Eman El-Deeb, a young Egyptian woman, decided to leave her country in 2016. But it wasn’t for education, work or a partner. It was because of her hair.
The 26-year-old has big curly hair that is admired in Spain, where she currently lives.
But in Egypt, where many women seek to emulate European ideals of beauty, she felt like her hair was a curse.
“The decision to leave was a very sad one for me. I never imagined I’d migrate,” says Eman.
“But I was tired… I reached the point where I felt I wanted to live in a place where my looks do not bother anyone.”
Most Egyptian women have naturally curly hair
Eman says that in Egypt she was ridiculed by acquaintances and strangers alike.
“In the first couple of months of my work at an Egyptian bank, someone from human resources would come and ask me to straighten my hair almost every day,” she says.
Although Eman’s decision to migrate may seem extreme, her story will probably resonate with many women in Egypt.
Most Egyptian women have naturally curly hair. It’s a dominant feature.
Yet most are forced at a very early age to straighten it, to fit society’s perception of beauty.
‘Mocked for my hair’
So when a Facebook group was launched in March 2016 to help women take care of their hair naturally, the response was huge.
Today, two years since it started, the Hair Addict group has more than 105,000 female members, 95% of whom are actively interacting with the group’s content.
Doaa Gawish, 38, launched the group after she herself suffered because of her hair.
Doaa Gawish, here with her daughter, launched the Hair Addict group
“As a child, I was mocked for my hair… I always straightened it,” she says.
Doaa, an engineer at an American company, is a self-confessed “nerd”. So although she gave in to constantly straightening her hair, she knew that it was harmful and started researching and gathering information about how to diminish the side-effects of constant heating.
She accumulated a wealth of knowledge and decided that she could turn everything she had learnt into something useful for others as well.
After it began, the group grew into almost a cult, where followers shared hair-care routines and soon took the bolder step of going completely heat-free.
The heat-free challenge started in July 2016 and since then it has been a big success.
Noran Amr, 32, has been heat-free for a year. Last month she attended a wedding with her hair naturally curly for the first time.
“People’s reaction at the wedding was overwhelmingly positive. Everyone commented on how nice my hair was.”
“People now have much more awareness. There is now a culture of curly hair in Egypt.”
Noran Amr: “People now have much more awareness”
But Noran says this change would not have been possible if it were not for the various groups that emerged on social media.
Today, there are several Egyptian groups providing tips and advice for taking care of curly hair.
‘First positive comment’
As a result of the growing demand, the first curly hair salon opened in this year.
Situated in one of Egypt’s most affluent neighbourhoods, The Curly Studio – unlike most Egyptian salons – works on an appointment basis only. It receives more than 30 clients a week, mostly young women.
A training session organised by Hair Addict for salons and stylists in Egypt
“The trend is very popular, especially among millennials,” says the studio’s owner, 33-year-old Sara Safwat.
Even Eman felt the change.
“In April 2017, while I was visiting Egypt, a taxi driver told me ‘your hair is very nice.’ At first, I thought he was being sarcastic. But then I realised he was being sincere.
“That was the first positive comment about my hair that I had ever heard in Egypt.”