We south Asians should be proud of our in-demand hair

By Sarwat Nasir

If there was only one physical feature of myself that I would have to choose as my crowning glory, it would be my hair.

Don’t brush me off as another self-centred, selfie-obsessed 20-something-year-old brat. I have good reason to believe why most south Asians — Pakistanis, Indians, Bangladeshis — really do have naturally thick, glossy hair. With the right amount of flat ironing, hair serum and styling, we are usually able to achieve perfection.

As a Pakistani, I’ve been blessed with genetically-good hair that is often complimented by women of other backgrounds. One ethnicity that adores the texture of our hair are East Asians.

The Chinese and Vietnamese girls I went to school with would often feel my long strands, ask me how I look after it and how my hair was so healthy. They would act shocked when I told them I didn’t use products to enhance the quality.

And it wasn’t just my big head getting attention. Other south Asian girls — and women I know today — also received positive feedback.

Pakistan, it turns out, exported 105,461kg of human hair to China in the past five years, valued at $132,000 (Dh484,833). China’s makeup industry has boomed in recent years, causing a high demand for hair. Japan and the US are also popular customers. 

India is the second-highest exporter of hair in the world, according to worldstopexports.com. The country exported $26.3 million (Dh96.6 million) worth of hair in 2017.

Even though a lot of us do have naturally healthy hair, the cliché ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’ applies to our attitudes and mindset, especially when we ignore our genetic blessings and crave the straight, swishy texture of the Far East.

East Asians may love our hair, but we also love theirs. At least, I do. While those schoolgirls were complimenting my long locks, I was busy admiring theirs.

They don’t have to spend an entire hour flat ironing, adding serum and styling their hair. It set well effortlessly. I envy this.

These are the girls who probably should’ve listened to their mothers when they were instructed to condition their hair with coconut or almond oil. When I was younger, my mum would massage my sister and my head when we were sleeping! Now, some of the most popular salons offer hot oil hair treatments.

My 30-something-year-old cousin actually got the Japanese permanent straightening treatment done to his hair. He has naturally curly hair, and he was sick of it. He envied what the East Asians had. So he underwent a permanent chemical hair straightening treatment that causes the internal bonds of hair to change. It’s different than a Brazilian blow out as those are temporary. But with Japanese permanent straightening, you require a light touch-up every six months or so.

My hair can be difficult to manage if it gets frizzy — and don’t even get me started on what happens if it’s humid outside.

During the Dubai summer — meaning pretty much all year round — I try hair styles that require my hair to be tied up. With a few hair accessories, I can almost make it look pretty.

When it becomes cooler, I wash it, blow-dry it, add a bit of serum and heat-protecting spray, split it into sections and take my time flat ironing each section properly. Last step is more of that hair serum.

This is the routine I’ve been following since I stepped into the working world and I assumed my natural look wouldn’t cut it anymore. But, I’ve been told by my trusted ladies at the salon that my hair is great.

But beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. I find all textures of hair beautiful in some way. Heck, girls look great with no hair as well.

I find it heartening that a chunk of that hair Pakistan and India are exporting to China is used for wigs. Cancer survivors, among other wig users, have the option of wearing these great textured wigs.

While discussing hair, might I mention how important has become to have nicely-shaped and filled-in eyebrows? Let’s leave that for another time.


Sarwat often lands herself in hairy situations, writing about random things

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