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: free online on Vimeo or, with UK education login, on Box of Broadcasts (embedded below).

Page reference: Cook et al, I. (2020) Jamelia: whose hair is it anyway? ( last accessed <insert date here>)




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) (Source: Anon 2008a, p.23).

Bet you've never thought too much about the international hair-extension trade before now, have you? Us neither (Source: Anon 2008b, np).

Jamelia [travels] in search of the girls whose locks we’re wearing (Source Minnow Films 2008, np link).

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. (Source: BBC 2008, np link).

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 (Source: Jamelia in Courtenay-Smith 2008, np link).

The lovely Jamelia - singer, model, mother of two, black and British - is quite serious about hair and, at times, wears enough of it to stuff a couple of couches. She is surprisingly articulate, however, and her quest to uncover the source of human hair extensions, for which she can pay up to $5000, is rather cool (Source: Hart & Paatsch 2010, p.16).

Starting out looking at the popularity of extensions in her former Birmingham high school and Essex nightclubs, her investigation takes her to those that buy and sell hair and onwards to the source (Source: bob the moo 2008, np link).

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 (Source: Anon 2008c, np link).

Behind the beauty there’s a less-than-pretty picture of extreme poverty (Source: Anon 2008a, p.23).

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).

… each stop get[s] sadder and more squalid until she winds up at a rubbish dump near Chennai, where rag-pickers go through the stinking garbage collecting clumps of hair that women had pulled out of their hairbrushes (Source: Newsome 2010, p.42).

… rather like how hair on the head is nice and hair around the plughole is nasty, Jamelia’s journey isn’t pretty (Source: Hodgkinson 2008, p.89).

[It brings] her face to face with some of her worst fears when she witnesses young girls having their pigtails shaved off. But she’s also humbled when she connects with women on two different continents who, despite firmly believing that hair is intrinsically linked to their sense of beauty and self-confidence, still choose to sacrifice it for financial or religious purposes (Source: Minnow Films 2008, np link).

[So a] few thoughts on the price of vanity are reflected upon along the way (Source: Hodgkinson 2008, p.89).

The first half of the film is a bit trash as Jamelia investigates the popularity of extensions with British girls and celebs … The second half of the film is the crux of the matter as Jamelia goes to Russia and India to find those selling their hair (Source: bob the moo 2008, np link).

Did you know … 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 (Source: Jamelia in Courtenay-Smith 2008, np link).

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 (Source: Jamelia in Courtenay-Smith 2008, np link).

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 (Source: Kuchen 2008, np link).

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 (Source: Jamelia in Courtenay-Smith 2008, np link).

Jamelia can’t get the corpse lock concerns out of her head (Source: Kuchen 2008, np link).

 … 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 (Source: Jamelia in Courtenay-Smith 2008, np link).

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 (Source: Jamelia in Courtenay-Smith 2008, np link).

[Older Tatiana] 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 [the] bewildered-looking teen (Source: Kuchen 2008, np link).

[Younger Tatiana] 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 (Source: Jamelia in Courtenay-Smith 2008, np link).

[Older Tatiana] simply cut the loc’s of hair off with a scissors. Leaving the girls hair in a bob. She got paid what was equivalent to a months wage (Source: SoFrolushes 2008, np link).

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 (Source: Jamelia in Courtenay-Smith 2008, np link).

Quite literally following her hair [extension] back to its roots, [Jamelia then] has it DNA tested (Source: Hodgkinson 2008, p.89).
… using ground-breaking forensic techniques, [Jamelia and her translator] try and track down the woman whose hair she wore on a recent TV appearance (Source: BBC 2008, np link).

The hair [had] been narrowed down to one region in India (Source: bob the moo 2008, np link).

I travel to Chennai, one of the biggest cities in 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 (Source: Jamelia in Courtenay-Smith 2008, np link).

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 (Source: Kuchen 2008, np link).

Temple hair [is] hair that was given up as a way to sacrifice ones beauty and to thank God (Source: SoFrolushes 2008, np link).

She learns her extensions came from one of many women who sacrificed their tresses at a Hindu temple. … ‘Women line up to have their heads shaved to the scalp,’ reveals Jamelia. She meets a woman who hopes that, if she sacrifices her locks, God will answer her prayers of finding a home for her evicted family. The industry is unregulated and consumers can't be sure where their extensions came from. But Jamelia is reassured her donor wasn't exploited (Source: Quade 2008, np).

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 (Source: BBC 2008, np link).

