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Saudi working women embrace cropped locks


As more Saudi women join the workforce, a central plank of government efforts to remake the economy, many describe the ‘boy’ cut as a practical, professional alternative to longer hair styles

When Saudi doctor Safi took a new job at a hospital in the capital, she decided to offset her standard white lab coat with a look she once would have considered dramatic.

Walking into a Riyadh salon, she ordered the hairdresser to chop her long, wavy locks all the way up to her neck, a style increasingly in vogue among working women in the conservative kingdom.

As more women join the workforce, a central plank of government efforts to remake the Saudi economy, many describe the “boy” cut as a practical, professional alternative to the longer styles they might have preferred in their pre-working days.

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“People like to see femininity in a woman’s appearance,” she said. “This style is like a shield that protects me from people and gives me strength.”

At one salon in central Riyadh, demand for the “boy” cut has spiked –- with seven or eight customers out of 30 requesting it on any given day, said Lamis, a hairdresser.

“The fact that many women do not wear the hijab has highlighted its spread” while spurring even more customers to try it out, especially women in their late teens and twenties, she said.

Saudi women are no longer banned from concerts and sports events, and in 2018 they gained the right to drive.

Such reforms, however, have been accompanied by a crackdown on women’s rights activists, part of a broader campaign against dissent.

The plan initially called for women to account for 30 percent of the workforce by the end of the decade, but already that figure has reached 36 percent, assistant tourism minister Princess Haifa Al-Saud told the World Economic Forum in Davos last month.

Many working women interviewed by AFP praised the “boy” cut as a tool for navigating their new professional lives.

“My hair is curly, and if my hair grows long, I will have to spend time that is not available to me taking care of it in the morning.”

Saudi Arabia has traditionally outlawed men who “imitate women” or wear women’s clothing, and vice versa.

It “gives me strength and self-confidence… I feel different, and able to do what I want without anyone’s guardianship”, said Rose, who did not want to give her full name.

Such acceptance partly reflects the influence of Arab stars like actress Yasmin Raeis or singer Shirene who have adopted the style, said Egyptian stylist Mai Galal.

Nouf, who works in a cosmetics store and preferred not to give her family name, described the message of the “boy” cut this way: “We want to say that we exist, and our role in society does not differ much from that of men.”

ht-rcb/th/kir/je

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