Emma Tarlo is a renowned anthropologist. Her latest book, Entanglement: The Secret Lives of Hair, uncovers the stories behind the global, billion-dollar hair industry. As she makes her way between hair shows in New Jersey, temples in South India, and the secret offices of European hair dealers, she reveals certain facts that cause us to question for example, what ‘natural’ hair really is; she also shows us the immense of cultural crisscrossing that lies behind the wig and hair extension industry. Here are a few fascinating excerpts from her work:
“In China, I was told of the practice of one minority group whereby hair cut off in the prime of youth is kept in the most important part of the house to be brought out only when a person is dying. This is considered especially important for those hovering between life and death, unable to make the transition.” (9)
“In 1883, German newspapers filled with accounts of a man possessed with the impulse to cut and store women’s plaits. Sixteen plaits had been found in his Berlin apartment, all of them blond. (11)
“Great Lengths, a leading brand for hair extensions in the UK boasts of buying Hindu temple hair which it classifies as ‘ethical hair’ (54).”
“Long hair is considered a sign of beauty and femininity in India and in the south many women wear fresh fragrant flowers in the hair on a daily basis….. the most popular choice of flower is jasmine for its luxuriant white petals, and its intoxicating, long lasting scent.” (67).
“The Senagalese have not only invented a regional style of twisting hair; they have also added a new twist to the understanding of what is meant by ‘natural hair.’ In Dakar, when women refer to cheveux naturels’ they are referring not to their own hair in its natural state but to the much coveted human hair that has become available for purchase in the last five of six years. ‘
“In 1966 eight European and Asian countries signed up to an agreement saying that they would not export to the USA any hair product made from hair that had been obtained in communist China, North Korea and North Vietnam” (188).