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Hair-raising Hijabi Horror Stories

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    Posted: September 26 2008 at 10:15pm
Hair-raising hijabi horror stories
Finding male-free salon experience can be frustrating
for Muslim women

Toronto Star

Sat. Sep 20 - 8:25 AM
TORONTO In a fit of desperation last summer, Rownak Chowdhury washed her hair, stood in the middle of her kitchen floor and handed her mother a pair of scissors.
Just chop it," she told her.

It was hardly the ideal salon experi­ence, but for Chowdhury it was the quickest and easiest way to deal with hair that had grown long, heavy and scraggly under her head scarf.

This is what I do when it gets really bad," says Chowdhury, recalling the incident. It was just the chop across, but it did the job kind of."

Like many who wear the hijab, Chowdhury couldnt find a high-end salon that could give her the privacy she requires as a conservative Mus­lim and the stylish haircut she wants as a young, modern woman. It shouldnt be this hard for a Mus­lim woman in Toronto to get a good haircut," says Chowdhury of her years of searching for a salon.

We just want a place where we feel nor­mal, and can get our moneys worth." Instead, she and many others across the city have accumulated a war chest of hijabi horror stories tales of having men walk in on them, of being shunted into basements and backrooms, of mediocre haircuts or worse, and of being forced to pay a pre­mium for even this accommodation.

Many yearn for what a high-end sa­lon can offer. They want to feel good during the process, and come out looking even better.

Sisters Zenab and Syma Khan had that experience when they lived in Winnipeg, so they were eager to find a salon when they moved to Toronto six years ago. The result was frustration. Syma called all the salons in Toron­tos tony Yorkville area and a few on nearby Yonge Street, most of which had been rated the best in the city.

They were really nice when we asked them, but since many of them have an open-concept layout, they couldnt really accommodate us," she says. But they said they would if they could."

Zenab found that not everybody was as understanding. One salon rebuffed her, saying, Why do you even need to cut your hair?" I was very surprised," Zenab says. I thought that in Toronto, because its so multicultural, such a request would be normal.

And its a silly ques­tion. Of course we cut our hair. Just because they cant see it doesnt mean its not there. Were just like other women. We want to look good for our­selves."

Four years ago, through word of mouth, the Khan sisters decided to call Civello and were told they could be accommodated at the chains Rose­dale location.

When they arrived, they were ush­ered into the upstairs attic and had the entire room to themselves. Stylist Samina Khalid assured them that all the men in the salon were told not to come upstairs. Then they were pam­pered. I could tell that this was a big deal for them," Khalid says. Were lucky that our building is large enough that we can provide this service."

For the sisters, it was a relief. As Ze­nab puts it, It was so good to finally feel normal." Both had their share of difficulty before they found Civello.

Once, Zenab was at a salon with a makeshift partition and a man walked behind the blind. In a panic, the stylist threw a towel on Zenabs head, trying to cover her hair. Anoth­er time, she was taken into a back room and forced to wash her hair standing up. At another salon, the stylist told her she had a separate room which turned out to be a clos­et.

She had to use a hair dryer that was plugged in outside the closet," Ze­nab says. It was pretty awkward."

Syma had more long-lasting prob­lems after having her hair dyed at a salon. The private" space was a dark, dimly lit basement.

Syma came out with a really bad colour, almost blond," Zenab says. I am sure it had something to do with the light."

And although she appreciates the accommodations at Civellos Rose­dale location, there still are draw­backs. Most clients can choose when they want to go to get a haircut, but with us, its like when can you fit me in. I have to plan two weeks ahead," Zenab says.

Wherever you go, you always get the feeling that people are doing you a favour."

Its better in suburbia, where ethnic salons and basement salons reach out to Muslim women with promises of privacy and womens-only spaces. At the higher end, Jason Michaels, a sa­lon and spa in Square One in Missis­sauga, has renovated to cater to the Muslim community.

The salon created a private area with floor-to-ceiling drapes, a sink and two chairs, says Louie Galea, the manager of the salon.

The situation before the renovation wasnt such a pleasant experience," Galea says. The salon wanted to ac­commodate Muslim women, but its only separate room didnt have a sink. Clients would run back and forth be­tween the two areas while someone stood guard to watch out for men.

Since the changes, Jason Michaels clientele has increased significantly and there are plans to build another salon, with an expanded women-only section. The location has yet to be de­termined, says Galea, but they are eyeing the east end of the city.

That could be good news for Chowd­hury, a Scarborough resident who is still in search of the perfect haircut. Her last one wasnt in a salon, but in a classroom at the school where she teaches. A colleague, the cosmetology teacher, wielded the shears.

She did a great job, but shes been away all summer," Chowdhury says.

But what worries Chowdhury more is what she will have to do for her daughter when she gets older.

She doesnt wear the hijab now, but if she starts to, I am not sure where well go," she says.

I may have to take a few lessons in haircutting myself."

Curly Carrie
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