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Egyptian Writer Calls Out the Country’s Anti-Curl Bias

Avatar • Aug 6, 2015
Nehal Elmeligy/EgyptianStreets.com

Nehal Elmeligy/EgyptianStreets.com

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?

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Brianna G
Brianna G
5 years ago

I’ve never understood people’s thought process on this. How can what NATURALLY grows out your scalp be deemed unacceptable or wrong or not beautiful? That amazes me. So if I’m at work and someone thinks my brown eyes are ugly and prefers blue eyes, are they going to ask me wear blue contacts?

Camille
Camille
5 years ago
Reply to  Brianna G

One of the reasons that natural hair is so polarizing is that it reminds the people who don’t like their own of what it REALLY looks like. People can get a perm or cover it with wigs/weaves, but their hair is just like ours.

Guest
Guest
5 years ago

White supremacy and beauty standard is global–Shocker!!!!

guest
guest
5 years ago
Reply to  Guest

Have you ever read that book Arabian Nights that was written hundreds of years ago. I read that book quite a few years back and it’s areal eye-opener. when you read it, you can see very clearly although written BCE that pale skin was the epitome of beauty and darker skin was demeaned. Even the way it described people was shocking. So this thing is global and it’s been on for thousands of years.

Chloe
Chloe
5 years ago

Most Egyptians have sub-Saharan African origins too. Funny that she left that out. She needs to take a DNA test, she’d be surprised at the results. North Africans and Middle Easterners have African, European and to a lesser extent depending on the region, Indian genes. They look like mulattos because they’re descended from mulattos.

Ra
Ra
5 years ago
Reply to  Chloe

No they didn’t. You’re right, most Egyptians have sub-Saharan origins (it’s not 100% prooved but it’s a common theory), but north Africans and Middle Easterners are not mulattos in any way

Torie Amza
Torie Amza
5 years ago
Reply to  Chloe

Well, it seems like she did somewhat acknowledge the Black African origins here: 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.
I guess she just assumes that ppl realize that ancient Egyptians are Black. It’s crazy that ppl don’t know that.

Torie Amza
Torie Amza
5 years ago

So sad how many Egyptians try to deny their Black African roots. I have heard that Egyptians don’t even like to claim Africa at all, although they are clearly part of the continent! I recently got into a dialogue with an Egyptian regarding his website, where he went out of his way to describe ancient Egyptians as having anything but wooly hair and dark skin, despite many of the pics that he included on his website indicating the opposite, lol! He even went so far as to say that they are not of African origin. Here is my response to him:… Read more »

Elle P.
Elle P.
5 years ago

Thousands of years worth of bias gets manifested in one form or another, smh

lis
lis
5 years ago

Ancient Egyptian origins’.…hehe..lol…I wonder what that could be?

kaydenpat
kaydenpat
5 years ago

Good on her for taking on beauty standards which degrade natural hair. We don’t have to change our features or hair to fit into European beauty standards. Her hair looks great just as it is.

Sabrina black
Sabrina black
5 years ago

Natural hair is great and fun. There’s nothing wrong with kinky, fluffy, big, coily, and short hair. To be yourself in a world that is trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.

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