For years, Rola has been smoothing her hair. “For me it was beautiful,” she says. But now, in her salon for curly and wavy hair, she and her friend Sara are joining the “revolution” of beauty standards in Egypt.
“Whole generations have grown up with maladaptive ideals of beauty” borrowed from Western codes, regrets Sara Safwat. And for decades, millions of Egyptian women have religiously straightened their hair.
Rola Amer He acknowledges that “cutting curly hair takes longer than straight hair,” but after three hours of work, his client seems satisfied.
Created in 2018, The Curly Studio is the first in Egypt to embrace the movement “Natural hair”, says Sara, 38 years old.
At this property in a trendy Cairo neighborhood, the rollers have replaced the irons and the manes are dry cut to preserve the shape of the curls.
And it is that straightening is dangerous, warns Sara. “Once a mother brought her three-year-old daughter: after a chemical treatment to have straight hair, everything fell out“, He says.
a social movement
Rola herself acknowledges that before the “norm” straightened out and that wearing her natural curly hair made her feel “unkempt”.
“Are you coming like this?” it was an inevitable question in job interviews, Sara points out. But even though her hair was considered “unprofessional,” she continued to show off curls at work.
Recommended haircuts for women over 50, but who want to stand out wherever they go
In the early 2000s, Lebanese singer Myriam Fares was one of the few curly-haired figures in the Arab world. At the same time, in the United States, the natural hair movement has encouraged black women to preserve their natural hair.
In 2012, in Egypt, the actress Dina Elshebiny was one of the few to break a taboo by showing off her curls in the hit series hekayat banat (tales of women, in Arabic). Ten years later, hedgehogs are ubiquitous on the streets of Cairo, in series and on billboards.
The Egyptian-Palestinian May Calamawy She also exhibits her curls in Hollywood in the Marvel franchise series, The knight of the moon.
“There was a real social movement”, explains Doaa Gawish, who in 2016 launched The Hair Addict, a Facebook group dedicated to natural hair.
In just one summer, it went from 5,000 to 80,000 subscribers while the local cosmetics market grew by 18%.
Two years later, Gawish launched a company of the same name dedicated to hair care. “Many big brands launched curly hair products because they noticed it was an indispensable part of the clientele,” he says.
The locks of 103 million Egyptians feed 500,000 hairdressers and generate over three million jobsestimated in 2020 on a Mahmoud el Degwy radio, representative of the hairdressers of the Cairo chamber of commerce.
Mariam Ashraf, A 26-year-old teacher, he also took advantage of the vein. Although at first they were entertainment, her Instagram videos of her have become “a source of income”, explains this “curly hair specialist” with over 90,000 followers on the social network.
“Brands are contacting me more and more to talk about curly hair products (…) and modeling agencies are hiring me for advertising,” she adds.
But taking care of your hair is not for everyone. If the average monthly salary of an Egyptian family is around 6,000 pounds (300 euros, 325 dollars), a haircut at Curly Studio can cost 600 pounds.
The phenomenon is not only female. Some men are also seduced by curls.
Omar Rehim discovered her almost by surprise. While in prison due to the coronavirus pandemic, unable to go to the hairdresser, this cyber security expert saw what they looked like in his hair.
He now frequents the Curly Studio, with a predominantly female clientele due to a patriarchal and conservative society.
“People think a man shouldn’t take care of his hair or buy cosmetics”he explains, denouncing “fragile masculinity”, the fear of some men of being associated with female stereotypes.
“I would really like to make them understand that it’s normal (…), but I don’t feel ready to fight this battle yet,” he complains. (I)