Ladies, You May Want To Read This…

Published: Sunday 20th Jul 2008 by Sam
Jamelia It’s somewhat of a slow news day today, however I thought to post this article I stumbled upon earlier on. Written by Jamelia (the UK’s Beyonce….debatable, I know) for the Daily Mail, the piece details the shadyness of the hair extensions trade. The long(ish) read is pretty insightful and, no doubt, very thought provoking for the ladies. Check it out:

Standing inside a Hindu temple in Chennai, India, I watch horrified as a two-year-old girl with long, dark tresses has her head shaved.

She screams as the clippers buzz around her ears and her hair tumbles to the floor.

She is clearly terrified and no doubt has little comprehension of what is happening to her.

Beside her, her mother is having her head shaved, too.

This is a religious sacrifice: the shaving represents a last-ditch plea to a higher power to save their home from being repossessed.

But to me, it appears to be the ultimate in exploitation.

Their hair is casually tossed into a bin, but it will never actually be thrown away.

Though they do not know it, soon their pigtails and plaits will be sold to hair dealers and then shipped on to the salons of Western Europe.

As I watch the lady and her daughter shuffle out, hopeful that this huge sacrifice will make some tangible difference to their lives, I make a promise to myself that I will never wear hair extensions again.

My hair has always been important to me.

As a schoolgirl, I used to get up at 5am to ensure I had enough time to do my hair before school.

Although for a black woman I would be described as having ‘good’ hair – because it is long and straight – naturally, it is not luxurious, thick or sleek enough to meet the demands of the endless photo shoots and concerts I am involved in for my career.

That’s why, in many of the photographs you see of me, I am wearing hair extensions.

For me, putting in my hair extensions feels like a confidence booster, like a man putting on a smart suit.

I wear them to bring out the best in me and to transform myself from busy mum of two into my alter ego, Jamelia the pop star.

And I’m not alone.

All over Britain, girls are clipping, glueing and sewing hair into their heads.

Recent figures show that British women spend a staggering £65 million a year on hair extensions.

As a nation, we now spend five times more on lengthening our hair than we did four years ago.

Yet most of us give very little consideration to the origin of our hair extensions.

Indeed, until I worked on this BBC investigation, I’m ashamed to admit I’d never once stopped to consider where the human hair I had pinned or sewn into my head had come from.

I was so ignorant about the products I was using that I can’t even say how much they were costing me every month or every year.

Then I heard from a friend, earlier this year, that the hair used in the extensions could be taken from corpses. I was horrified.

How did I know I wasn’t wearing a dead person’s hair?

And if I was, had they agreed to that before they passed away, or had they simply had it shaved off in a mortuary without their family’s knowledge?

And if the hair wasn’t taken from the dead, who were this army of women and girls from whom it was taken?

I realised for the first time that there might be a very real human cost to the beauty fad which allowed me to feel more confident on stage.

I wanted to know who on earth was chopping off other people’s hair in the name of our Western vanity, and whose hair I have actually been wearing?

My journey to find out took me via some of London’s most upmarket hair salons and into the heart of rural Russia and India.

What I discovered was truly shocking and distressing.

Did you know, for instance, that in Russia, girls as young as 13 are cutting off their hair to sell for just a few pounds?

This is despite the fact that in the UK, a full head of extensions of the best quality European hair would set you back £2,000.

There is a staggering profit to be made from this trade, and you can bet that none if it is passed back to the girls at the beginning of the chain.

I start my journey by visiting Russia with Tatiana Karelina, a Russian hair-extension expert living in London.

She does 1,000 sets of hair every year for private clients, and is known for providing top-quality soft and fine hair.

She frequently travels to her homeland to source top-quality hair straight from dealers.

We head to a remote rural area three hours from Moscow, where we meet Alexander, a hair dealer.

He tells us his hair is provided to him from collectors, who go around small villages and towns persuading women and girls to sell their hair.

I have a lot of questions for Alexander. I ask him if he knows whether the girls whose hair he sells are being treated fairly.

I ask him if he ever gets hair from dead people. He is cagey and evasive.

