Jamelia: whose hair is it anyway?

Hair extensions

Year: 2008.

Type: BBC TV documentary (60 minutes).

Director: Jo Hughes. Producer: Morgan Matthews

Production company: Minnow Films.

Availability: online (free in 6 parts on YouTube, limited access on BBC iPlayer) and on TV, DVD etc. (updated information at LocateTV).

Page reference: Cook, I. (2011) Jamelia: whose hair is it anyway? ( last accessed <insert date here>)

Lego re-creation

Jamelia: whose hair is in anyway?

(click photo for source)


The lovely Jamelia is on a mission to uncover the source of human hair extensions. Lightweight fun (Source: Butler 2010, p.58).

ANOTHER interesting celeb-fronted UK documentary. This time pop star Jamelia (remember Superstar?) investigates the trend of hair extensions. They’re made from real hair, but where is the hair coming from? She aims to bust a few urban myths — including that the hair comes from dead people or prisoners (Source: Adams 2010, p.95).

Used by everyone from celebrities to schoolgirls, real hair extensions are big business. Every year, we spend £65million on them in Britain alone, but just where does all this hair come from? In this investigation, pop star Jamelia follows a trail of pain and exploitation from London to Moscow and India in an attempt to find out (Source: Anon 2008a, p.40).

Hair extensions are a huge growth industry – and if you can afford it, real hair is the ideal. Birmingham pop starlet Jamelia has been using real hair extensions for the past few years, and she’s decided to find out where they come from. Quite literally following her hair back to its roots, she has it DNA tested, and rather like how hair on the head is nice and hair around the plughole is nasty, Jamelia’s journey isn’t pretty. A 13-year-old girl is selling her hair for pocket money and cash-strapped parents are shaving their toddlers’ heads. A few thoughts on the price of vanity are reflected upon along the way (Source: Hodgkinson 2008, p.89).

Britons spend $107 million on human hair extensions each year and singer and model Jamelia Davis wants to find out where all the hair is coming from. Most of it comes from India but the best-quality blonde stuff – worth $3315 a ponytail in Britain – comes from Russia. Davis heads to Russia and India, each stop becoming sadder and more squalid until she winds up at a rubbish dump near Chennai, where rag-pickers go through the stinking garbage collecting hair (Source: Newsome 2010, p.12).

Possibly falling into the realm of Too Much Information, pop singer Jamelia goes in search of the origins of the tresses used in the multi-million-dollar human hair extension industry. She follows an international trail that leads from exclusive London salons to a grubby Moscow apartment where men trade ponytails for currency, to hair sacrificing temples in southern India. She’ll see tots’ heads being shaved and teens selling their crowning glory for pocket money, to supply an insatiable western market (Source: Anon 2010, p.17).

With the international hair-extension trade now estimated to take £65million a year, pop diva Jamelia sets out to discover exactly where these disembodied locks are coming from. The trip takes her from the exclusive salons of London to hair-sacrificing temples in Southern India, where she discovers why women are willing to lose their sense of beauty for religious or financial purposes (Source: Anon nd-a link).

Pop singer Jamelia investigates the hair extension industry. Real human hair extensions are becoming as much a part of girls’ beauty regimes as fake tans. From celebrities to schoolgirls, women will spend anything from 20 to 2,000 pounds to clip, glue or sew another girl’s hair on to their heads. As a result of a massive recent increase in popularity, the human hair industry has exploded with an estimated 65 million pounds being spent every year on extensions in the UK alone. Jamelia travels in search of the girls whose hair goes into the product. She follows a trail of hair back to its roots, on an international road trip from exclusive London salons to a dingy Moscow apartment where men trade human ponytails for cash to the hair-sacrificing temples of southern India. Jamelia even has her own extensions analysed using ground-breaking forensic techniques, to try and track down the woman whose hair she wore on a recent TV appearance. Jamelia’s journey brings her face to face with some of her worst fears when she witnesses bunches of hair being shaved from toddlers’ heads and meets a 13-year old flogging her hair in exchange for pocket money. (Source: Anon 2008b link).

