(AFP) – “It was beautiful to me”: For years, Rola has straightened her hair. Today, at her curly and frizzy hair salon, she and co-star Sarah accompany the “revolution” of beauty icons that triumphed in Egypt.
“Entire generations have grown up with inappropriate ideals of beauty” as she refers to Western icons, laments Sarah Safwat. Over the decades, millions of Egyptian women have religiously straightened their hair.
Rola Amer admits that “it takes longer to cut curly hair than smooth hair,” but after three hours of cutting, her client looked happy.
Established in 2018, The Curly Studio is, says Sarah, the first salon in Egypt to embrace the “natural hair” movement.
At this establishment in an upscale Cairo suburb, curling irons have replaced flat irons and blow-dries to keep curls in shape.
Sarah, 38, remembers because straightening can be dangerous.
“I once brought a mother to her three-year-old daughter: after chemotherapy to get straight hair, they all fell out,” she told AFP.
– Successful work –
Rola herself admits that straightening hair at that time was the “norm” and she felt that her natural hair was “neglected”. She now modified her curly bangs.
“Are you going to come like this?” It was an inevitable question in job interviews, Sarah adds. But even though her hair was deemed “unprofessional,” she continued to curl her hair at work.
In the early 2000s, Lebanese singer Myriam Fares was one of the only curly hair icons in the Arab world.
At the same time, in the United States, the diaper movement has called on black women to keep their hair curly.
In Egypt, in 2012, artist Dina El-Sherbiny was one of the few who broke a taboo: she flaunted her curly hair in the hit series “Hekayat Banat”.
Ten years later, curls are ubiquitous on the streets of Cairo, on TV shows, and on billboards.
Even the Egyptian-Palestinian Mai Kalamawi reviews her role in Hollywood in the series Moon Knight.
“There was a real social movement,” Doaa Gawish, who launched the Facebook group The Hair Addict dedicated to natural hair, told AFP in 2016.
In one summer, the number of members increased from 5,000 to 80,000 while the local cosmetics market increased by 18%.
To follow the organic and curly trend, Ms. Gawish launched her hair care business two years later.
“A lot of the big brands released products for curly hair because they felt like they were part of their customer base,” she says.
The number of hairdressers reaches 103 million Egyptians, employs 500,000 salons, and more than three million people are estimated in 2020 on Mahmoud El-Degwi, the representative of hairdressers at the Cairo Chamber of Commerce.
– Men too –
Mariam Ashraf, a 26-year-old teacher, also spotted the vein. From a hobby, her Instagram videos have become “a source of income”, as the “curly hair specialist” says, with more than 90,000 subscribers.
“Brands are reaching out to me more and more to talk about curly hair products (…) and modeling agencies are hiring me for advertisements,” she adds.
But taking care of your hair is not given to everyone: if the average monthly income of a family is a maximum of 6000 pounds (300 euros), the reduction in Curly Studio can reach 600 pounds.
Some men also let their curls tempt them.
Omar Rahima found out by surprise: during confinement linked to the Covid-19 pandemic, without a hairdresser, a cybersecurity expert watched them appear.
Today, it is in the Curly Studio, which is frequented mostly by women, despite criticism from the patriarchal and conservative society.
“People think a man shouldn’t take care of his hair or buy cosmetics,” he explains, denouncing “fragile masculinity,” some men’s fear of being associated with feminine stereotypes.
“I’d really like to make them understand that it’s normal (…) but I don’t feel like I’m ready to fight this fight yet.”