He says that he knows the hair doesn’t come from the dead, but he won’t elaborate further.

But when I press him, he finally confesses that he doesn’t know exactly where the hair he is buying comes from.

And by way of illustrating that, the girls who sell hair are treated fairly, he simply states that they know the worth of their hair and wouldn’t sell it unless they were getting paid well.

I leave the meeting feeling deeply uncomfortable.

This man is not sure that the hair he sells is not from dead people, and I’m starting to be convinced that someone is being exploited along the way.

Let’s face it – the rich girls tottering around Red Square in designer heels and carrying Louis Vuitton bags do not need to sell their hair.

Next, Tatiana takes me to her home town of Kashin, another rural area, where we meet a 13-year-old girl, also called Tatiana, who has long hair which reaches her backside.

She tells us she wishes to sell her hair because she has been told she will be paid for it.

To my mind, it’s a travesty – this girl’s hair is gorgeous and she seems too young to really know for sure whether she’s making the right decision.

Usually, this full head of luxurious hair would have cost just £20. Today, perhaps because I am watching, Tatiana pays the girl £100.

It’s the equivalent of most people’s monthly wages here, and the girl is over the moon.

But I feel incredibly uncomfortable about the entire process – there’s something so deeply personal about your hair: it should be every woman’s pride and joy.

What British teenager would ever dream of doing the same?

For the next stage of my investigation, I travel to Chennai, one of the biggest cities in India.

As part of the documentary, I have had some of the hair I wear in my extensions scientifically analysed. The results suggest it comes from this region of India.

In Indian culture, a woman’s hair is her beauty, and the longer your hair, the better your marriage prospects are.

Why then, with such value placed on hair, would anyone even consider selling it?

Yet, incredibly, there are so many women prepared to chop off their hair here that factories have sprung up to process it.

On my visit, I go to see one where the workers sort through, shampoo, brush and blow dry the shorn hair of more than 200,000 women a year. To me, it’s a macabre thought.

So why exactly do these women do it?

Well, as I have mentioned already, there are the many Indian women who shave their hair voluntarily at Hindu temples as a kind of religious sacrifice.

And although some of these women know the hair will be sold, most don’t.

One woman I come across is having her head shaved to give thanks for the fact her child has recovered from a life-threatening illness; another to save her property from repossession.

They clearly believe this is the best way to show their faith and gratitude, and I’m told that millions of pounds raised from selling their hair is spent on the homeless and maintaining the temples.

And yet only a quarter of Indian hair sold on the international market comes from Hindu temples, which means that most of it is coming from women who are simply trying to make a little money.

I also travel to an impoverished village to see how poor-quality hair – the sort that sells on our market stalls in extensions for £5 – is collected.

There, I witness men and women working the rubbish dumps, actually searching for and collecting hair that has been pulled out of hair brushes.

Quite simply, this is their family business. It is, they tell me, a job their fathers and grandfathers have done before them.

It might seem disgusting, but it’s the only income they have.

It is a pitiful existence, and it is fuelled by the demand from Britain and other countries.

What I saw in Russia and India certainly set me thinking, and since I returned I haven’t used hair extensions once, not even when performing at the recent Nelson Mandela tribute concert in Hyde Park.

That was the sort of event at which previously I would never have stepped on stage without them.

But what I have unearthed has profoundly changed my attitude about extensions.

Now, to me, a packet of hair extensions has a face – whether that is a Russian teenager, a woman in India who is shaving her head as a sacrifice or a two-year-old girl in tears because she doesn’t understand what’s happening to her.

I believe that I – and all the other women who use them – should be more responsible about the extensions we buy.

As consumers, we need to make sure that the hair we use is ethical, and has been given with consent.

We need to know that the people it has come from have been treated fairly.

Just as we have fair trade stamps for food, why shouldn’t we have the same thing for hair extensions?

And as the women who drive the market in hair extensions, we also have a moral responsibility to the women who have cut off their hair or shaved their heads for our benefit.