Jamelia tracked down a woman in India who was possibly, possibly the source of some hair extensions she wore to present the National Lottery. This woman’s daughter had been ill, and giving up her hair to the temple had been a gesture of thanks. They bonded over being a mother, and having daughters, and Jamelia told her that she had given her her beauty for the lottery show. Both seemed very touched by it, and the Indian lady seemed undisturbed by it all, and delighted by the way things had worked out (Source: Kuchen in Lady Verity et al 2008 link).

In the spooky film Sixth Sense, the child star famously said: ‘I see dead people.’ Pop star Jamelia is worried she might be wearing them – or their hair, at least. It’s a concern that takes her round the world in the quirky, but fascinating Whose Hair is it Anyway (BBC3, 9pm). … Behind the beauty there’s a less-than-pretty picture of extreme poverty. Jamelia meets Tatiana, a Russian hair buyer. The best hair, Tatiana explains, is Russian, because it’s fine and hasn’t been dyed. It’s in such demand that hair collectors are sent to villages to offer poverty-stricken families cash for their girls’ locks. They head off to Russia to meet Tatiana’s hair dealer. She is practically salivating when she spots the girl whose hair she’s about to chop. ‘Look at her hair, ohmygod,’ and with that, she’s out of the car and stroking the hair of a bewildered-looking teen. Jamelia can’t get the corpse lock concerns out of her head. She asks the hair dealer, a frosty-looking chap called Alexander: ‘Does your hair come from dead people?’ Niet, he insists – but he can’t tell her where it does come from. In India, where factories produce 200 tonnes of hair a year, Hindu women shave their locks as a religious sacrifice. The hair is sold on, earning temples £15million a year to help the poor and homeless. In villages, hair from women’s hairbrushes is collected from rubbish dumps. Eventually, Jamelia decides, her hair extension was cut off in a good cause: ‘I felt honoured that I have worn such cherished hair.’ Whether she’ll wear them again, though, is another matter (Source: Anon 2008c, p.23).

Discussion / Responses

This could have been a revealing look at exploitation of women in the developing world. They are forced to eke out a living by selling their hair to be glued to the hollow noggins of pop stars and WAGs. But it ended up being flatter than a mullet after a straighteners treatment, as chart honey Jamelia travelled the world to find out how happy women are to donate and sell their hair for money. Instead of uncovering scandal and barber-ism, we had to watch as Jamelia was surprised at the total lack of exploitation, as the early promise of in-depth revelation ended up petering out to nothing but happy women getting their hair cut (Source: McIver 2008, np).

Pop star Jamelia has made a horrifying discovery. ‘I wear hair extensions to bring out the diva in me,’ she says. ‘But I’ve noticed, it’s no longer women like me [by which she means: famous, special, ­generally vastly superior ­beings] using them – ordinary girls are gluing things on their heads, too.’ Clearly, once the plebs are involved this must be stopped. So in the wake of a massive increase in demand for other people’s hair – five-fold in four years – Jamelia is trotting around the globe to tease out the political, social and philosophical implications of it. Or as she puts it: ‘Does it really come from dead people?’ And no, she discovers, it does not, in fact, come from dead people. It does, however, come from poor Russian girls in villages who sell their hair to rich Westerners (well, Essex girls) for food. This is, of course, a distasteful practice. And Jamelia can’t stop getting weepy and pouting to the camera about it. But frankly, it’s a damn sight better­ than prostitution, and the genuine need of these girls is never really taken into ­account in this programme. Let’s just say Jamelia’s interview technique is somewhat sporadic. For instance, when trying to ask one question, she can’t help asking 22. ‘Does he know that his suppliers…’ she begins to a Russian hair-dealer, ‘… that every collector he’s getting hair from… that the girls are being paid well? Or rightfully? Does he know they’re being treated properly? Does he know that…’ She’s eventually cut off by the translator, whose job was becoming increasingly similar to playing the memory round in The Generation Game. Other questions betray a lack of understanding of what your average Russian hair dealer may actually know. ‘Victoria Beckham says her hair is from prisoners,’ she says to the translator. ‘Does he know?’ No, he does not. The ending, to be fair, flips the show’s proposition – hair in India, sacrificed in the name of religion, ends up feeding the poor. Which, essentially, means the Essex girls are giving to foreign charities. It’s almost beautiful. See what ordinary people can do? (Source: Brown 2008 link).

