Every time Talaat combs her daughterâ€™s hair, it takes her backÂ her own school years. SheÂ was bullied for having the sameÂ kinky hair,Â ruiningÂ her teenage life. ButÂ she’s determinedÂ her daughter will have a different experience.
â€œI was, like, fighting every day for no reason except that I have curly hair in a society that believes in one kind of beauty,â€ Noha Talaat, a 37-year-old English teacher, told Al-Monitor.
As a girl withÂ dark skin and kinky hair in a society that embraces European beauty standards, Talaat used to hear people describeÂ her as a â€œhouse maidâ€ when she was just 13 years old. Her colleagues would alsoÂ bully and rejectÂ her.
â€œI tried hundreds of methods and products to straighten my hair to avoid bullying, but the result was that I got depressed and I damaged my hair. I donâ€™t want my daughter to suffer like me,â€ said Talaat. SheÂ found refuge in emerging online platforms thatÂ offer help on how to take care of her natural hair.
Although this hair type is common among Middle Eastern people, Egyptians with itÂ areÂ often regarded as inferior. The discriminationÂ pushes many people, especially women, to straighten theirÂ hair using heat and chemical treatmentsÂ and to even cover it with wigs.
Last year, CAPMAS estimated the value of Egyptâ€™s imports of wigs, mostly from China, atÂ 3 million Egyptian pounds (about $181,000), or about 7.5% of Egyptâ€™s total imports from China during the first quarter of 2019.
ButÂ a new movement has emerged asÂ women, beauty salons and online platforms haveÂ revolt against the norms. They sought and offered services and advice for taking care of their natural curly hair.
There are now many groups and social media pages likeÂ Curly Hair Egypt, which offers adviceÂ and fightsÂ discrimination.Â Egyptian CurlsÂ offers reviews on relevant hair products,Â The Hair addictÂ sells appropriate products and The Curly StudioÂ isÂ aÂ hairdresser dedicated to curly hair.
Sara Safwat, founder of The Curly Studio, is a pioneerÂ of the natural hair movement in Egypt. She opened her salon three years ago.
â€œCurly hair is an identity for us.Â â€¦Â About 80% of us have curly or wavy hair. ButÂ this identity has been obliterated or became indistinct as many people have soughtÂ straight hair,â€ Safwat told Al-Monitor.
SafwatÂ established her studio because she didnâ€™t find anyone toÂ help her take care of her own hair.
â€œMy mother never urged me to straighten my hair. I grew up loving my hair. ButÂ I faced bullying in the street. Surprisingly, it was by women,â€ she said.
â€œWhen I was 12 years old, I used to go to school by subway. I was thin with thick, long, curly hair. Women used to stare at me and speak about me as if I wereÂ odd. SoÂ I decided never to take the women-only subway car and take the mixed one instead. I chose to ride in the mixed car and to be anxious of harassment, to escape the bullying and curious eyes,â€ she explained.
The natural hairÂ movement started about three years ago. After Safwat opened her hair studio, other groups and hairdressers emerged along the same path, revolting against societalÂ beauty standards. Together theyÂ urged more women to accept their natural hair and to feel confident.
â€œWhen we go to any European or American county with our curly hair, people stop us in the street to ask us how we do our hair. Itâ€™s our special feature so we should take care of it,â€ Safwat said.
â€œI feel that now, with the help of many guiding groups and natural products, that the beauty standards have changed. More women are wearing their hair curlyÂ and this encourages other women to go natural,â€ Safwat added.
Men also face bullying for their hair.
â€œWeÂ donâ€™t care about peopleâ€™s opinion much, but sometimes it hurts when you are called â€˜the guy with the messy hair.â€™Â They donâ€™t understand that itâ€™s natural, they always feel itâ€™s carelessness byÂ me,â€ recent universityÂ graduate Hassan MohamedÂ told Al-Monitor.
â€œI joined some online groups for curly hair because I want to help spread awareness about us. We need people to accept us,â€ he added.
ButÂ some mothers still urge their daughters to straighten their hair.
â€œBeauty standards are planted in womenâ€™s minds since childhood. And as life standards change from place to place, culture also changes. Communities with lessÂ education and understanding often bully others [over their] curly hair. ButÂ these cases have decreased. Now I receive mothers who come to me with their daughters asking me to take care of their curly hair,â€ Safwat explained.
Many young women,Â even brides, are wearing their hair naturally on formalÂ occasionsÂ without a hint of shyness.
â€œI think that natural hair is my identity. You need to accept your natural hair as it is, just like you have to accept your name, your skin color or anything else that identifies you,â€ universityÂ studentÂ Wesal AboelsouedÂ told Al-Monitor.
AboelsouedÂ joined manyÂ curly hair groups and learned a healthy hair routine thatÂ avoidsÂ damagingÂ heat treatments.
â€œI loveÂ the movement as I don’t want to live my whole life with hair that’s not mine,â€ she told Al-Monitor. â€œIt’s not just about the curly hair, itâ€™s about accepting yourself and the people around you â€” and even if you still can’t accept them, at least be nice,â€ she added.
For Safwat, Aboelsoued and many other women and men, the natural hairÂ movement isÂ about more than hair care. It promotes self-acceptance.
â€œOur aim is to help every woman feel and say â€˜I love myself, I accept myself, I wonâ€™t change the real me for anything or anyone.â€™Â Wearing your hair natural definitely boosts your self-confidence; donâ€™t settle for less,â€ Safwat said.