Their hair may be helping to make us more attractive, but thanks to their sacrifice many of them must now be anything but.

Your thoughts?

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Comments 38

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  1. Anonymous July 20, 2008

    Oh please Jamelia, who told you you have ‘Good hair’?? By using that term in the first place all your doing is perpetuating the stereotrype that white is right!…….who the hell gave her the opportunity to right articles anyway? LOL at her being the British version of Beyonce LOLOLOLOLO

  2. Anonymous July 20, 2008

    Looks like because her singing career is going nowhere she has to do a BBC3 documentary to cause a storm and get her name back in the papers

  3. Alejandro ~dro~ July 20, 2008

    The last two comments are shameful. She’s making a difference and traveling to expose something she believes in. Go Jamelia!

  4. Anonymous July 20, 2008

    I agree with Alejandro.. I can’t believe some of the horrible comments on here… Jamelia is making excellent points here, and I’m glad she is making a difference after realizing the truth. I hope some of these other girls who wear all them hair extensions and weaves etc realize this too.

  5. Anonymous July 20, 2008

    Some people are so damn stupid. The first 2 comments just show how no matter what people do to try to make a difference in the world, somebody always has some smartass b******* to say when they are sitting their probably fat probably not as good looking as Jamelia ass at home doing nothign to improve the world around them.

  6. Anonymous July 20, 2008

    Im glad she did this, I never even though about where they were getting the hair from. Also, 1st 2 comments she has a album coming out soon and she is working with Chris Martin, Pharrell, and the people who worked on Mary J and Rihanna last album sooo shut the f*** up about things you know nothing of.

  7. Luís! July 20, 2008

    Great article! Thanks for sharing.

  8. T.U.R.N. Style Coming Soon! July 20, 2008

    This sounds interesting I wish they would show it in the U.S. I live in New York City and we have about a million hair supply shops. I know people who change their hair like they change their underwear. I’ve been wearing weaves since I became a teenager (I currently haven’t worn one for the past two years). Most people could care less about where the hair is coming from; all they care about is the price, texture, length, and color. About 80% of the shops are own by people from Indian or China, so are they selling their own people out.

    Obviously, their needs to be better regulations on how they collect the hair because I feel most people would think twice if they knew a certain company collects hair from dead people or children.

    Are we really ready to see our favorite Super Stars with out their not so secret obsession?
    Now everyone sees why Rihanna cutting her hair was such a big deal. She was the cookie cutter R&B Diva with the long weave; her hair cut reminded people that short hair can be s*** too.

    -Love The Site

  9. Anonymous July 20, 2008

    I think this is a very great story and I see her point ppl shuld think about where there hair is coming from good job on her part

    also I wouldn’t call her the UK beyoce I listened to some of her records they didn’t move nor did her voice Beyonce is big over there to so but anyways
    she has my props for the story she did

  10. Silvan July 20, 2008

    there was me thinking hair extensions came from women in prison…

  11. Anonymous July 20, 2008

    That B*tch Jamelia ent the UK version of nothing, Shes not even the UK’s MYA let alone Beyone, Stupid talentless B*tch

  12. Rashaan July 20, 2008

    Good LAWD! Some of you should be ashamed of yourselves for the comments you have made in response to this post. I have not heard any of Jamelia music but I saw a picture of her and Brandy during her Afrodisiac era. Anyway regardless if she is the UK’s version of Beyonce she has bought to attention a subject that I and many of you that read this post have no clue where the hair comes from. I mean I am a man and have never worn any type of hair and I was blown away by the article. Thanks for the post….it is definitely true that you learn something new everyday!

  13. Anonymous July 20, 2008

    Yeah its a good article. Some of you are such haters. Actually its the people from the UK that are really hating. Shame on you!

    T.U.R.N BBC America broadcast some documentaries like this in the U.S Might be worth checking out their site…

  14. Anonymous July 20, 2008

    Okay, for all the children out there it doesn’t say that she called herself the U.K’s version of Beyonce so calm down! She also states that although she has what is considered good hair, she also states that “it is not luxurious, thick or sleek”

    Now back to the matter at hand.