Blond hair seems to be a must have because judging by the way Tatiana coos over the hair you would think she discovered a cure for cancer (just kidding). Once they arrive in Moscow they visit the hair dealer who buys the hair from people who are willing to trade their locks for cash. They’re probably getting pennies for it while the dealers and stylists make a huge profit. We witness a 13 year old girl selling her hair. Jamelia tries to source where her weave came from and sends it to a forensic scientist who narrows it down to Chinai India. This my friends is where it gets ugly. Apparently top quality Remy hair comes from a Hindu practice called Tonsure. In this practice Hindus shave off their hair (a symbol of beauty) for various one being to humble themselves before their god, another being to shed the hair they were born with from a previous life. This explains why the forensic scientist could still find skin cells attached at the root of Jamelia’s weave (ughh!). The Hindu temples then sell the hair on to hair manufacturers/buyers. The only good that came from this was that some of the money was used to run food kitchens for the poor. So if the top notch stuff comes from scalp to tip then where does the lower grade hair come from? No word of a lie! Hair discarded into the trash from hair brushes (an probably hair salon floors) is harvested and heavily processed (I wonder why) to make the lower grade hair that is oh so affordable (gag). Absolutely disgusting! And get this, Jamelia says ‘It might be pretty disgusting to some, but I suppose it’s a form of recycling’ I’d like to see her rock a recycled hairdo. I swear if I wore weaves that would be enough to make me rip it out of my hair. Is recycled hair really better then what you already have? Whether it’s too thin, too short or whatever. What a mess (Source: Safera 2008).

Did anyone else see this last night on BBC3 and what did you make of it. I found it quite disturbing watching the children have their hair shaved. What did you think? (kerry1) / I saw it and yes bits were disturbing. I fear that she’s being rather over-optimistic in her final comment, however laudable: hoping that even the £5 cheapie packets of hair will come with guarantees that the hair-grower was treated and paid fairly (tortoiseperson) / I watched it as well, and found is quite interesting. I read in Marie Claire magazine a couple of years ago that it is not uncommon in India for gangs of blokes to hold a woman down and shave her head against her will – i.e. stealing the woman’s hair. This wasn’t mentioned on Jamelia’s show though, so I don’t know how true it is. I was surprised that young schoolgirls wear extensions. Surely at that age they should have heads of beautiful natural hair. I will be interested to see if Jamelia will continue to wear hair extensions after her travels (victoria sponge) / … Yeah, she will. Saw her on GMTV yesterday talking about it and she said that she will wear extensions responsibly and make sure that noone was exploited. Although I must say she was not wearing extensions in the interview (moongoddess777) / … It’s a completely superficial and unnecessary product -the pretence that there is any care or ethics for those who would want such a product/item, is a complete delusional joke. It was also just another one of those sentimental, self-rightous, yet completely lazily unoriginal programmes on another channel appealing to an ignorant, but sentimental demographic (Methusela Now) … (Source: kerry1 et al 2008 link).

