Covering very curly hair
18 March, 2009
Hi. I'm from a biracial background, and my hair is basically a curly afro. I am wondering if any rabbis or sources have dealt with the hardships of women with excessively kinky curly hair.
Soon after covering all of my hair in its entirety, I realized I was doing damage to my hair as well as my self-esteem. My hair was always at its worst, not its best, for my husband because covering it (with any material) left my looking utterly horrid and abused.
I ended up shaving my head and this created shalom bayis issues. A rabbi in my community said it might be better if I didn't cover my hair because my husband was not attracted to me with my shaved head. The very thing which had first physically attracted him to me was the thing that I had shaved off my head.
I grew my hair back. But after a couple of months, I went to a hair stylist who said that I was losing my hair in the front near my forehead. She said she had seen this in many of her Sephardic clients with extremely curly hair. The hair was just too sensitive to handle being covered all the time. (I will add that I did uncover my hair at home as much as possible.)
My husband and I have tried to look for sources on this issue. My rabbi was completely at a loss when I told him about my hair troubles. In fact, another rabbi's wife came to me when a woman in her community with much kinkier hair had questions about whether or not she had to use the comb the mikvah provided for her hair. I said that I brought my own comb that works on curly hair as any comb the mikvah provided would break every other strand of hair on my head.
We are sorry to hear of the difficulty you are experiencing.
Clearly, for the sake of your shalom bayit as well as your self-esteem, shaving your head is not the solution. But neither is abandoning the mitzvah of covering your hair. You need to find the proper balance between fulfilling this mitzvah and dealing with your hair.
Hair covering presents a challenge to all types of women, with all different types of hair. Many women experience damage and thinning of the hair due to constant covering. Loose cotton scarves or hats should allow for better air circulation. Do not pull your hair back tightly under the hair covering – perhaps keeping it in a loose bun will help keep your hair back comfortably without damaging it. Remove your head covering as soon as you get home – it is permissible to uncover your hair at home unless men outside the family are present. Also make an effort to style your hair nicely once in a while – for your sake and your husband's. We hope these suggestions will be helpful in easing your distress.
We have some experience with Ethiopian women who learn in Nishmat and asked them how they deal with their hair after marriage. Some chose to cut their hair short (but not actually shave it off.) Others chose to chemically straighten their hair. If you are actually able to comb through your hair before immersion, then it is possible to keep your hair long.
Our site's rabbinic supervisor, R. Yehuda Henkin, has written extensively about hair covering. We recommend reading chapter 16 of his book Responsa on Contemporary Jewish Women's Issues (Ktav), as well as Understanding Tzniut (Urim Publications), for further discussion on hair covering.
We also recommend that you read a book called Hide and Seek, published by Urim. It is a collection of essays, primarily by women, discussing their personal hashkafot on hair covering.
Please feel free to get back to us with any further questions.
After posting this question, we received the following response from a visitor to the site:
I just read the email from the woman with the afro who had difficulty covering her very curly hair.
I don't know if this will help her, but I recently returned from a trip to Africa, and saw that many women had headscarves over their bushy hair not cut short. A quick search in google for "african headscarf", "how to tie an african headscarf", "wrap african head scarf" etc., will get to many examples including instructions for tying (on you tube).
Some of these scarvestyles are absolutely gorgeous and I wish I had the hair to make them work (mine is not bushy enough). There is also at lest one such pattern in the book "Mitpachot Metapchot" which I have seen in many bookstores here in Israel.
I recognize that if she lives in America the pressure to confrm to a certain head covering style might be higher than in Israel, but she may want to check out some of the styles and see if any of them can suit her lifestyle.
We also received the response posted here.
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