I wonder why a natural physical attribute in a human being could be perceived as “not good enough”? I wonder why a natural physical attribute in a human being would be perceived as “not professional” within the workplace? I wonder why a natural physical attribute in a human being would be perceived as “not feminine enough”? Yes, I am talking about curly hair, which I had talked about previously in another post.
My hair journey (ongoing btw) has started since I was almost 10 years old. Mom thought it was a good age to start chemically straightening my hair. One reason was because she had just given birth to my little sister and would not have time to properly take care of and tame its wild strands. The other was that she did not really know what to do with it. So I started concealing my naturally curly hair with harsh chemicals to have it pin straight. I was very young back then. I was happy my mom did not have to spend hours detangling my hair after every shower. I was happy I was able to style it easily. I was happy it looked healthy (not for long though). However, there was always something gnawing at me, that I was concealing a major part of myself…
When I reached around 16 years (of chemically straightening my hair every 4-5 months), my hair was falling out. It was weak and fragile and far from healthy. It was then and there when I decided to stop the chemical straightening for good. I need to find a better, less damaging alternative. I still want the straight hair but without the harm. Almost all my friends had either naturally straight hair, or slightly wavy hair. No one had a huge head of curls like I did (and still do). All the dolls I loved to play with during adolescence (Barbie, My Scene, Bratz, you name’em) had straight hair. All actresses on my favorite TV shows had straight hair (Miley Cyrus, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, Raven Symone…etc. I was a hardcore Disney kid). All models, TV hosts, and celebrities in magazines had straight hair. I wondered why I was the only one who had to suffer with her hair, why was it such a burden?
Why would I want to keep my curly hair then? It was the mere-effect, or the familiarity effect, a known concept in psychology, which means that you tend to develop a preference, liking, or convincing about something just because you happen to be exposed to it quite often. It was that simple and complex at the same time. That was one of the reasons why a huge majority of people preferred straight hair and thought it to be the better-looking.
A while after, the keratin treatment emerged and made a huge boom. It was marketed as being able to provide the straight look without the chemical damage since keratin was already an existing nutrient in your hair. It was all the rage in Egypt and most girls wanted to try it. I was one of them. I tried it two times. Once at a salon near my house. It was a nightmare. It lasted for 5 hours, of tears, steam, and headache. It did not do much really, as far as I remember.
The second time was at one of the top-notch salons in the Middle East. I said they would definitely know what they were doing. I paid 3k then. It did not do much as well. But they told me it was not a straightening treatment, so it was expected. My hair was way less frizzy, more tamable, and less curly. But not the straight look I had had in mind.
At this point, I had given up on these hair treatments. I mean, nothing was really working. It is either I get the pin straight hair with tremendous damage or merely less curls for a thousand pounds. I was quite disappointed at this stage. Then it hit me! A simple idea that had been right there the whole time: why don’t I just leave my hair the way it was originally created, no chemicals and no treatments? *Gasp* Do people even do that? Do I know any girl with naturally curly hair (not curled, as this mix-up really gets on my nerves)? But as I said, I was desperate and this was the only option I haven’t tried, so I might as well give it a shot. And that’s when my curly hair journey started.
I was clueless. There was no one around me with curly hair to refer to. No one in the media to follow through her steps. How will I look like? Will I like my curly hair? But here’s the thing, I was not going to see my full-fledged curly hair before 2-3 years. That is the hardest part to endure. The infamous transitioning phase, where a woman stops chemically treating or heat straightening her hair and switches back to her natural hair. Your hair needs its time to recover from all the chemicals that messed up its original texture, to grow properly and naturally without interruptions. So it means I have to keep heat straightening to a minimum to give my hair a chance to relax and recover. It is a hard phase that requires much patience, effort, determination, and persistence. At this point, my hair was exhausted, weak, frizzy, and depleted. It was half curly (from the roots) and half straight (from the ends). This is the worst phase that any woman can find her hair in. You do not know how to style it. It falls out quite a lot. And again, it is very weak. Bur you have to wait, your hair deserves the recovery.
My knowledge of curly hair started to accumulate when I stumbled upon a phenomenal website called NaturallyCurly.com. It is loaded with stories from inspirational women who managed to transition safely and are happy with their natural texture, giving you just right encouragement and motivation. You will find an abundance of useful articles about curly hair types, maintenance, hairstyles, and tips. I never knew curly hair had types! I’m a 3B by the way.
This was a gateway for me to learn all about the ins and outs of curly hair. I watched a hundred videos and read a thousand articles. I was genuinely eager to learn about my natural hair. I wanted to know it well so I can love it the way it deserves to be loved. It is a normal physical feature in my body the same as my eye color, body shape, and hair color are. I was doing all this out of love, not out of hate and refusal as before. I was excited to try all sorts of tips, products, hair masks, and hair oils. I did not even get upset when one of them did not work. I just knew it was a chance for me to keep trying until I found what my hair preferred the most. Honestly, I haven’t felt this positive about my hair since forever.
However, it was not all rainbows and unicorns. My hair looked like a mess and I had to leave it like that if I wanted it to grow out healthily. At this point, I had self-esteem issues. I went to school everyday without liking how I looked. At this point, I felt way more confident when I had my hair straightened for an event. When I look at my pictures during this stage, I find that I looked terrible. But I had to keep going and endure all this, so as to have the beautiful head of curly hair I am dreaming about for a while now. On a side note, I had the courage to show up on the picture day in grade 11 in my transitioning-phase hair, even though I had usually straightened it for this day. The picture does not look particularly pretty, but I am very and wholly proud of it.