Is anyone else watching this on BBC 3? Some pop star is hosting a documentary about where real hair extensions come from. They haven’t even got to the poverty and the chance that it’s clipped from corpses yet, and I’m already disturbed. They’ve gone down to the cellar of a top salon where wealthy women have other people’s hair glued onto their heads for thousands of pounds. Disembodied ponytails are kept in what looks like wine racks. They’re talking them out and feeling them, going ‘ooh, what lovely texture this one has…’, ‘this one came from Russia…’, ‘this was probably from a nice young girl’, etc. I am…creeped out. One woman just said she glued on her extensions because Rapunzel had long hair and all the shampoo adverts involve long hair. I want to clutch my hair and run away  (Lady Verity) / … It is very interesting to see the ‘back story’ on … this industry. Creeperific (VanillaTresses) / … Okay, I just finished watching this and for those who didn’t see it, I’ll break it down. There was no evidence that the hair comes from prisons or corpses. That’s not to say that some of it doesn’t, but Jamelia didn’t find evidence of this. She found that the expensive hair coming from India, the kind of stuff she would wear, often comes from temples. Women in India will shave thier hair as an act of praise or thanks to God. One woman shaved her hair to thank God for helping her daughter recover from a serious illness. She said that the hair will grow back, but she cannot replace her daughter and to give her hair was a sacrifice she was willing to make. 25% of hair from India comes from the temples. The other stuff, the sort to be found for about £5 a pack comes from slightly more disturbing places… infact, it is sometimes quite literally picked from the rubbish after a woman extracts it from her hairbrush. Now wait a minute. I hear you all going ‘EEEEWWW!’ The hair is washed, processed, combed, etc etc, before it makes it anywhere near us. It’s probably cleaner than the hair on your own head by the time it’s packaged and shipped to the UK. And the sale of that hair makes a huge difference to the people sorting and selling it. These are poor families who rely on the sales of this hair to allow them to eat and live. I personally shuddered a little at the idea of the hair coming from the rubbish tips, but then you need to think about the fact that if we all started boycotting the fake hair these poor people in India would make no money and would have to find new jobs. One man said his family have been working the hair trade for 3 generations and he would not know how to do anything else if he couldn’t do that. It’s an interesting dilemma… on the one hand, the ish factor of the fact hair came from a rubbish tip. Then there’s the fact that without someone buying that hair those people will not make any money. Of course, if you’re that phased… buy synthetic… or better yet, grow your own (Pegasus Marsters) / … I think getting too angry about ‘temple hair’ would have been a little patronising to the believers who donated their hair for spiritual reasons (and the proceeds fed the poor in their neighbourhood), so they achieved a nice balance. I dunno. If those women wanted to give up their hair for aesthetic, financial or spiritual reasons it’s sort of up to them. Be nice if those girls in Russia saw a higher percentage of the final price though (Kuchen) /Am I crazy that the first thing that came to mind was… But what if the person with the extensions made from that hair murders someone and the DNA from that hair is left behind…. (If there is DNA left in those hairs after processing that is) (eresh) / … is it wrong that I don’t find most of this terribly disturbing[?] If they were cutting the hair off of unsuspecting pedestrians, then I would be outraged, but there is nothing here that really outrages me (FranngG) / … *Slightly* off topic but do hair extensions hurt to put it? I once saw a show where a girl was crying from the pain (thankyousir74) / … No! It should never hurt to put in extensions. What the hell were they doing to her to make her cry?! … (Pegasus Marsters) (Source: Lady Verity et al 2008 link).

I liked how it was presented and showed a more ‘real’ side of Jamelia. I particularly liked the clip of her talking on the telephone to [her daughter] Téja and the clip when she shed a tear after watching that little child get his head shaved off unwillingly. Oh, and I also liked how Jamelia went out of her way to track down the lady who’s hair Jamelia wore on the National Lottery. It was very informative and somewhat emotional, too. I’m a 21 year old male, so the documentary wasn’t really aimed at me at all, but with that said, I did leave having a lot more understanding & respect for women’s hair (Source: Amethyst21 in Off_Da_Enz et al 2008 link).

Everyone featured seemed happy to give their hair, but I guess there is a flipside to it too that wasn’t shown in the program! The english schoolgirls though, who said they didn’t really care if the hair came from dead people – ewww! I’d rather I knew it came from someone alive :/ (ellaonfire) / … [Jamelia] was on Richard and Judy saying that the for some reason she wasn’t allowed to go into the darker side of the business because of a backlash from the industry, I can’t remember what she said but she seemed to make the point of the programme void (caligulasmate) (Source: ellaonfire et al 2008 link).