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 (Source: Jamelia in Courtenay-Smith 2008, np link).

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 (Source: Jamelia in Courtenay-Smith 2008, np link).

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 (Source: Jamelia in Courtenay-Smith 2008, np link).

[Back in Chennai] the crew take to the streets looking for a woman with short hair who it might be, asking such … questions as ‘do you eat fish’ to those they see [the DNA test suggested Jamelia’s [hair] extension had come from someone who ate fish] (Source: bob the moo 2008, np link).

Jamelia tracked down a woman … 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 2008, np link).

‘Hair sourced this way represents a woman's prayers,’ [Jamelia] says (Source: Quade 2008, np).

[She] 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: Kuchen 2008, np link).

Inspiration / Technique / Process / Methodology

Over the 2000s, UK reality TV shows depicted people actually getting extensions – from makeover shows to The Only Way Is Essex – and demystified the process. ‘I’ve been in the industry 15 years now and I saw a real boom around 2008,’ says Chris King, brand director of natural hair extensions company Great Lengths. ‘Reality TV was having a big influence on everyday people getting them, but also the growth of social media and the internet. With Google, you were suddenly able to do research about hair extensions. Before that, people didn’t really talk about them,’ says King. Partly because they were meant to be natural, invisible, like a good dye job, and partly because they were taboo: ‘If I’d talk about hair extensions, people were critical, or would try to find out the bad side in regards to where they came from’ During this period several big documentaries did a good job of questioning the ethics of hair extensions suppliers. In 2008 Jamelia hosted [the] documentary Whose Hair Is It Anyway? (Source: Abraham 2020, np link).

I was approached by a TV company to make a documentary on the industry. It was something that I had never thought about before and I was just like, ‘Wow, this could be really interesting.’ It was just the most amazing trip of my life and to learn what I learned and be there first hand in a factory where they’ve got miles of hair in these little bundles you’re just like, ‘No way.’ They’re actually shampooing it by hand and you just don’t think about all of the hard work that goes into it (Source: Jamelia in BCK staff 2009, np link).

… 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 (Source: Jamelia in Courtenay-Smith 2008, np link)?

Discussion / Responses

There's a terrific documentary to be made about the creepy, multi-billion-dollar industry that supplies real human hair, mostly from poor Russians and Indians, for the extensions and weaves worn by millions of women in the West. Sadly, this well-intentioned but weakly executed effort [the documentary Good Hair], fronted by US comic Chris Rock, isn’t it. Rock was inspired to investigate after his five year-old daughter asked him, ‘How come I don’t have good hair?’, so it’s doubly surprising that his heart doesn’t seem to be in it. Despite dozens of interviews, from celebrity customers to Indian hair donors, Rock fails to pull the rug out from under the hair trade as effectively, or emotively, as singer Jamelia did in her 2008 TV effort, Whose Hair Is It Anyway? (Source: Hughes 2010, np link).

If anyone demonstrates how hair extensions can make you suddenly look more glamorous and stunning it is Jamelia  and that is one thing we discover in this film as she spends a lot of it with just her own shorter hair (and annoyingly still looks awesome in that!) (Source: bob the moo 2008, np link).

Students will know Jamelia and this is what makes the documentary captivating (Source: Wilson 2010, np link).

… well done Jamelia! It was great. I was pleasantly surprised by it (Source: Amethysy21 2008, np link).

I love her speaking voice (Source: Off_Da_Endz 2008b, np link).

Lightweight fun (Source: Butler 2010, p.58).

…truly fascinating and somewhat unnerving (Source: Watson 2013, np link).

Creeperific (Source: VanillaTresses 2008, np link).

They haven’t even got to the poverty and the chance that [real hair extensions are] 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  (Source: Lady Verity 2008, np link).

… the poor people who get paid crap money for their hair is just disgusting and to see what people sacrifice for ‘extension lovers’ is just unbelievable. It brought a tear to my eye, seeing children having their heads shaved/hair cut off and sold on for next to nothing (Source: DancinBallerina 2020, np link).

I found it quite disturbing watching the children have their hair shaved: eek (Source: kerry1 2008, np link)?

I think its put me off ever getting real hair extensions though, Jamelias had dandruff in them from the person they came from, ewwwww (Source: ellaonfire 2008b, np link).

wow. that is just significantly icky. and very sad (Source: lawyermom 2008, np link).

… people rummaging in the rubbish bins for hair (that comes out of combs) to sell to get a couple of pence for it … [is] just absolutely disgusting, for which a lot of women in the UK are clueless about because they ‘want to look good’ (Source: DancinBallerina 2010, np link).

