Growing Up Curly Haired in the Region Meant Being Called ‘Awlad Ilshuwari3’ Among Other Things

By: Lilo

Everyone loves a good curl nowadays, spending hours in a salon chair trying to perfect a perm, curling it and freezing them with hairspray. Yet, despite all this, no one wants to talk about being a natural curl-headed person especially in our region. From being bullied on the playground to getting criticized for not straightening it or ‘treating’ it with harsh chemicals the older we get, it’s all just swept quietly under the rug.

Between my friends and I who happen to share the same hair type, we are no strangers to the playground taunting in our youth. For starters, we all know that everyone and especially kids are perplexed by what they find unfamiliar. Growing up in the GCC, we understand that curly, kinky and coily hair isn’t exactly the beauty standard, so a child in an afro was not as well received as it is today. Being so different in our appearance made us easy targets, that paired with the lack of curly hair products, salons and curl loving people in media  

As a result of these factors, so many of us underwent keratin and protein ‘treatments’, damaging our hair to no end, with its effects staying with us for years at a time. Especially in the early 2000s treatments like that weren’t as safe as they are now, they were all heavily chemically based, frying our curls down to the follicle, and hurting our eyes more than anything. All is fair in trying to fit the beauty standard am i right?

This always pushed us to have our hair tied back, slicked up or fried with a straightener if we couldn’t afford these ‘treatments’ which have long lasting effects, from bald spots to low volume in the place where it got slicked to daily. It seemed the only way we could escape the taunting for so long was to hide it unless it was well-kept and shiny. 

The biggest game changer for me in terms of my relationship with my hair was highschool, when I simply began to realize I’m capable of taking things into my hands, and started my natural hair care journey. This wasn’t easy as I remember everyone asking me why I would spend so much money on curl friendly products, that were rare in this region which really made my pockets hurt, lemme tell y’all. Yet, with every purchase a small, local and inclusive haircare store would pop-up making things more affordable the more accessible they became. Sure it took decades but there  is change finally happening.

Aside from the social pressures to keep our hair pin straight, the media did not exactly help us, going our entire childhoods never seeing characters on screen with hair like ours, be it in animations or live action shows and films, we were never the it girls and boys. The exceptions were always for the longest time the one character everyone hated, or the annoying side character that people wanted off screen. 

Personally, the earliest character I remember was ‘Miranda Killagen’, from the Nickelodeon show ‘As Told by Ginger’, -also always dubbed in arabic but besides the point- this character seemed to just hate the main character, and something tells me we were supposed to hate everything about her, especially when she targeted our beloved main character. 

But here’s the thing with representation, just like the kids in school, people are perplexed by the unfamiliar, and to us, our own hair was unfamiliar, at least in a good light. The only times we heard things about kinky hair was to hear our elders call it unruly and call us ‘awlad ilshuwari3’ which damn, for a kid to hear that bears a bit of weight.

So now that I’m older, I’m grateful that little kids don’t have to grow up with the same turmoil as I did, as many kid friendly shows and movies are including curly haired main characters and allowing them their moments in the spotlight and not limiting them to one ethnicity, age or  texture. Production companies like Netflix, Cartoon Network and others are moving forward with the hopes of representing real people, in every way. Some may be doing it better than others, but as long as my kids one day don’t feel alienated by the media and a lack of representation, i’m a happy camper  

In the end, things have changed, with curly hair growing to become extremely well-received by the media, social influences, and finally our friends and family. Now while we still have to bear with the weight of those who still think pin-straight hair should be the blueprint, nothing makes me happier than seeing little girls and boys taking care of their curls and treating them with the love and care many of us wished to be able to.

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