Pop star Jamelia recently got herself some media attention by dramatically declaring that she’d never wear hair extensions again because of the ‘very real human costs’ of obtaining hair for human hair extensions. ‘How did I know I wasn’t wearing a dead person’s hair?’ she roiled in the Daily Mail. She even starred in a BBC show called ‘Whose Hair is it Anyway?’ featuring shifty looking human hair dealers who take hair from dead people. Dear Jamelia: There are alternatives to human hair extensions! And one of the best alternatives is Pro 10 made with Ultima Natural Protein Hair. Made with natural collagen, Ultima hair looks, feels like and has the best qualities of human hair. You can curl, blow-dry, wash, brush, comb, style and restore Ultima hair without tangling, and it’s affordable too. As several commenters noted in the Daily Mail article ‘…All this hand wringing nonsense.’ Rock on Jamelia. Just switch to Pro 10 so you can keep having hair extensions as your ‘confidence booster’ that ‘transform me from busy mum of two into my alter ego, Jamelia the pop star.’ (BL) / I am outraged. Firstly, how DARE you quote people saying this is ‘hand wringing nonsense’! Women are being victimised in a lot of the examples given and I would think a company such as yours would support any efforts to exploit such practices.  Secondly, while jumping on the bandwagon to promote your own product, you don’t seem to care that you may be condemning the many millions of people, who rely on the income from the collection and sale of human hair, to a life of even greater poverty.  The villains of the programme were the ones who thought their profits were more important than the well being of the people providing or harvesting this hair. I don’t see any difference between what they are doing and what you just said in this article. Shame on you. (chopsy) / Dear Chopsy: Please re-read the post. We are not supporting the use of human hair extensions. Quite the contrary. We are saying that synthetic extensions offer an alternative to human hair extensions. We’re not getting into the ethical, political, religious or any other reasons why hair extensions could or could not be an issue. We’re saying there’s a better alternative. I didn’t write the comments that accuse Jamelia of making a publicity play! I linked to the article in the Daily Mail. If you follow the link, and scroll down to the comments, you’ll see that several readers took issue with Jamelia and said so in the comments. This post simply reported what they said (BL) / Maybe you should re-read my reply. I said you QUOTED the people who mentioned hand wringing. And FAR from saying that you support the use of human hair extensions, I actually stated that you were trying to promote your own product over the ones being grown / harvested / sold by the poor (as well as the corrupt).  With regard to your product being ‘better’ – how is that so? Since when has fake been better than real? The only way you could make that claim is if you ARE implying that it is preferable because there are no ethical, political or religious issues tied up with its production and sale. So far from ‘not getting into’ the issues, you are again using them to promote your product. Using the real life issues surrounding the abuse of many women and children as an excuse to promote your own product is appalling. You could have quoted the programme and highlighted the points made and then offered your product as an alternative for those who do not wish to purchase human hair extensions after seeing what goes on. Why ridicule the message by quoting (or linking) to negative comments about it? (Source: BL & chopsy 2008 link).

Impacts / Outcomes

At Donna Bella, our hair is always 100% real human hair, and is authentic Indian Remy. While the documentary at first may seem critical of this practice of purchasing hair from Indian temple high priests who shave their patron’s heads, there is a glossy finish on the practice as these priests then take all the earnings and put it back into the temple community to feed and clothe the needy. Regardless of what brand you use, we encourage all stylists and consumers to do their homework and learn where their manufacturer of choice acquires their hair. If they don’t know, demand that they find out and tell them you’ll take your business elsewhere. Like any hot commodity, hair is both ethically and unethically obtained, which is highlighted in the … documentary (Source: Anon 2008d, np).

I’m a big fan of hair extensions. I use them all the time to transform myself from an ordinary mum into a pop star. Since doing this show I haven’t decided to stop using them, because I know for many people they provide an essential income. But I have become a lot more careful about the type I use and where the hair comes from. The show was mostly a positive experience for me. I got to meet so many amazing people and travel to wonderful parts of the world. But there were some heartbreaking, emotional moments. … The show made me realise that the Government needs to make laws to ensure nobody is exploited or abused. There should also be a Fairtrade-style stamp which salons have to carry for hair extensions. Whether this will happen or not I don’t know but there is something every one of us can do. Next time you go into a salon hoping for Jessica Simpson-style locks, don’t just accept their extensions. Ask the stylist where the hair comes from. If she can’t tell you, go to another salon where they do know. Only then will the industry change (Source: Jamelia in Wynne 2008, np).