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 (Source: Safera 2008, np link).

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 (Source: Pegasus Marsters 2008, link).

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 :/ (Source: ellaonfire 2008b, np link).

‘Does it really come from dead people?’ … no, [Jamelia] 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 (Source: Brown 2008, np link).

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, np link)?

Not really sure what the conclusion was besides her hair having the power of ~*~a mother's love~*~. Haha (Source: ellaonfire 2008b, np link).

[Real hair extensions are] 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 … appealing to an ignorant, but sentimental demographic (Source: Methusela Now 2008, np link).

[This is] one of those celeb-led piffle-heavy documentaries, [with] scripts roughly tacked together by assistant producers and the office cleaner, fronted by someone famous off the telly with a tenuous link to the topic. So, Jamelia is pretty and has very nice hair, ergo: Jamelia should be in charge of investigating the international hair trade, yes (Source: Dent 2008, np link)?

Jamelia kind of annoyed me … :/ (Source: san_ti 2008, np link).

[She] seemed a bit naive generally, but I suppose with the lifestyle she's led she wouldn't have had time to think about these kind of things (Source: anna1850 2008, np link).

Jamelia herself is well-suited to this type of film. Her ‘down-to-earth-Brummie’ self makes her a poor man's Louis Theroux - not with the cutting edge perhaps but certainly she is easy to talk to and makes for a likable presenter. Shame then that the material doesn't provide the edge that she lacks because this could have been a more interesting film. That there are no shocking revelations is not that big a deal because it is still interesting but the film doesn't help itself with its poor structure and its apparent hunt for ‘exploitation’ and shock. Interesting answer to a simple question (‘where does the hair come from’) but offers nothing more than a basic answer to that question but takes an hour to do it (Source: bob the moo 2008, np link)!

Shockingly it is revealed that these women do not get the price that women in fancy salons in London pay for it (Source: bob the moo 2008, np link).

… a waste of [BBC] license fee money imo (Source: queenofsheba 2009, np link).

… it did open my eyes about where some hair comes from … but that was it. It opened my eyes, shoved bad ideas in front of me, put visions of screaming children crying their eyes out in my head, and concluded with the presenter saying that she was never going to wear extensions again. Oh, and she kept telling the poor people (who gave their hair for religious reasons) how much their hair would be sold for and left them with this sad and used / violated expression on their faces (Source: purpleredrose 2008, np link).

Yeah, it was a bit puzzling how one minute she was so upset about those children being shaved and then the next she was yammering on about how her extensions represented the hopes and dreams of others or whatever the hell it was (Source: owly 2008, np link).

… these tears are perhaps more due to the children crying, rather than anything else (Source: bob the moo 2008, np link).

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 (Source: Brown 2008, np link).

… 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 (Source: FrannyG 2008, np link).

As for her shock at learning that the weaves were from human hair, please get real. It says human hair on the packet. She was so annoying (Source: Ondo Lady 2008, np link).

That might be true, yes it does say human hair on the package however, it does not say that ‘Oh by the way we held down a crying toddler, and mislead millions of poor Indians to get this hair’ sorry nothing against you but read in between the lines (Source: Watson 2008, np link).

[It would be] nice if those girls in Russia saw a higher percentage of the final price (Source: Kuchen 2008, np 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 (Source: ellaonfire 2008b, np link)!

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 (Source: victoria sponge 2008, np link).

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 … 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).

[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 (Source: caligulasmate 2008, np link).

*Slightly* off topic but do hair extensions hurt to put it? I once saw a show where a girl was crying from the pain (Source: thankyousir74 2008, np link).

No! It should never hurt to put in extensions. What the hell were they doing to her to make her cry (Source: Pegasus Marsters 2008, np link).

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) (Source: eresh 2008, np link)?

I think there is no relationship at all between the person selling their hair and the consumers because the consumers dont even know where the hair is coming from let alone whose head. Even dogs get hair extensions! Some girls / women dont even think about where the hair is coming from because they are to busy thinking about the looks (Source: tayah M 2015, np link).

I hate to admit it but I've got an entire drawer full of extensions and I've got no idea where any of them originally came from. After reading [Jamelia’s] article [in the Daily Mail], I'm a little weary but I don't think it'll stop the majority of wearers. There's the same moral dilema as the recent Primark issue [see the page on this here]. What happens when we take the moral highground and dump these companies because of the shady dealings involved? The people at the bottom are the biggest losers even if they earn the least (Source: Hatsumomo 2008, np link).

