ALEX COHEN, host:
Waxing or threading? It's a big question for many people. For those of you not well-versed in the world of hair removal, women and the occasional guy use hot wax to rip out unwanted hair from various parts of their anatomy. Or they can turn to a tiny piece of thread. Jennifer Obakhume of Youth Radio has this commentary as part of our trend-watching series called "What's the New What."
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 L.A. 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 eyebrows are complete.
Unidentified Woman #1: You look very, very nervous.
Unidentified Woman #2: Don't be nervous.
OBAKHUME: That's me getting my eyebrows threaded at WOW! Beauty Center. And honestly, it's not painful at all. On the other hand, waxing feels like pulling your bottom lip over your foot, setting it on fire, and then stepping on it.
Ms. INDIRA KARKI (WOW! Beauty Center): Because, you know, when you do it, you have to like three or four times, your hair is going to become thinner, lighter...
Ms. KARKI: So it's more better for you.
OBAKHUME: 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.
Ms. 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 a license to do threading. You know, those kinds of things. So many places I don't find job for I don't have a license.
OBAKHUME: But even if she wanted to, she could not get a license because threading isn't taught in cosmetology school.
Assemblyman TONY MENDOZA (Democrat, 56th District, California): Ever since I've served on city council, there has been issues surrounding the practice of threading.
OBAKHUME: 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.
Mr. MENDOZA: This bill in particular empowers immigrant women because it allows them to practice their culture and create a business for themselves.
Ms. SUMITA BATRA (CEO, Ziba Beauty): Threading is such a regular, normal part of our society. It's a street art form in India.
OBAKHUME: Sumita Batra is the CEO of Ziba Beauty, an international chain of South-Asian-themed salons which started in L.A. She's been credited with putting threading and henna tattoos on the map. As a matter of fact, she was the one who painted Madonna with henna for her 1998 music video, "Frozen."
Ms. BATRA: There's a certain amount of authenticity to us and our salons. We haven't lost our ethnicity and our Indianness, you know?
OBAKHUME: But what happens when cultural practices like threading become part of a corporate brand? Batra has recently created controversy by attempting 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.
Ms. KARKI: Because, you know, people like you, sensitive, you should do threading because it grow laster, you know?
OBAKHUME: 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.
Ms. 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.
(Soundbite of laughter)
OBAKHUME: You should dig my new eyebrows.
COHEN: Jennifer Obakhume grooms her eyebrows and contributes to Youth Radio here in Los Angeles.
Day to Day is a production of NPR News with contributions from slate.com. I'm Alex Cohen.
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
And I'm Alex Chadwick.