valued until they were gone.
There is so much about the before-pandemic days to miss: parties, concerts, restaurants. My threading experiences are representative of my privilege in being able to pay for them. However, I will always remember Perfect Eyebrows and threading as emblematic of my first two years of Georgetown, as a sanctuary that predated my jump to turning twenty. I don’t regret using Flawless; I will always rave about how revolutionary it has been for getting rid of facial hair. But I know that in making the switch, I say goodbye to a cultural rite-of-passage. I say goodbye to my pre-pandemic self.
But maybe, in a more certain and safe future, I’ll find myself back on Wisconsin. Maybe, while I pick up groceries from Safeway with friends who are no longer six feet apart, I’ll take a lingering look at the building next door. Maybe I’ll remember who I was on those previous trips, the underclassman Natalie who had no idea what was coming, who walked through sun and rain and snow for those threads. Maybe then, in that brighter future, I will finally have a chance to say to Perfect Eyebrows: Thank you.
Image Credit: Liv Stevens