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 (Source: Pegasus Marsters 2008, np link).

Hair is being sourced from anywhere possible so people can eat their daily bread. On the one hand it would seem maybe buying human hair is morally wrong if it has not been sourced ethically. On the other hand if demand drops and no one is buying, some people will not eat (Source: SoFrolushes 2008, np link).

I fear that [Jamelia’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 (Source: tortoiseperson 2008, link).

Jamelia says ‘[Hair found in rubbish tips] 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. … 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, np link).

Of course, if you’re that phased… buy synthetic… or better yet, grow your own (Source: Pegasus Marsters 2008, np link).

Synthetic hair these days looks just as good in my opinion (Source: SoFrolushes 2008, np link).

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’ (Source: BL 2008a, np link).

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 (Source: chopsy 2008a, np link).

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 (Source: BL 2008b, np link).

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: chopsy 2008b, np 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 … 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 (Source: Amethyst21 2008, np link).

I was bemused by some of Jamelia’s statements such as ‘I will never wear a weave again’ Talk about outlandish, I have never seen her with anything BUT a weave (Source: Ondo Lady 2008, np link).

I will be interested to see if Jamelia will continue to wear hair extensions after her travels (Source: victoria sponge 2008, np link).

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 (Source: moongoddess777 2008, np link).

Fast forward 2 2012 an Jamelia is wearing hair extensions again?? Room 101 on BBC1. 10.02.12 What a lying hypocrite (Source: Lala 2011, np link).

Impacts / Outcomes

[This documentary] was definitely thought provoking (Source: SoFrolushes 2008, np link).

As a child I was always told ‘hair extensions make your hair grow’. I had them twice and I noticed bugger all growth. The whole hype nowadays of having hair extensions is just nuts! At one stage I was considering having them in again, just to do something different with my hair. BUT after watching 'Jamelia's Whose Hair is it anyway' - I have completely gone off hair extensions. And im sure if many of you watched it, you'd be put off them for life (Source: DancinBallerina 2010, np link)!!!

It made me think twice about wearing my extension piece again, just in case it was picked out from the rubbish dumps!!! :\ (Source: serenic123,2008, np link)?

wowwwwww!!!!!!!!! i’m never buying human hair extension again … used them only twice anyways …. will stick to synthetic if i need to get braids done. thanks for this very insightful post (Source: Anne T 2011, np link).

I did not see it but am curious as I was thinking of maybe having extensions for the wedding. What was it about?? :\ (Source: racheljparker2008, np link)?

i saw it. makes you think where the cheap ones come from (Source: jharris_862008, np link).

After filming, presenter and pop icon Jamelia has vowed never to buy or wear hair extensions again (Source: Watson 2013, np link).

I’ve never said that I would never wear hair extensions again. I haven’t since I’ve done the show, but every time I see hair extensions I think of that little girl who was getting her head shaved off which was heartbreaking (Source: Jamelia in BCK staff 2009, np link).

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 (Source: Jamelia in Wynne 2008, np).

… what I … 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 (Source: Jamelia in Courtenay-Smith 2008, np link).

I’ve always seen the positive changes that the hair extension industry has made in India so I’m definitely not against them. I just think that people need to be made aware of where their hair comes from. If I was to wear hair extensions again, I would know where they came from and that the people gave their hair willingly and it was in a very well ventilated and all of the people in the factories were looked after. I would do that research before I put them in my hair (Source: Jamelia in BCK staff 2009, np link).

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 it also] 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).

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 (Source: Jamelia in Courtenay-Smith 2008, np link).

I’m so glad that I educated so many people. Again, I’m not against the hair extension trade, I just want to make sure that it’s fair and that people are just thinking about where it came from and not using the rat hair. It’s not a good look (Source: Jamelia in BCK staff 2009, np link).

Jamelia … said she now thinks carefully about choosing ethically-sourced fashion and beauty products following her BBC documentary  (Source: Jamelia in Keogh 2012, np link).

Recently she launched,, a platform where she shares natural hair tips, hair routines and has spoken openly about feeling duty bound to conform to a straight hair aesthetic when making public appearances as a singer and TV personality (Source: Davis 2019, np link).

