I caught Chris Rock on Oprah the other day, promoting his new documentary Good Hair. Much of the discussion centered around the great lengths that Black women go to in order to achieve "good hair." It was suggested that Black women invest much time and money to emanate the so-called ideal long and straight hair that is typical of White women. At the same time, Oprah pointed out that all the White women that she knows dye their hair. And, of course, weaves and extensions are becoming increasingly popular with all women. Where would the beauty industry be if it did convince us that we are not attractive and desirable as we are?!
Of particular interest to me was the thriving hair industry in India that Rock discovered during film making. I found an article from The Guardian that describes the business of hair for export:
Lord Venkateswara’s black stone body is smeared with fragrant sandalwood paste and adorned with a golden crown embedded with a thick mane of hair and one of the world’s largest emeralds. His red eyes, which Hindus believe will scorch the earth if they are exposed to the sun, are covered with thin strips of diamonds.
Before the 8ft idol, in a snaking mile-long line through the ancient chambers of Tirupati Temple, stand tens of thousands of devotees, many weeping and convulsing as they await a brief audience with the 2,000-year-old deity. To the 20 million pilgrims who visit each year, the statue is a living incarnation of the Hindu God Vishnu.
The women gathered here in the rising heat of the Indian morning, have one thing in common. In an act of piety they have their heads shaved as an offering to the temple. Those donations have made the temple the wealthiest in all of India.
The reason? Within a few days, tonnes of donated waist-length hair will make its way from a vast warehouse in the temple grounds to lucrative auctions and processing factories around the busy port of Chennai (formerly Madras) eventually arriving in Britain, America and France where it will adorn the heads of Western women.
The demand in the UK and US for hair extensions and cosmetic products with hair extracts means that turning faith into fashion has become big business, earning major temples and exporters revenues of more than $300m last year alone. With most Hindus, who make up 85 per cent of the India’s billion-plus population, having their heads shaved at least once as prescribed by the scriptures, hair dealers have clearly tapped into an abundant market.
Today, Indian hair extensions can be seen on everyone from the England footballers’ wives parading their way around Germany to the actress Samantha Morton who wore ‘temple hair’ extensions from Tirupati in the film Enduring Love.
And The Observer has uncovered evidence that village women across India are being increasingly targeted for their sought after waist-length tresses, mainly by unscrupulous agents hired by small-time exporters who, in an attempt to bypass the Hindu temples’ monopoly in the market, are offering husbands less than $10 a time for their wives’ hair and, in more extreme circumstances, forcing women to shave their heads.
‘Where the rest comes from we have no idea. In many cases we fear women are being exploited. There are growing concerns over the Indian hair trade. There are no specific restrictions on the import and export of human hair and can be done freely. This is obviously an environment that breeds illegality.’
The human hair business first boomed across India in the Sixties but sales dropped when synthetic alternatives were introduced. Since then complaints of skin allergies, especially by European consumers, once again boosted the demand for natural hair. There is also a large market, entirely export-oriented, that thrives on painstaking methods of collecting hair from villages and slums where hair is least likely to be dyed or treated with chemicals.
Across India amateur ‘hair-pickers’ whose sources are anything from pavement barbers and domestic dustbins to slum children who readily swap their hair for small toys and sweets, operate in their thousands. Such is the scale of the trade in the Indian capital New Delhi that officials in the Jwalapuri area recently closed down a number of hair processing factories, collection centres for amateur pickers, after evidence was found linking the burning of the toxins from waste hair to increased incidences of serious skin allergies and asthmatic disorders among local school children.
I see this sort of thing and, of course, it bugs the hell out of me that we are still under the delusions of liberal feminism. Let’s get this socialist feminist project off the ground!
Then, when I find websites with people selling their hair for $800, I think: "Why the hell didn’t I know about this?" I just had my hair cut to my shoulders and let 5 inches of virgin bloody hair slip out of my fingers.
Oh, and that is another thing, I do have virgin hair…or born-again virgin hair. It is unprocessed which is apparently a miracle in the Western world.
"Trade in Hair Forces Indian Children to Pay the Price" by Dan McDougall via The Guardian
World Export of Human Hair Poster by artist Ariel Mai Newland