‘For me, the idea of wearing a headscarf was always exciting – and my parents let me choose whether or not I wanted to wear it. Being from a Somali background, my hair is naturally quite curly and distinctive, which I love.
Whether you have hair on show, covered up or don’t have any at all, there’s a journey and an importance to it for most. GLAMOUR spoke to three women from varying backgrounds about their hair journey, learning to embrace and shift towards satisfying their religious beliefs but also find confidence in themselves.
Throughout the process they have redefined their idea of what makes hair beautiful for them.
Hani, 23, is a Makeup Artist from London who chooses to wear a headscarf.
The way you dress, the way you present yourself and behave, is all a reflection of your modesty and values. My first question to myself when I decided to wear it was, ‘I’m covering my head but what does that actually mean to me?’ Is it just covering my head or do my actions have to follow it? I think that choosing to cover my hair and wearing a headscarf was not just about just physically looking modest, it was about presenting myself in a more modest way too. It’s also like a shield for me. I feel like it protects me from the dangers of the world. And I do believe that when you wear a headscarf for the practice of your religion, it draws you closer to God.
A lot of people think that when you start wearing a headscarf, your beauty and haircare routine stops. My hair was already thinning a little, which led me to go to see my doctor where I found that my lack of vitamins was having this affect. I noticed when I began wearing a headscarf that my hair started to fall out even more, but that was because when I first started wearing it, I was under the impression that I didn’t need to take care of my hair.
I thought I could just wrap it in a bun, put the scarf on and that would be fine. I wasn’t doing those deep conditions or getting cuts regularly, like I did before. I did have dark days, especially when my hair started falling out more. I felt really insecure and it affected my relationship with my scarf, as I began to think of it as a way to cover my bad hair days.
That was a problem for me, because it was taking away from the reason I actually wear a scarf. I just needed to take a step back and remember that it’s not about my physical appearance, and now I realise that because I’m wearing a scarf, I have to look after my hair even more – even if no one if going to publicly see my hair, it’s self care.
In April last year there was a trend called ‘attack a Muslim day’, encouraging people to pull a woman’s headscarf off. I remember speaking to my friends about it and a lot of them felt fearful – some felt they shouldn’t wear a scarf because they didn’t want to experience that. But even with all that going on, I felt that my headscarf would protect me from everything. I feel like I have God with me all the time, and when God is with me, there’s nothing that can really go wrong. It’s become a lifestyle for me now – it’s not temporary and I’m not testing it out. Every day I feel empowered by my headscarf and I love having fun with it, testing different colours and styles. I love expressing myself with it.’
Charlotte, 29, is a lawyer from London who wears a sheitel wig over her natural hair.
‘Most people are surprised when I tell them I wear a sheitel. It’s quite a statement to cover your hair, but people don’t see a wig in the same way as a veil or headscarf, because it’s not as easily identifiable. But I’ve chosen to live my life by a certain set of Kabbalistic principles, and those principles come with a requirement to cover your hair when married. This is because we believe hair contains a special energy which should be reserved for the private relationship with your husband.
While you don’t have to cover your hair to be religious, there are lots of different ways that married Jewish women can do it, one of which is with sheitel wigs. I chose a wig because I work in a professional environment, so I wanted to feel like I fitted in and looked like myself. I wear it in public at all times, but I don’t wear a wig at home, unless we have visitors.
I understand that a lot of people might see that as oppressive, but I choose to cover my hair. It’s a lifestyle choice – no one forces me to do it and my husband covers his hair too with a skullcap. Growing up, it didn’t even cross my mind. Both my family and my husband’s are more traditional than religious, but we were both looking for a more meaningful life. In today’s society, it’s easy to strip out morality and spirituality. But in our exploration of religious life, we found that meaningfulness we were looking for.
I have three wigs – two for every day, which I alternate, and one for special occasions, like Shabbat and weddings. I need a few as they can get quite mucky on the tube and take up to two days to dry when you wash them. Wearing a wig was quite hard at first – I was never one of those women who just woke up with good hair so it becomes a huge part of your routine. I have long hair naturally so I twist it into a bun at bottom of my neck, put a velvet band around my head, put the wig on then style it. It can be hard on holiday with the heat, but you get used to it.
Some orthodox women choose to shave their heads for ease, but I never considered it. My hair is part of my identity. I’ve always taken care of it, and I look after my wigs just as well. I don’t think it negatively impacts my sense of self – I still feel attractive in my wigs and feel like I look like me. I also like how it makes you feel like you have a secret that only you know.
Since my wigs look just like my natural hair, people sometimes ask what’s the point in wearing them? But that’s where the spiritual element comes in. For me, they serve as a physical reminder of the principles I choose to live by and the amazing, exclusive relationship I have with my husband.’
Anishka, 24, is from South Buckinghamshire and, for religious reasons, has never cut her hair.
‘No one in my family has ever cut their hair. As Sikhs, we believe that our hair is a gift from God, and you should never destroy anything God has given you. As such, I’ve never questioned not cutting my hair, but then I’ve never really wanted to. I love the way my hair looks. I work in fashion, so I value the fact that it makes me stand out from the crowd. Besides, I think it suits my feminine style.
I also enjoy the talking point my hair provides. I love being able to teach people about it when they ask, and what it means to my faith. The main question I get is whether it keeps growing forever, but the reality is that eventually it reaches its full length. There are plenty of other pros too – I definitely save money by not cutting it! But it also helps me identify people with the same values as me.
Of course, there are downsides. It does take a long time to dry, but since I always let it dry naturally, that doesn’t really bother me. I have to be careful not to use too much heat on my hair anyway, because I don’t have the option of cutting it and letting it grow back when it gets damaged. It’s not hard to look after though – I just use lots of oil on it to keep it conditioned.
I do still colour my hair, but I never use bleach. I don’t do anything crazy, just a few lighter brown highlights, but I like to have a change since I can’t cut it. Sikhism teaches that you aren’t meant to do anything which would damage or permanently change your body, such as getting a tattoo, but there are no explicit rules about colouring hair. So I think that as I long as I don’t bleach my hair and damage it, a few highlights are fine.
If I had the choice, however, I would love to be able to experiment with my hair, like I do with my clothes. In reality, I have quite a small face, so long hair probably isn’t the most flattering choice for me. But I make it work, and, realistically, my beliefs have stopped me making any terrible hairstyle choices!
Like Sikh men, some very religious women choose to wear turbans to signal their faith. But in Sikhism, women aren’t obliged to do so. I don’t cover my hair because I don’t feel like I’m at that stage in my religious journey yet, but I’d never say never. Having grown up in London, I’d very much describe myself as a modern Sikh, so I like the fact that my religion lets me make that decision myself. I think being allowed to choose whether to cover your hair or not is empowering.’