by Maria Asaad
For decades, girls from an ethnic backgrounds, whether Arab, African, or Caribbean, have been made to hate their curly hair and ridiculed for wearing it naturally. Curly hair isn’t seen as an attractive or desirable style in these countries, and girls have been made to feel less beautiful than those with straighter hair.
This was especially the case for Eman El-Deeb, a young Egyptian woman who lived her whole life in Egypt with big curly hair up until 2016 when she decided to leave the country due to the constant ridicule she received for her natural locks. She experienced the opposite reaction in her new place of residence, Spain, where she was actually admired for her curly hair.
This is an on-going problem in Eastern countries such as Egypt, where women are striving to reach more Western beauty ideals by straightening their hair and avoiding too much sun exposure to have a lighter skin tone.
"The decision to leave was a very sad one for me. I never imagined I'd migrate," Eman told the BBC. "But I was tired… I reached the point where I felt I wanted to live in a place where my looks do not bother anyone."
She stated how she was constantly asked to straighten her hair by a fellow colleague whilst working in a bank back in Egypt. The daily derision got too much for the young girl who decided it was time to leave the country that made her feel less attractive for her natural hair.
Curly hair is a dominant feature amongst Eastern women, especially those from Egypt, yet most are made to feel aesthetically inadequate and feel pressured into straightening it in order to fit their society’s standard of beauty.
In March 2016, a curly hair revolution happened in Egypt in the form of the Hair Addict group, a Facebook page that helps give women advice on how to treat and take care of their naturally curly hair. The group now has over 105,000 female members since its launch two years ago. The group was launched by self-confessed “nerd” and curly hair struggler Doaa Gawish, after she herself received endless ridicule and mockery for her curly hair.
The group became increasingly popular in the curly hair community as a platform for followers to share hair-care tips. They then decided to take the brave step of going completely heat-free, this has proven a huge success since the challenge started in July 2016.
Noran Amr is one of the heat-free revolutionaries. She first took the plunge a year ago and recently attended a wedding with her natural curls for the first time. "People's reaction at the wedding was overwhelmingly positive. Everyone commented on how nice my hair was." She told the BBC, "People now have much more awareness. There is now a culture of curly hair in Egypt.”
Egyptians took the next big step by opening the first curly hair salon, following a great demand from curly haired females. The Curly Studio works by appointments only and receives over 30 clients a week. Sara Safwat, the young owner says "the trend is very popular, especially among millennials."
Eman also felt the change as she returned to Egypt for a visit. She told the BBC, "In April 2017, while I was visiting Egypt, a taxi driver told me 'your hair is very nice.' At first, I thought he was being sarcastic. But then I realised he was being sincere. That was the first positive comment about my hair that I had ever heard in Egypt."
The Curly Studio is amongst many other things that are helping young women not only find their identity, but to love how they look with their natural curls. Young women, particularity in Egypt and the Middle East are being encouraged to embrace their locks and to ditch the idea of hair-straightening their way to unrealistic beauty standards.
The main cause and advocate for this movement is the number of social media platforms and outlets that are promoting the benefits and realistic, achievable beauty standards of learning how to curl your own hair in the best way.
Hadear Kandil, an American-Egyptian woman and founder of m’laulau shared her personal experience on NaturallyCurly of her experience growing up as a naturally curly Egyptian in the Western suburbs of New York. She expresses how it was a long and personal journey for her to finally embrace and love her identity and roots through her naturally curly hair. She claims it connects her to her truth, “as for Egypt, I feel so much closer to my roots since I've started wearing my hair curly in ways that I can only begin to describe.”
Representation and acceptance of culture through different hair types, especially in the Middle East, is not only important to accept but to embrace. Hair does matter to a person; it is not only a depiction of identity, but it is a symbol of pride.