After three years of struggling, low self-esteem, and perseverance, it was the fist time to see my full-fledged curly hair. My natural hair. 100% chemical free, from the roots till the tips. This stage did not come all of a sudden. It was quite a gradual process. I remember feeling ecstatic. This was actually the first time ever for me to meet my curly hair face-to-face, or head-to-face to be exact. And the good thing is, I liked it. No, loved it. I felt very comfortable at the thought that my hair looks gorgeous without any external factors (excluding the leave-ins, hair oils, and deep conditioners, but these are complimentary ones). There was a fixed hair regimen I had myself committed to. I was happy and satisfied about my hair for the first time in years. Now I can say that I feel equally confident with my hair either curly or straightened.
But then came society and started to ruin it for me. Egypt is a country where a considerable percentage of its women have curly hair. But you do not see it because almost all of them straighten it. Curly hair is perceived as wild, untamed, unprofessional, playful, and not feminine enough. If you had a big event or an engagement party to attend, you had to straighten your hair. If you are the one getting married, you had to find a way to permanently straighten it because, “all men like straight hair.” Straight hair is less trouble and less maintenance, so this is what you should stick with. You have to pay heaps of money to have it chemically straightened. If you cannot do that, you have to head to the salon every week and have it straightened. Of course, it is not that absolute. But that’s the majority.
People will not make direct comments about your hair. They will say things like, “You must take forever to style your hair,” “You look more beautiful with straight hair, why don’t you straighten it more often?” and things of that sort. I had just come out of a long and tiring hair journey and two of the most important women in my life, my mother and maternal grandmother, criticized me for leaving my hair curly. They both thought (and still and will forever think) that I look way more attractive with straight hair. I did not like that. I was comfortable with my naturally curly hair. I did not want to showcase something that was not inherent in me. I did not like the idea of adhering to a standardized and skewed version of beauty. I did not like the idea of narrowing down beauty to a single physical attribute. I did not like the idea of straightening my hair just because other people liked it more. I still do straighten my hair, but only when I want to and feel like it. I did not like the idea of killing the wonderful diversity Allah bestowed on us by possessing the same head of hair. I did not like either of this one bit.
I got mixed opinions from my friends. Some applauded me for my decision. Some preferred it straight. But no one was adamant about as my mother and grandmother were. I remember going through long and heated arguments, mainly with my mother, as she tried to convince me to straighten it more. As a result of these arguments, I sometimes would return home and look at myself at the mirror and cry. Was I maybe oblivious to the fact that I looked terrible in curly hair and that I needed to straighten it more just like my mom says? Did I really not look as beautiful as I perceived myself?
Despite these transient moments of weakness, I managed to sort of build a wall around this aspect of my personality. I was genuinely convinced with the fact that I looked beautiful, sexy, and feminine with curly hair as much as I did with straight hair. As poetic as this might sound, I felt that both textures of hair represented two facets of my personality. The straight hair represented the introverted, quiet, posh, and shy side of me, while the curly hair represented the passionate, driven, playful, and laid-back side of me. I liked having both options to do my hair at basically any given time. Henceforth, mom’s comments never really got to me. We would still argue from time to time, but nothing she said convinced me to hide this part of me again.
On a not-so side note, there was one time I went to my grandmother’s place to get something (she lives in the same building). I was wearing my hair curly. She looked at me for a while and said, with all seriousness, “You can never wear your hair like that when you are married. Your husband will hate it. It is far from feminine.” I was appalled. I still remember the way she looked and the way she sounded when she said it. I remember feeling very wounded. She was not just talking about the way I looked in general; she was talking about my sexual appeal, shattering it into a thousand pieces. I remember being very angry and dismissing her hurtful comment (I am pretty sure she never meant it to hurt, though) on the grounds that her ideas about beauty are outdated and that no matter what I said, she’d never change her views.
A couple of years later, I decided to put on the veil elhamdoleAllah. Arguments with my mom decreased to a great extent since my hair was covered. However, she would look at me questionably when I decide to go to the salon to have my hair straightened, even though there is no upcoming event. But that’s just the beauty of it, mom. I am free to wear whatever I like whenever I like. I am not adhering to any standards but my own.
Now the journey has not (and I don’t think will ever) come to an end. I am 22 going on 23, which is the optimum age for suiting and marriage in Egypt. The topic of my hair still arises. I am still adamant in my opinion and so is mom. She is convinced that when it’s time for me to get married, I have to find a way to straighten it because, “that’s just what all girls do.” This does not seem right to me. What I do with my hair is such a personal and intimate choice. I don’t wanna go down the road of hair treatments again. I don’t want to hide this vivacious part of me again. As for my future spouse, I want him to accept me the way I am, accept the diversity within me, accept what I feel comfortable in.
I have written this lengthy post as a reminder, to the world and to myself. I am reminding the world that beauty is such a fluid term. No one has the right define it based on subjective opinions. No one has the right to shame someone else because of how they choose to look. And certainly no one has the right to deem a specific physical attribute “not beautiful enough.”
I am, as well, reminding myself that what matters first and foremost is how I view and perceive myself. People can say whatever opinions they want, but what I actually do is out of my free volition and beliefs. Femininity was never about looks, but attitude. When beauty resonates from the inside, all people will see and notice. I am leaving this here to constantly remind me of the love and appreciation I have for my curly tresses. They’re unique and special and they’re a part of who I am. And I am not willing to give that up.
And finally, I leave you with this amazing video from Dove, which reminds women to love their curls so they can pass on that love to their daughters. It is something I am planning to do with my daughter insha’Allah one day.
– All images are hyperlinked to their original sources.