Despite the challenges American naturals face, there is a pro-kink/coil/curl movement flourishing here. But in other parts of the world, daring to embrace and celebrate your curly hair is met more harshly. We recently posted about a Dominican woman who was written up at work for wearing her hair naturally curly. And now Egyptian writer Nehal Elmeligy is speaking openly and honestly about the country’s bias against curly hair and darker skin. In an essay entitled Untangling Egypt’s Beauty Standards, Elmeligy discusses the backlash she’s faced because of her decision to wear her hair short and curly. Like many African American women, she learned early through beauty traditions that her hair was ‘unacceptable’.
Almost every Saturday night, my mom and I would embark on a beautifying, head-aching journey. My mom would sit on the bed with her feet on the floor; I would sit between her legs with my back to her. Equipped with patience, hair rollers and all kinds of brushes, she would split my hair in small parts. She would place each on a single roller and pull as hard as she could. In the end, she would wrap my head with a scarf, and tie it so the rollers don’t go loose. I would then have to go to bed and figure out how to place my bumpy head on the pillow and go to sleep.
No one has to tell you upfront that something is wrong with you, but trying to fix you or change you sends enough of a message that what or how you are cannot just “be”; it is indeed in need of changing. With endless hair rolling sessions and visits to hairdressers to get my hair blow-dried and straightened, it was inevitable that deep down I thought that the straighter my hair was, the better.
Elmeligy decided to embrace her curls after damage from a too-harsh relaxer;
Once, as a teenager, a hairdresser “over-permed” my hair, and parts of it started to fall off. After this incident, I swore that I would never do that to myself again.
Elmeligy’s decision to wear her hair curly and short has been met with confusion, derision and some rudeness, as she details in this story;
I was waiting for my turn to get my eyebrows done in an overcrowded hair salon once, when I noticed a tall woman standing with her teenage daughter whining about wanting to get her hair cut really short. Her mom tried to dissuade her of course. The girl, with the beautiful long hair, didn’t seem too convinced, but decided to remain quiet for a little bit, until they came and stood next to me. I smiled at the girl, admiring her desire to be different, and then turned away. She then pointed at me and told her mom that she wanted to get a haircut like mine. Her mom then took a risk she shouldn’t have.
“You wish your hair was longer, don’t you?” She asks in hopes to win her argument.
“No, not really,” I replied with a smile.
She goes on to reflect on why Egypt’s beauty standards don’t represent the diversity of its native women.
I’ve always loved the diversity of Egyptian genes. Some of us have Turkish, Arab or Ancient Egyptian origins; we come in different skin tones, features, and hair types. Why hasn’t Egyptian society made peace with the fact that not all girls have silky hair? But also, why is silky hair the only hair that should be viewed as feminine or beautiful?
Read the full essay here.
Ladies, what are your thoughts?