Did anyone see it last night on BBCThree? It made me think twice about wearing my extension piece again, just in case it was picked out from the rubbish dumps!!! :\? (serenic123) / I did not see it but am curious as I was thinking of maybe having extensions for the wedding. What was it about?? :\? (racheljparker) / i saw it. makes you think where the cheap ones come from! (jharris_86) (Source: serenic123 et al 2008 link)

References / Further Reading

Adams, C. (2010) Television. Herald Sun (Australia) (TV Pages) 25 March, p.95

Anon (nd a) Jamelia: whose hair is it anyway? LocateTV (–whose-hair-is-it-anyway/5442399 last accessed 18 January 2011)

Anon (2008a) Film Choice. Metro (UK) 31 July, p.40

Anon (2008b) Jamelia: whose hair is it anyway? ( last accessed 18 January 2011)

Anon (2008c) It’s beautiful hair, but at what cost? Leicester Mercury (UK) 1 August, p.23

Anon (2008d) Can hair extensions be ethical? In short: Yes… 7 July ( last accessed 18 January 2011)

Anon (2010) Best on Foxtel.  Sunday Mail (South Australia) (TV Guide) 21 March, p.17

BL & chopsy (2008) Dear Jamelia: There are alternatives to human hair extensions! 23 July – 3 August ( last accessed 18 January 2011)

Brown, H. (2008) Can hair extensions be ethical. The Times (UK) 13 July ( last accessed 18 January 2011)

Butler, D. (2010) Don’t miss – Thursday 25 March. Daily Telegraph (Australia) 24 March, p.58

Courtenay-Smith, N. (2008) Why I’ll never wear hair extensions again, by pop star Jamelia. Daily Mail (UK) 18 July ( last accessed 18 January 2011)

ellaonfire, caligulasmate et al (2008) Jamelia: whose hair is it anyway? (discussion forum). 21 July ( last accessed 18 January 2011)

Hart, B. & Paatsch, L. (2010) Must see. The Courier Mail (Australia) (Switched On section) 24 March, p.16

Hodgkinson, W. (2008) Digital Television: Thursday 31: pick of the day: Jamelia: whose hair is it anyway? The Guardian (UK) (The Guide) 26 July, p.89

kerry1, tortoiseperson, Victoria Sponge, moongoddess777, Methusela Now et al (2008) Jamelia: whose hair is it anyway? (discussion board). 21-23 June ( last accessed 18 January 2011)

Lady Verity, VanillaTresses, Pegasus Marsters, Kuchen, eresh, thankyousir74 et al (2008) Whose hair is it anyway? (discussion forum). 22June – 23 July ( last accessed 18 January 2011)

McIver, B. (2008) Jamelia doc was less than hair raising. The Daily Record (Scotland) 24 July

Momin, S. (2008) Pop icon Jamelia to give up on fake hair. Daily News & Analysis (India) 19 July ( last accessed 18 January 2011)

Newsome, B. (2010) pay tv. Sydney Morning Herald (The Guide section) 22 March, p.12

Off_Da_Endz, Simon, JonieWonie, Amethyst21, Lukuzz & Regina Flowers (2008) Jamelia: ‘Whose hair is it anyway?’, BBC3 documentary on hair extensions. 11 July – 12 August ( last accessed 18 January 2011)

Safera (2008) Jamelia asks ‘Whose hair is it anyway?’ 23 July

serenic123, tracheljparker & jharris_86 (2008) Jamelia: whose hair is it anyway? (discussion forum). 21 June ( last accessed 18 January 2011)

Wynne, F. (2008) From hair to where? The Sun (UK) 19 July

Compiled by Ian Cook (last updated January 2011). Thanks to Geography teacher Matt Podbury for sending in Rachel's 'Made in Lego...' photo (and for setting his students this mission).