Following the BBC documentary at the height of the financial crisis [Tatiana Karelina] opened her first salon in Kensington. Her second salon quickly followed, with Manchester opening in 2010. In 2011, Sky UK’s Moscow correspondent, Amanda Walker accompanied Karelina to film a new piece on the hair extension industry in Russia. In 2015, the company rebranded from Tatiana Hair Extensions to Tatiana Karelina as a precursor for their expansion into the United States. On 1 August 2017 Tatiana Karelina will open a new salon in West Hollywood (Source: Anon nd, np link).

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).

When I stopped relaxing my hair I would use human hair extensions to make a bigger afro. Then I watched [Chris Rock’s] Good Hair and [Jemelia’s] Whose Hair is it Anyway? … I really was saddened by the human hair trade. There’s no regulation and there are a lot of women who are victims of this trade; they’re attacked for their hair or donate their hair to the temple who profit. I wanted to stop using human hair but the synthetic hair that you find in afro hair shops is very bad quality - it’s flimsy, stinks of plastic and has this shiny coating that doesn’t look like hair. There’s no medium alternative. So I went back to my supplier and sent her photos of the texture I wanted and asked if she could do synthetic for me. Right now, it’s the perfect time for a brand to come in and fill that gap - that’s really what I’m trying to do with Big Hair No Care (Source: Harrel in Chabo 2019, np link).

It is the smell I imagine when I think of the nocturnal bonfires of wigs that erupted on the streets of New York and London in May 2004 … These were human-hair wigs …  Orthodox Jewish women, their heads newly wrapped with scarves and snoods … tossed their pricey and previously cherished wigs into the flames or handed them to their husbands to perform the righteous task. Why, because thousands of kilometres away in Jerusalem an much-revered 94-year-old Lithuanian Haredi rabbi. Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, had declared that from now on the use of Indian hair was strictly prohibited in the wigs worn by Orthodox married women and referred to in Jewish circles by the Yiddish term ‘sheitel’. Tainted with the sin of idol worship in the distant, primitive land of India, where women were apparently ‘sacrificing’ their hair to ‘strange gods’, these wigs, once thought to preserve the modesty and respectability of frum (pious) women, now stood accused of threatening the very sanctity of the Orthodoc Jewish home. … Sheitel-gate, as it became known, is rememberd as a strange and traumatic time that disturbed the very fabric of ultra-Orthodox life. … Nobody really knows what motivated Rabbi Elyashiv to get concerned about the status of Indian hair in 2004. … Some say it was a new article in the trade press which suggested that Indian hair was a sacrificial offering; other say that it was an interview with Victoria Beckham in which she had joked that the hair in her extensions was from Russian prisoners. This, the rumour goes, had set the alarm bells ringing in the Jewish community concerning the morality of the hair being used in sheitels.  … Others point out that that the controversy coincided with the launching of an hour-ling video video about teh importance of modesty for Jewish women which was shown simultaneously in Orthodox communities around the globe. In Chennai I met Indian hair traders who said it was a BBC film about the temple at Tirumala that had triggered the whole debacle. This is why, I was told, that photography is nowadays forbidden inside the main tonsuring halls (Source: Tarlo 2016, p.85- 91).

References / Further Reading

Abraham, A. (2020) A brief history of the good, the bad and the ugly side of hair extensions. Dazed Beauty 28 April ( 30 June 2020)

Amethyst21 (2008) Comment on Off_Da_Endz (2008a) Jamelia: ‘Whose hair is it anyway?’, BBC3 documentary on hair extensions. 11 July – 12 August ( last accessed 18 January 2011)

Anna1850 (2008) Comment on X (2008) Jamelia: whose hair is it anyway? 21-23 June ( last accessed 18 January 2011)

Anne T (2011) Comment on Watotoz (2011) ‘I will never wear children hair extension again’ vows superstar Jamelia. Watotoz 30 April ( last accessed 30 June 2020)

Anon (nd) Tatiana Karelina. Alchetron ( lastr accessed 30 June 2020)

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

Anon (2008a) 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 (2008b) Sunday. News of the World (England) 20 July, np

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

BBC (2008) JameliaL whose hair is it anyway? 30 October ( last accessed 30 June 2020)

BCK staff (2009) Getting to know mom Jamelia. BCK 22 October ( last accessed 30 June 2020)

bob the moo (2008) Review of ‘Jamelia: whose hair is it anyway?’ imdb.com21 August ( last accessed 30 June 2020).