    I agree with Jamelia’s point and am glad that she has done this, but we have to look at the point where hair for sale is positive. There are many women who have suffered from alopecia and cancer that need the hair for more than just vanity reasons and i think that this should’ve been covered in the article as it makes it seem that its just for vanity reasons. There needs to be better regulations like with sweatshops.

    On a slightly different subject. i think the regulators need to stop companies showing women with hair extentions on adverts for hair colour and products,

  15. Anonymous July 20, 2008

    Bring Jamelia to America anyday!

  16. Anonymous July 20, 2008

    I just watched it and it was really interesting.

    who said she was UK’s answer to Beyonce? It may be debatable, but she has talent, and has been in the industry for 10 years, she’s so underrated it’s unbelievable, you haters should be ashamed of yourselves. Bring on her next album it’s gonna be FIRE!

    and before ya’ll start with her so called ‘bitchy’ comments about other artists in the industry, don’t believe everything you say.

    U should be supporting her, especially since it’s a UK blog, she’s British, you give the other ones props like Estelle, I consider Jamelia to have more talent than her.

  17. DreamWriter July 20, 2008

    I can’t stand her, but the truth is sad. “Their hair may be helping to make us more attractive” Ridiculous. It shouldn’t matter whether you have weave or not. Either you’re attractive or you’re not. Hair extensions don’t change that drastically.

    I’ve heard about this already on a black hair care forum. I doubt most women will care anyway and will continue to buy whichever hair they can get.

    At least my conscience is clean. I know where my hair came from…my own roots!

  18. Anonymous July 20, 2008

    Some of these comments are f****** stupid.

    And um, she's been labelled "the UK's answer to Beyoncé" because she's the UK's top female R&B artist.

    The show was extremley interesting and although it wasn't aimed at people like myself (i.e. men), it was still very interesting and helped me respect & understand women's hair care a lot more.

    Jamelia came across very well and she did a great job!

    And to the idiot saying her music career is over – shut up. No it's not. Why is it that when an artist's CD doesn't sell well and they go away for a few years that their CAREER is over?! Absurd. It doesn't equate to their career being over at all.

    Jamelia's next album is released next year.

    And just in case anyone wants to bring this up, Jamelia didn't say f*** all about Leona. Leona knows this and so do Jamelia's fans. That is sooo 2006.

  19. Anonymous July 20, 2008

    Please, why does anything to do with weave always become a black issue??? NAME ONE WHITE CELEB THAT DOESNT WEAR WEAVE OR EXTENSIONS???

  20. Dr. Heather July 20, 2008

    Regardless of what she is called in the UK, she made many very valid points…I always wondered where hair came from for weaving/extensions and this article illuminated an area of a beauty standard that people take for granted or ignore.

    I say, good job, Jamelia!

  21. Anonymous July 20, 2008

    well i don't think this is gonna stop people from wearing extensions. ok what did we think it ment when it says on the package "human hair". yes i do have sympathy for the girls who have to cut their hair off for a couple dollars but they also could do something else for money cutting off their hair isn't the only solution for money. although dead peoples hair kinda bothers me…
    but yea good post i've heard about jamelia she seems like a good person & at least she's doing something positive you go girl.

  22. Anonymous July 20, 2008

    You need to check out how much $$$ African-American women spend on extensions and haircare products.

    Who controls the UK hair industry? You would be surprised.

  23. Ayci July 20, 2008

    I applaud you Sam Great post. Great story and a wonderful (insightful read)

  24. JNez July 20, 2008

    great post. i love jamelia and wish she would’ve had a successful career here in the US. hope this brings her back in focus over there for another go at it

  25. Anonymous July 21, 2008

    Thank you for this, this is so unfortunately so true… Congratulations Jamelia!

  26. cristy July 21, 2008

    Good work Jamelia.Congratz.

  27. Anonymous July 21, 2008

    I was the person who wrote the 2nd post… and i still stand by it. Jamelia has done well bringing something like this to the public’s attention, but she hasnt done it out of the good of her heart, she’s done it to get exposure and sympathy cuz no-one likes her. She doesnt give a f*** about people in 3rd world countries being forced to shave their heads.

