Sunday, April 5, 2009

Good Hair, God Hair

Back in January, I came across an interview with Chris Rock. He wasn’t talking about his latest comedy special or TV show. He was talking about hair – specifically, African-American hair. His daughter had come to him in tears one day and asked, “Daddy, why don’t I have good hair?” In his quest to answer that, he ended up making a documentary called “Good Hair,” about the significance of hair in the lives of African-American women.

You may or may not be aware of the time, money, energy and emotion these ladies put into their coiffures, but to give you some idea, here’s a number: it’s a $9 billion industry. Here another: An organization in India makes $18 million a year from the hair they sell for extensions, or weaves. It’s a Hindu temple devoted to Lord Venkateswara.

Thousands of devotees who wish to make a special offering to the God line up in front of the temple barbers to have their heads shaved. The temple organization then sells the hair to international buyers. It’s highly desirable because of the quality that comes from years of simple care, and if you were to have some of it put on your head in a salon in New York, it would cost you $2,000. For short extensions.

There are other producers of hair in India – on Oprah later in January, there was a piece about “temple hair” as well as the “dead hair” market, in which women in Indian villages pool the hair that collects in their hairbrushes and sell it to hair dealers. They are given $2 per batch.

When women who’d just parted with their hair at the temple were asked if they were offended that their hair had been sold, they said no, there were pleased to offer it to god.

When the women who took their hair out of hairbrushes to sell were told how much the dealer sold it for, they were upset that they made so little for it.

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