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Shuttered salons deprive women of social outlet

KUWAIT: This picture taken on Friday shows signs indicating women’s beauty salons in buildings in Salmiya. — Photo by Yasser Al-Zayyat

KUWAIT: Warda is a 37-year-old teacher whose family only allow her to go to two places: Work, and the beauty salon that was her only social outlet before coronavirus restrictions shut it down. Since salons nationwide closed their doors three months ago to curb the spread of the pandemic, she has been depressed and frustrated. She said she misses chatting and relaxing at the plush venues.

 “I’m from a conservative family and don’t go out much, but I go to the salon to enjoy myself… you can’t imagine how much fun I used to have there,” Warda told AFP. “I’m waiting patiently for it to reopen. I can’t imagine my life without it.”

While Kuwaiti society is one of the most open-minded in the Gulf, with women in top government positions, some traditional families impose tight restrictions. This means that for some women, going alone to malls, coffee shops or even to exercise is out of the question. But going to beauty salons, usually run entirely by women, is an acceptable break from the routine of work and home.  

Others from more liberal families are also big fans, seeing the salons as the equivalent of the traditional daily “diwaniya” when men traditionally gather to chat, drink coffee and smoke shisha. It’s rare to find a building in Kuwait’s shopping districts without a salon or two. Adiba Al-Wadi, who owns two such outlets in Fintas, says frequenting salons has become “a way of life”. The state has a per-capita income of over $70,000 a year, one of the highest in the world, ensuring a lavish lifestyle for many citizens. 

Locals only make up about a third of the population of five million, the majority of them in high-paying government positions, meaning many women can afford regular, top-end pampering services. “Some Kuwaiti women go to salons at least twice or three times a week for beauty services, to chat and have coffee,” one woman who now lives in the United Arab Emirates told AFP.

The five-star salons usually offer services ranging from hair, skin and nail care to massages, Moroccan baths and jacuzzis. Some of the Gulf’s top social media influencers are Kuwaitis, including beauty salon and brand owner Fouz Al-Fahd and fashion blogger Dalal Al-Doub, who has some 2.7 million followers on Instagram. 

Kuwaiti women missing their salons will have to wait until September, when they are set to reopen under eased coronavirus restrictions. So far, the country has recorded more than 34,000 coronavirus cases, including 279 deaths. The pandemic has taken a toll on many businesses including salons, many of which had to furlough or lay off workers. 

Some women, refusing to be deterred, have asked for treatments at home, Wadi said. “I’ve received many calls and messages from clients wanting us to provide services in their homes, but I had to apologize as it’s currently not allowed,” she said. And after such a long closure, Wadi said she does not expect salons to go back to being social hotspots due to new precautionary measures including a ban on walk-in clientele. “I think only really necessary services will push Kuwaiti women to go to the salons in the future,” she said. “It will no longer be a treat.” – AFP

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