  28. Anonymous July 21, 2008

    I don’t know Jamelia and I don’t know about her music but I’m glad she is bringing to light an issue that’s been going on for decades. And for the people who are trying to say this issue should not be associated with blacks, I say shame on you for being ignorant. If a cause about blood diamonds was brought up you wouldn’t want to be wearing diamonds from the way they treat Africans in the mines of Africa, Africans are killed. In this matter you have people from India and China who are being exploited to make a living. If you don’t see the cycle, then my child you are lost in an image you indulge yourself into believing. You are living in a fantasy world, the Matrix. It is up to you to choose the right thing to do, now will you choose the red pill(to keep living in your fantasy world) or the blue pill (to see the truth and reality).

  29. Anonymous July 21, 2008

    I don’t know of jamelia but I am so glad she did this I don’t do weave but my sister was adicted to it and we found out about this from a teacher the girls and women are very under paid to chop off there hair and some are not paid at all (dictator say’s it’s for spirital help and it’s manditory) hum… long story short my sister is rock’n her own hair these days.

  30. Anonymous July 21, 2008

    Get a grip. They could have been sold itno the s** trade to sell their p….ys for free.

  31. Anonymous July 21, 2008

    The vast majority of black women do not buy human hair. The hair we buy is fake. Only high end clients can afford to pay for the real thing. If you buy hair and it mats and tangles when you wash it or sleep in it, it is not human hair. It is just a great imitation. If you go into a beauty shops, ‘human hair’ is being sold for $10.00 a bag. You would be stupid to think its real. It’s just an illusion.

  32. Anonymous July 21, 2008

    i never knew this could happen,young women selling their hair.It is true that in a society,our hair has some type of rank to it.I think it’s just gross and wrong.

  33. Anonymous July 21, 2008

    I appreciate the artist’s quest to bring this story to light, but in my opinion, it shouldn’t even have come to this. Why do so many women feel the need to put this garbage in their hair anyway? I know there’s this great pressure to look like the celebrities we see on tv, but damn. The weave thing has gotten out of control. All because society has told us that what was God-given to us isn’t good enough. Now THAT’S shameful. Anyway, I’m happy this has been brought to the forefront; if women aren’t confident enough to wear their own hair, maybe the idea of a young naive girl selling hers for profit will help them see things differently.

  34. Anonymous July 21, 2008

    They sell alternatives to human hair anyways. She can get some synthetic hair, and often times it works better.

  35. Anonymous July 21, 2008

    Did anyone see the documentary last night?

    I thought it was very interesting.

  36. Anonymous July 21, 2008

    some people on here are totally focusing on the wrong things in that article

    #1: not anywhere in that article does she talk about being “the UK Beyonce”…that is not stated by her and besides that this article has nothing to do with her singing career…

    #2: she is merely stating that without a weave, the general public would say she has “good hair”…she does not state that she herself has good hair and even states it is far from luxurious…

    #3: this article/documentary that was done…how is this helping her career at the moment for those who are stating she is only doing this for publicity and not just in a good cause…she has no CD out or new single to promote. this is not helping her MUSIC career at all.

    #4: and as for commenters, giving alternatives to human hair…that has nothing to do with her article. she is talking specifically about human hair and from what i read it seems as if the human hair market is just as big as synthetic. in the US we primarily see more use of synthetic than anything because girls don’t really go for a natural look here…it’s meant to look like weave.

    #5: for people stating that she is just out of line for stating that extra hair made her feel better or more confident onstage…she is just stating the truth. it’s merely a form of cosmetic surgery or make-up for some people. people have no problem with ashlee simpson stating flat out she got a nose job for a non-medical reason but when someone says lengthening their hair made them feel better onstage…oh we have an issue. please, there is a certain image that will continue to sell until people start hearing things like this and realize it’s not important.

    #6: i doubt she is really trying to sway anyone. i thnk she is trying to make people think….PERIOD.

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