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  • Writer's pictureMekki Amal

The last days of my straight hair...

Updated: Mar 29

AMAL MEKKI, amal mekk, Amal El Mekki
"Hair straightening made my life easier." While shooting "Moush Waktou", a short documentary.

This morning in front of the bathroom mirror. I picked up a coconut cream. I rubbed some of it in my hands and then ran it through my hair. I combed it. I braided my bangs (fringe) and the rest of my hair. I left the shower room, drank my coffee while reading "Invitation to Sociology" by Peter L. Berger. In front of the mirror again, I let loose of my braids while tufts of curly, wavy hair flowed down the sides of my face. I stood looking at them as if for the first time.

But it was really a "first time". This morning, I left my house (and all the houses I've lived in) for the first time , as an adult woman, with curly hair that hasn't been touched by a hairdryer or a straightener. How I resembled this morning my teenage self, who was 13-year old, going to school with her curly hair, which she often wore in a ponytail !

At the age of fourteen, I wore hijab. At twenty-two I took it off. Since then, I forgot the nature of my hair! Back then, I started going to hair dressers for blow drying. In fact, the Tunisian Arabic translation is not faithful to the French phrase « faire un brushing » or the English "Blow dry hair", as we women with North African hair, do not "just" dry our hair at the salon, but rather “pull” it (Pull the hair tightly from the roots while blow drying so that they are no longer curly). This "pulling technique" that the Swiss hair dressers know nothing about, and in which ours excel.

Many years ago, I started using Keratin straightening treatments. Hair straightening made my life easier, as it helped decrease blow-drying time. As a working woman, I no longer needed to go to the hair dresser every week, with all what it means of waiting and having to listen to the stories of women resentful of their mothers-in-law, husbands, and employers. I became able to literally "dry" my hair on my own at home, in 5 minutes.

But the keratin treatment made me lose a piece of myself. I forgot that the smooth, frizz-free hair - for 4 or 5 months before having to straighten it again- is not my hair!

Not long after, I already started thinking about embracing my natural hair with its curls and waves. In fact, right after finishing my university studies, I stopped wearing makeup except on special occasions. Getting back my natural curls was the logical next step.

The years 2017-2019 were very apt for me to take such a step. Curly hair was making a comeback. Many girls and women of my generation were throwing away hair dryers and straighteners and unleashing their curly hair. Curly, which used to bother me in my teens, became the fashion for teenage girls and young women. And for many, it has become a call for revolution against readymade aesthetics.

Perhaps it would have been more appropriate for me to take that step right then and there. But at that time, I was busy fighting on multiple fronts. So, I decided to let my "hair battle" wait.

Curly hair, woman, Tunisia, curls
A Tunisian young woman with curly hair, Houcine Nsib. Unsplash.

Since coming to Switzerland, I have used Keratin treatments about 3 times. By the 3rd treatment, I told myself, "This is going to be the last time." Which made me laugh at myself: "How many times did you say it's the last time?"

About two months ago, I started noticing the appearance of new, curly roots. Those roots that curly-haired North African women hate to see after they blow dry their hair. It's not capitalism nor patriarchy who is the "main enemy" of North-African women, but sweat and rain (Sorry, Christine Delphy !)

My new "roots" were smiling maliciously at me. I could hear them asking :"Now, is the time, so what are going to do with us?"

"Shall I submit to the 'rule of habit' and make an appointment at the hair dresser's for a keratin treatment session?"

"No, this time I will resist."

I knew that I was leading myself into a fierce battle. The battle of living for months or even a whole year "in between". This is the stage in which the hair is curly at the roots and smooth at the ends. And It's every woman's nightmare!

Hair is political. It is not just a part of our body, nor any part of it. It's mostly a political statement. A woman wears the veil. A woman takes it off. A woman cuts her hair. A woman leaves it long. A woman straightens her hair or leaves it curly. In each of these situations, a woman makes a political statement.

What political statement does the woman "in-between" make?

Frantz Fanon, the psychiatrist and social philosopher, delved deeply into the issues of the relationship to the body, and the concept of beauty from the perspective of the colonizer/colonized dialectic. He spoke of the colonialist's attempts, which were largely successful, to make the colonized people want to imitate him, identify with his aesthetic and cultural templates until they rejected themselves, that "white man" who sowed in the people of North Africa a rupture with their black neighbors.

How I resemble these people! Me, in my "in-between", and them in theirs: not White, nor Black. Lost, somewhere in between.

When in China, I wore hijab as an assertion of identity. Today in Switzerland, I embrace my curls as a part of my chosen identity. Of whom I want to be. An Arab with a light brown skin from North Africa. Neither a black nor a white. A woman who neither has the Black's skin, nor the White's privilege.

A woman "in-between". A "BlaWhite".

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