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

BL (2008b) Comment on BL (2008a) 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

caligulasmate (2008) Comment on ellaonfire (2008a) Jamelia: whose hair is it anyway? 21 July ( last accessed 18 January 2011)

Chabo, E. (2019) How embracing her afro led Freddie Harrel to shake up the hair industry. Stylist ( last accessed 30 July 2020)

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

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

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)

DancinBallerina (2010) Comment on Anon (2010) GIRLS, Do hair extensions damage your hair and stop it from growing? The Student Room ( last accessed 30 June 2020)

Davis, K. (2019) 16 incredible women championing the beauty of their afro hair. Glamour 7 October ( last accessed 30 June 2020)

Dent, G. (2008) Grace Dent’s screen burn. The Guardian 30 August ( last accessed 30 June 2020)

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

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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

Hughes, D. (2010) Good Hair review. Empire 1 June ( last accessed 30 June 2020)

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Keogh, K. (2012) Style awards held in Birmingham. Birmingham Post 24 October ( last accessed 30 June 2020)

kerry1 (2008) Comment on X (2008) Jamelia: whose hair is it anyway? 21-23 June ( last accessed 18 January 2011)

Kuchen (2008) Comment on Y (2008) Whose hair is it anyway? 22June – 23 July ( last accessed 18 January 2011)

Lady Verity (2008) Comment on Y (2008) Whose hair is it anyway? 22June – 23 July ( last accessed 18 January 2011)

Lala, G. (2011) Comment on Watotoz (2011) ‘I will never wear children hair extension again’ vows superstar Jamelia. Watotoz 30 April ( last accessed 30 June 2020)

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

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moongoddess777 (2008) Comment on X (2008) Jamelia: whose hair is it anyway? (discussion board). 21-23 June ( last accessed 18 January 2011)

Newsome, B. (2010) Pay TV Thursday, March 25. The Age (Melbourne), 18 March, p.42

Off_Da_Endz (2008a) Jamelia: ‘Whose hair is it anyway?’, BBC3 documentary on hair extensions. 11 July – 12 August ( last accessed 18 January 2011)

Off_Da_Endz (2008b) Comment on Off_Da_Endz (2008a) Jamelia: ‘Whose hair is it anyway?’, BBC3 documentary on hair extensions. 11 July – 12 August ( last accessed 18 January 2011)

Ondo Lady (2008) Comment on Anon (2008e)  Jamelia goe sin search of teh owner of her weave.  Cocoa Diaries  19 July last accessed 30 June 2020)

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Pegasus Marsters (2008) Comment on Y (2008) Whose hair is it anyway? 22June – 23 July ( last accessed 18 January 2011)

purpleredrose (2008) Hair India documentary. Black Hair Media  7 December ( last accessed 30 June 2020)

Quade, G. (2008) My hair is from India! The Sun 19 July

queenofsheba (2009) Comment on Janice aka Miss Mad News (2009) UK news: Alesha Dixon set to film documentary about absent fathers. Mad News UK 16 July ( last accessed 30 June 2020)

racheljparker (2008) Comment on serenic123 (2008) Jamelia: whose hair is it anyway? (discussion forum). 21 June ( last accessed 18 January 2011)

Safera (2008) Jamelia asks ‘Whose hair is it anyway?’ 23 July (last accessed 18 January 2011)

san_ti (2008) Comment on ellaonfire (2008a) Jamelia: whose hair is it anyway? 21 July ( last accessed 18 January 2011)

serenic123 (2008) Jamelia: whose hair is it anyway? 21 June ( last accessed 18 January 2011)

SoFrolushes, L. (2008) Jamelia investigates hair industry. 20 July ( last accessed 2 July 2020) 

Tarlo, E. (2016) Entanglement: the secret lives of hair. London: OneWorld

tayah M (2015) whose hair is it anyway. 17 June ( last accessed 30 June 2020)

thankyousir74 (2008) Comment on Y (2008) Whose hair is it anyway? 22June – 23 July ( last accessed 18 January 2011)

tortoiseperson (2008) Comment on X (2008) Jamelia: whose hair is it anyway? 21-23 June ( last accessed 18 January 2011)

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Watson, V. (2008) Comment on Anon (2008e)  Jamelia goe sin search of teh owner of her weave.  Cocoa Diaries  19 July last accessed 30 June 2020)

Wilson, M. (2010) The market for human hair extensions. Ideas for Eco 4 November ( last accessed 30 June 2020)

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

Compiled by Ian Cook et al (first posted August 2011, last updated July 2020). Thanks to Geography teacher Matt Podbury (@MattPodbury) for his student Rachel's LEGO hair salon photo included in the 2011 version.