I’m staying in Downtown Manhattan, in a quirky, slightly run-down townhouse on the corner of Crosby Street and Bleecker Street (remember the Simon and Garfunkel song?). Though it has heaps of history and character (it once belonged to Anthony Bleecker, a New York lawyer and author for whom the street is named), the apartment is a bit dank and gloomy. But even in the rickety, dimly lit bathroom, I can see that my eyebrows look like they are in dire need of a good thread job.
But, this is New York and I am desi. The thought of spending $25 upwards to tame my eyebrows seems excessive (it costs ₹30 back home) Plus, horror of horrors, no one here seems to thread eyebrows. All salons offer wax jobs and I am freaking out at the thought of getting hot wax smeared mere millimetres above my peepers—and getting bits of my eyebrow pulled off in a sudden motion. When I tell my husband about it, he winces and reiterates his stance on cosmetic procedures he deems unnecessary: Nature gave you body hair for a reason. Leave it the f*&# alone.
If I was in some American hick town, or even in the suburbs, I might have ditched the idea altogether. But going all Earth Mother in New York is killing me. So I Google for aestheticians who specialise in threading. It’s my lucky day—I come across an Indian stylist no less, with glowing reviews on Yelp. I call for an appointment and speak with a faintly accented Smita, who has an upbeat, where-were-you-all-my-life phone voice.
Reassured, I take the Metro down to Union Square and make my way up to her salon, located on the sixth floor of an office building, just round the block from Macy’s. The salon is so functional and un-fancy, it could pass off as a neighbourhood parlour in Bengaluru. But, relieved to see a brown face, I spill out my uniquely Indian beauty woes to Smita. Though she’s been in NY for over a decade now, she feels my pain. We discuss Mumbai, New York, our respective families, and the questionable merits of the Brazilian. She is all for it. I am a fence-sitter. But on the subject of eyebrows, we both agree: threading is the best.
I then do the universal thing you do to get your eyebrows threaded. I sit on a chair, slide down till my head is propped up by the backrest, cover my left eye with my left hand and pull the skin on my forehead taut with my right. It is world-speak for, “I’m now ready for you to take that thread and get to work on my face, pulling off each God-given hair by its follicle—even as I implicitly trust you to not gouge my eye out in the process.” I am pleased as punch when she’s done with me. I feel like my eyes look wider, my cheek-bones higher, my face more defined. I step out into the August sunshine, knowing it’s the best $20 I’ve ever spent.
Saloni Threading Salon 853 Broadway Ste 612, New York, USA; +1-212-254-6386.
I am at Myer in Sydney CBD, perched on a high chair, clutching at the sides, while I watch the aestheticians work on other women who sit there unperturbed by the Thursday night-shopping frenzy all around them. The eyebrow stylists take a dab of wax with an earbud-sized stick, apply it on the brow in tidy strokes, and wham! They pull it off in one swoop. They have a pre-wax ritual where they meticulously measure the width of your eyes, or the distance between the brows, or something, but whatever they’re doing, it’s working just great. I wince while watching, but I can’t deny the end result—it looks flawless. And then, it’s my turn. I throw in all sorts of disclaimers: “First time. Sensitive skin. Used to threading back in India. Please be gentle. What if I go blind?” “I’ve got you, honey. Just relax,” she says, and before I know it, it’s done. I’m genuinely impressed by this whole Brow Bar franchise business. She then cleans my eyebrow with alcohol wipes, applies some gel, uses a liner to fill in the gaps, dabs some concealer and smiles, saying, “There. So much better than threading, right?” It is. Oh God, it is.
Benefit Brow Bar Myer Sydney CBD, Australia; www.myer.com.au/shop/mystore/benefit-Beauty-Services.
Wayan is so heavily pregnant, I’m amazed she has the stamina for a salon job. She might be Balinese, but her reason for continuing to work well into her final trimester is universal. “How can I sit at home all day with my mother-in-law hovering around? Better to work till I can, no?” We then discuss Bollywood. She’s older than the other girls at the salon, in her early 30s. So we discuss SRK’s older movies. “You have nice eyes,” she tells me. I tell her she’s very pretty. We’re both delighted. See, this is why I love Bali. What a nice departure from the usual parlour routine where the stylist will list out all that is wrong with your skin and hair, and all the various multi-session treatments you should sign up for. I remember, when I lived in Mumbai, an entire salon tried in vain to persuade me to colour my hair. (This was back in the horror days when Shilpa Shetty went hay-blonde and hordes of Indian women followed suit.) Wayan gets to work on my eyebrows and I rattle off my standard guidelines. “Just the extras. Don’t make it thin. Please leave the ends untouched.” “Kareena Kapoor’s eyebrows are so nice, no?” she asks. “Yeah, very,” I lie.
Milano Salon Jalan Wenara Wana (Monkey Forest Road), Ubud, Bali, Indonesia; +62-361-973488.
Somehow, more than anywhere else in the world, I am reluctant to walk into an all-Thai salon in Bangkok. South-East Asian women are disturbingly fuzz-free, making us South Asians feel like we still have some way to go in the evolutionary process. As it is, I’ve been experiencing some serious persecution complex in Bangkok, and feel thin-skinned enough without exposing myself to the mortification of a high-end salon job. So I frantically Google for an Indian-run salon, convinced that there must be one somewhere. For God’s sake, the city is crawling with desis. I find one, just off Sukhamwit, and when I call for an appointment, an Indian voice gives me a slot. When I land up, I’m transported to the friendly neighbourhood parlours of my early 20s.
Mind you, I said parlour—not salon. Salons are places where they have private treatment rooms, fluffy white towels, nice robes to change into, piped music, and the latest issue of Cosmo. Parlours, on the other hand, are slightly iffy, if inexpensive places. Here, you are lucky to not have someone look in at that exact moment when you are, let’s say, not at your demure best. Parlours are also places where towels and robes look worse for wear, forcing you to block all thoughts about when they were last laundered. For reading material, parlours offer Femina and Women’s Era, and music is usually FM Radio Bollywood.
Considering all that, this place isn’t bad. A gregarious Punjabi aunty-type greets me in Hindi and assigns me a girl called Ekta. Ekta is a kid—just about 20—and looks and sounds like a Dilli ki kudi (Delhi girl). “Hemaji, aap ne hi phone kiya tha na, appointment ke liye? South Indian ho aap? (Hema, it was you who called for the appointment? Are you South Indian?)” Within 10 minutes, she’s got me all figured out. Where from? Am I married? Kids? Holiday or work? And then, “Hair thoda sa dry hai aapka. Deep conditioning kara lo. Accha lagega. (Your hair is a bit dry. Try deep conditioning. It will look good.)” She’s bantering with her colleague across the curtains in Hindi and there’s Jab We Met on the speakers. Suddenly, she breaks into fluent Thai and they both giggle over a private joke. “Aap kitne saal se ho Bangkok mein?(How long have you lived in Bangkok?)” I ask. “Kitne saal se, matlab? Main toh ji, yahin pe born and brought up hoon. (I was born and brought up here.)” I leave a nice enough tip and she grins, “Hemaji, bohot sweet ho aap. Phir aana kabhi. (Hema, you’re very sweet. Do visit.)”
Khoobsurat Beauty Parlour Sukhumvit Soi 12 (Sukhumvit Road), Bangkok, Thailand; +066-02-252-5353.
Hema Ramaprasad is a writer, hobby photographer, slow traveller, vegetarian, breakfast enthusiast, and a lover of all things beautiful and hand-made. She lives in Mysore and tweets as @writeclcktravel. She creates content for a living and travels for the joy of it.