This story from last week’s New York Times is still haunting me and it seems like nobody really took much notice, so we better: Poor Russian women are selling their blond hair for around $50 a braid, so you can pay an average of $439 for glorious golden extensions.
This actually made the gray lady’s front page, which surprised me — except for how this piece got top billing there too, so clearly, somebody at the ole NYT has a hair fetish, methinks — because this isn’t quite news. Indian women sell or donate their hair in religious ceremonies all the time, as everyone knows if they saw the Chris Rock movie. In fact, (brunette) hair from Asian countries makes up the majority of the $250 million per year human hair extension market. And the NYT reports that blond women have been selling their hair since the 1960s, only now the demand has substantially increased thanks to extensioned-out stars like Jessica Simpson and my hair crush Blake Lively.
I’m a soft touch when it comes to hair — I cried buckets when Jo sold hers in Little Women — but crowning glory rhetoric aside, doesn’t this whole practice feels like a bad Disney movie in the making? Only instead of Cruella Deville chasing puppies, we’ll have some pretty-yet-plucky blonde (with the Indian chick as her sarcastic sidekick, I mean, it is Disney) running from a cartoon Kevin Paves wielding evil magic scissors, with her spun-gold tresses hidden under a jaunty newsboy cap.
And yet, it’s far more real than that.
So many black women have this lifelong struggle against their natural hair texture, which starts young (check out this awesome news story about a black mom who decided to cut off her extensions after her five-year-old daughter talked about hating her own hair) and never really ends unless they decide to wear it super short once they hit middle age, as Debra J. Dickerson explains over on DoubleX.
Meanwhile, all these Indian, Russian and insert-other-poor-countries-with-great-hair-here women are selling off these pieces of their bodies for grocery money. So their more affluent sisters can achieve cartoonishly long, volumized hair.
Which, by the way, most of us still don’t even realize isn’t real — I just had to break the whole “yes it’s extensions” news about Blake Lively to a good friend last week, and I spent most of last summer in denial myself about the girls on Pretty Little Liars. Like Photoshopping and really good plastic surgery, you can know extensions are out there happening somewhere.. and still not know them when they’re right smack there in front of you, making you feel inadequate about your own hair’s naturally flat top and just-below-the-shoulders stopping point.
In short, human hair extensions make everyone’s hair worth less. While costing you a small fortune.
But this is a tough one for me, because extensioned-up hair just looks so damn good. And I spend hours trying to make my growing-out-of-my-own-head hair look like that, to no avail, so I have to admit, there have been moments where I’d think, well gosh, that just makes sense. Sure you have to spend hundreds of dollars and hours in a salon chair, but then you get to walk around with hair that just looks right all the time, without stressing about it. Golly, just talking about it makes me want some! This is definitely one of those beauty standards that I feel somewhere deep in my bones.
But I’ve held back from actually Going There because the new white girl extensions are, also like plastic surgery, one of those shallow beauty things that smart girls/feminists/anyone who purports to appreciate “natural beauty” supposedly doesn’t do.
I actually think that was kind of a dumb reason, because it was mostly just about adhering to another (equally unhelpful) standard.
But now that I know this whole human back story, I’m feeling a little relieved that it held me back. This whole idea of rich women wearing the hair of poorer women like some badge of honor is creepy in a very primitive, almost cannibalistic way. And now I don’t have to run my fingers through my hair and wonder, who was this woman that it originally belonged to? Where is she now? Did she cry after she cut it off or was she relieved to have all that weight gone? And was the $50 she earned enough to make any kind of difference in her life?
Okay, I know I just maybe sort of called you cannibals, but has anyone here gone the human extensions route? Will you tell us how awesome they are and any feelings you might have about this whole idea of where the hair comes from?
And, everyone else: Thoughts about selling hair, in general?