Managing Editor Dalia Awad catches up with Nour Emam as she takes to social media sporting a beautifully bald head, documenting her unshackling through shaving in a striking social project...
Almost three years ago, I joined CairoScene and the first article I wrote was an admittedly scathing attack on what I saw to be an inexplicable trend. Girls across Cairo and beyond were picking up the clippers and shaving off half their hair in what I saw as a pointless rebellion; a fad that had come and gone in the West and was finally tickling the fancy of frustrated girls in a country that was struggling to find a voice.
My debut piece on this site didn’t go unnoticed and while many got the joke, so to speak, others felt personally attacked by my words. One went so far as to threaten me, albeit through a series of Chinese whispers, making sure I knew that I should “watch my back.” While I shrugged off the negative responses, they didn’t surprise me. I had touched on a nerve, not by questioning other women’s hair choices – which, by the way, is a cardinal sin against Egyptian girl code in and of itself – but by perhaps, not taking into consideration the internal struggle each one of these girls went through when deciding to go for the half buzz-cut.
Yes, it was a trend, fleeting and frivolous for the most part, but what I did not consider was that whatever their reasoning, each one of these girls took a mammoth leap in letting go of what’s culturally considered a defining factor of their femininity. Whether they intended to make a statement or not, each of these girls left the salon chair with a new challenge ahead of them; to simultaneously act both nonchalant (“it’s just hair”) and defensive (“I don’t care if you don’t like it”).
In a twist of fate, three year later, I’m writing about girls shaving their heads yet again with a newfound perspective. As a fashion statement, I’m still not convinced, but after seeing emotional photo after emotional photo of pre-Masters student Nour Emam taking scissors to her own locks, culminating in a gorgeous, striking and empowering image of her embracing her womanhood despite - or perhaps because of - being bald, I can see there’s another side to the phenomenon.
“Most of my friends think I look prettier with a shaved head now! Go figure!” says Nour Emam when asked about the reactions to her daring move. For the social project she’s called Shaved., Emam let go of her locks and picked up her camera to make a short documentary, detailing “the social, physical and emotional aspects of being an Egyptian girl living in Cairo and shaving my hair completely.”
Emerging online with instant virality just a week or so ago, Emam describes a “burst of inspiration to create a movement with this project on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to share [her] story and [her] daily updates in realtime with people who are interested, in hopes to inspire and empower people to break free from their comfort zones and overcome their fears.” It certainly worked, and Emam posts updates daily, sharing the inspirational messages she’s received from strangers across Egypt that have got in touch to thank and applaud her bravery.
“I've come to notice that hair has deeply rooted symbolic significance for women. When we go through major shifts or turns of events in our lives, hair seems to be the first thing a person resorts to removing or trimming or cutting. The act of removing your hair isn't at all negative,” says Emam. We are, however, living in Egypt, and Middle Eastern culture as a whole puts a lot of emphasis on traditional ideals – especially when it comes to women.
“The act of a woman shaving her hair is very negatively perceived in society here in Egypt. Most people associate a woman with a shaved head with being a cancer patient and undergoing chemo,” agrees Emam. “Other people claim it's frowned upon in Islam for a woman to shave her hair completely, as it makes her resemble a man. And the old grandmas and grandpas just associate a woman shaving her hair with being deeply disturbed or crazy!” It is exactly this kind of stigma, however, that the bold act of going bald is trying to combat, as Emam acknowledges that the problem isn’t just an Arab one and that global media consistently equates long hair with sex appeal. “At first, I only intended this project to be about a pure research on the significance of a woman's hair. However, the project is constantly moving forward and shaving my hair has become a mere symbol of overcoming a big fear.”
Pointing to Emam’s bravery may be the immediate reaction one has when discussing Shaved., but the budding filmmaker is quick to point out her own fears. “I've been thinking of doing this project for a while now and it took me a whole year to have the balls to actually go through with it. The most emotional part was cutting off my locks with the scissors - I almost cried, and my hands were trembling. After that, it felt liberating and I wanted to keep going shorter and shorter. The first day was very strange and I think it took me two days to adjust and to recognise myself in the mirror.”
Her ability to embrace her own emotions rather than be ashamed of them is quite remarkable – and the sign of a great documentary-maker – as she is fearless in putting her own fears out there, able to both ask and answer all the questions a viewer of her journey might have.
“The ultimate goal would be to finally finish the documentary around April 2015 and hold several screenings across Cairo, and God willingly send it out to film festivals abroad. But this social media movement goes side by side with the film. I want this to inspire men and women to break free, to talk about their fears publicly and see how much our fears resemble one another’s. Sometimes we can't break free and be fearless, if we don't find the support around us. This is what project Shaved. is all about; support, empowerment and change!
Join in Nour Emam's journey and like Shaved. on Facebook.
Photos courtesy of Shaved.