When Saudi doctor Safi took a new job at a hospital in the capital, she decided to change her standard white lab coat to one she once thought was dramatic.
Walking into a Riyadh salon, she ordered a hairdresser to cut her long, wavy locks down to her neck, a style increasingly in vogue among working women in the conservative empire.
The haircut – known locally from the English word “boy” – is becoming increasingly visible on the capital’s streets, and not just because women are no longer wearing the hijab as part of the social reforms pushed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. No need to wear a headscarf. The de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia.
As more women join the workforce, a central issue of government efforts to remake the Saudi economy, many describe the “boy” cut as a practical, professional alternative to the longer styles that they wore in their pre-work Would have liked in days.
For Safdie, who asked to be identified by a pseudonym to maintain her anonymity, the look also served as protection from unwanted male attention, allowing her to focus on her patients.
“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.”
a practical time saver
At a salon in central Riyadh, demand for the “boy” cut has soared—seven or eight out of 30 customers request it on any given day, said Lamis, a hairdresser.
“This look has become very popular now,” she said. “The demand for it has increased, especially after women have entered the labor market.
“The fact that many women don’t wear the hijab has exposed its prevalence,” she said, prompting even more customers to try it, especially women in their teens and twenties.
The lifting of the headscarf requirement is one of several changes that have rearranged daily life for Saudi women under Prince Mohammed, who five years ago was named as successor to his 86-year-old father, King Salman .
Saudi women are no longer banned from concerts and sporting events, and in 2018 they gained the right to drive.
The state has also relaxed so-called guardianship rules, meaning women can now obtain passports and travel abroad without the permission of a male relative.
However, such reforms have been accompanied by action on women’s rights activists, part of a wider campaign against dissent.
Hiring more women to make Saudi Arabia less dependent on oil is a key component of Prince Mohammed’s Vision 2030 reform plan.
The plan initially put women to account for 30 percent of the workforce by the end of the decade, but that figure has already risen to 36 percent, Assistant Tourism Minister Princess Haifa Al-Saud told the World Economic Forum in Davos last month. Told.
“Today we see women in every single job type,” said Princess Haifa, noting that 42 percent of small and medium-sized enterprises are owned by women.
Many working women interviewed by AFP praised the “boy” cut as a tool for navigating their new professional lives.
“I’m a practical woman and don’t have time to take care of my hair,” said Abir Mohamed, 41, a 41-year-old mother of two who runs a men’s clothing store.
“I have frizzy hair, and if my hair gets long, I’ll have to spend the time I don’t have available for morning care.”
‘show of strength’
Saudi Arabia has traditionally outlawed men who “imitate women” or wear women’s clothing, and vice versa.
But Rose, a 29-year-old shoe-seller at a Riyadh mall, sees her hair cut as a means of asserting her independence from men, not imitating them.
“It gives me strength and confidence… I feel isolated, and able to do what I want without anyone’s guardianship”, said Rose, who did not wish to give her full name.
“At first my family rejected the look, but over time they got used to it,” she added.
Egyptian stylist Mai Galal said that such acceptance partly reflects the influence of Arab stars such as actress Yasmin Rais or singer Shirin, who have embraced the style.
“A woman who cuts her hair like this is a woman whose character is strong because it is not easy for women to give up their hair,” Galal told AFP.
Knopf, who works in a cosmetics store and prefers not to name her family, described “the boy”‘s message this way: “We want to say that we exist, and that we are in society. The role isn’t that much different. Men.”
She said that short hair is a “showcase of women’s strength”.
(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)