February 24, 2020

The Politics of Curly Hair in Israel

“Walk down the streets of Tel Aviv or Haifa, and you’ll see many women with naturally curly hair. But turn on Israeli TV news, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a female anchor who hasn’t pressed her hair flat. And this isn’t just a trend among news anchors. In Israel, female politicians, entrepreneurs, and celebrities who step into the limelight are soon found featuring straight, shiny locks, no matter their hair’s original texture.

Male politicians and celebrities with curly hair exist in Israel, but since they tend to keep their hair short, it’s been less of an issue; women, who more often keep their hair long, are in the eye of this cultural storm. But recently, there’s been a cultural uprising brewing, as curls take center stage in the national conversation.

Four years ago, a tech worker named Orian Paz decided to start a conversation about natural hair, and founded the Facebook community Metultalot (“curly women,” in Hebrew). What happened next exceeded all expectations: currently, the group has 77,500 members, and Paz had since added a website, YouTube channel, and Instagram account to the mix. “Many public figures in Israel are asked to straighten their hair when facing the camera,” said Paz. “And watching them makes curly women feel out of place.”

With daily discussions on anything from self-acceptance and curl maintenance to raising curly daughters, the Facebook group is challenging Israel’s mainstream perception of beautiful hair. Last spring, on March 3 (3/3 reminds her of the shape of curls, Paz says) the group celebrated the second National Curls Day, a holiday Paz invented to bring awareness to her cause. The event included women’s empowerment circles, concerts by curly haired performers, workshops by hairdressers, and a marketplace. “We had amazing feedback—600 women came, and we were entirely booked,” she said, adding that her dream is a large-scale curl festival sometime in the future. Paz points to the fact that the natural hair movement is not unique to Israel. “In the U.S. I see the movement primarily among women of color, who take pride in their heritage and talk about the complex history around hair,” she said. “In Israel, the problem is that hair types vary significantly, and no one is leading a single discussion.””

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