On the way back to our hotel in Hoi An one afternoon, a young woman offered to pop my zit. The whole thing started with a long white string she held to my face as I tried to squeeze through a throng of sweaty shoppers at the outdoor market.
“You want to try?” she asked. I looked at the petite woman-child with perfectly arched eyebrows and hot pink lip gloss and shook my head on instinct. Whatever she was offering, I didn’t want it.
As scooters honked and nosed their way through the crowd, the traveling beautician shadowed me with her tail of floss. “Your eyebrows too thick. Let me help.” She came at my eye with the string, but I blocked her advance with my forearm.
At my hair salon in downtown Chicago, I’d noticed threading listed on the menu of spa options, but I’d never seen it performed. Nor had I considered embarking upon a procedure that to my mind could provide only questionable results.
“No, thank you,” I said and trot-walked to my husband, now a small dot in the distance. I thought I’d ditched her, but like an unsinkable Cheerio, she popped up from behind, this time on my right side.
“Oh, pimple!” she said. “Right here!” She pointed to the bottom of her right jaw and then at mine. “Let me get that for you. Free! Free!”
Was this woman really offering to somehow remove my heat/air-pollution/travel-induced pimple with her thread? Or was she just going to pop it with her bare hands, right here amongst the festering fish heads and used bicycle parts?
Maybe blemishes don’t evoke the same kind of humiliation in Vietnam that they did when I was growing up in Texas. When I got my first whitehead, a painful swelling that over a matter of days had grown into what I called an undergrounder, my friend’s perfectly put together mother asked me what had happened to my face.
“Did someone hurt you?” she asked.
I remember touching my cheek, which was hot and angry not only from my meddling the night before but also from shame. The pimple was evidence of what I knew to be true: I had done something wrong.
Maybe I’d eaten too much chocolate, not washed my face well enough or with the right product, or worn too much foundation and face powder in the Texas heat.
I felt ugly, dirty, and embarrassed. Nothing like the models in Seventeen or TigerBeat. So when my older brother–no doubt gleeful to take advantage of my ignorance about all things pubescent–advised me to get rid of it with a pair of tweezers, I did.
The result was predictable: I looked like I’d been punched in the face by someone wearing a rock of a solitaire. What was my brother thinking? What was I thinking? Our reasoning no longer flickers, not even dimly, in our middle-aged minds.
But I do know that that day in the market, thirty years later, my inner schoolgirl wanted to believe the Thread Fairy could bestow me with flawless skin and neatly arched eyebrows like hers. Not to mention the whole ancient epilation ritual would have made for an interesting tale.
But the older me, the one who now understands how pointless it is to hunt down someone else’s ideal of feminine beauty with strings, tweezers, lancets, or any other barbaric tool, looked Thread Fairy in the eye and said, “I’m good.”