The Uyghurs have an interesting system of identifying the social status of women in the community. A woman’s hairstyle can tell the initiated observer if the woman is single or married and if she has children or grandchildren. Hairstyle can even be used to identify women of ill repute.
Most Uyghurs live in their homeland of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China.
While hair is an important element of a woman’s beauty in many cultures and this generalization holds true with the Uyghurs of North West China, traditional Uyghurs take the concept of hair in social status much further. To the Uyghurs, different hair styles are considered appropriate and inappropriate for the different stages of a female’s life. Although these traditions and beliefs are no longer adhered to as Strictly in the larger cities, Uyghurs in Southern Xinjiang still pay much attention to using the correct hair style.
To the initiated, a glance at a Uyghur woman can tell exactly the social status of that woman. The traditional female Uyghur hairstyles are:
Unmarried Uyghur girls traditionally wear their hair braided in multiple strands. 15, 17, 21 and 41 separate braids are common numbers. The main point for the unmarried girl is that there should always be an odd number and never an even number of braids. Young girls often have bangs as well.
Young married Uyghur women change their hairstyle within a few days of getting married. The bangs are separated and made to curl to the sides and the hair on the temples is curled. The long hair is braided into two braids, which is the symbol of becoming a married woman who is no longer available.
When a married woman has children, she braids her hair into many small braids and curls the hair on her temples.
If a young married woman becomes a widow she continues to curl the hair on her temples but braids her hair in multiple odd numbers of braids as before she was married. This hairstyle is a sign that she is a widow and available for a new husband.
When a mother becomes a grandmother, she stops curling the hair at her temples and simply braids her hair into two long braids. Often these grandmother braids are decorated with a small, coin-like decoration to keep them together.
If a Uyghur woman braids her hair in one braid other people will assume she is inviting men to come to her for inappropriate activity. One braid is therefore considered poor form.
Of course many Muslim women wear scarves to cover their hair, so the system is not fool proof, but the culturally sensitive traveler will find this knowledge useful in dealing with Uyghurs in Xinjiang China or elsewhere.
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