Human Hair Extensions: International Girl-on-Girl Crime?

The resurrection of the hair extension in the last ten years is the greatest adornment to have graced the beauty world since Elizabeth Arden brought makeup to everyday society in the early 1900s. With a bit of money and tolerance for pain, thin-haired women, short-haired women and black women unsatisfied with their rough textured hair are able to transform their hair as many times as Beyoncé.

Who run the world?
And yet, the first law of thermodynamics applies as much to science as it does to the happy gal world of eyeshadow and perfume.
In the case of hair, too, masses cannot be created nor destroyed. 

The great majority of real hair extensions come from India, where nearly 40,000 women donate it annually in the name of religious sacrifice and/or a show of ultimate humility. For centuries, Hindu women on pilgrimage have been shaving their heads as a ritual of purification that is mandated by the scriptures to happen at least once, and the remaining hair has gone to be burned or to stuff mattreses and pillows. 

Only in the last ten years, as the hair extension business has boomed, has the shaved hair become a great economic resource for many in that region. The integrity of its consumption treads a fine line because universally, women's hair is at the most, sacred, and at the least, a marking of her beauty. And when such a prominent marking doubles as an easily attainable economic resource (a 16-inch braid = $50) in a country where 86 percent of the population lives off of less than $2 a day, it is an easy venue for exploitation.

In a 2010 article in The New York Times, David Elman, a co-owner of a company that finds hair for weaves and wigs, said that the girls "are not doing it for fun. Usually, only people who have temporary financial difficulties in depressed regions sell their hair."

Worse, some have reported that desperate husbands and gangs force the shaving of women's heads for profit. The hair trade seems a business which breeds illegality and tempts exploitation. To battle the same vein of a problem in the animal kingdom, recently the US, China and France have reacted to the illegal/immoral ivory trade by demolishing all seized ivory.

To stop this international girl-on-girl crime, is the demolition of the hair trade in order?

In reality, the claims of forcible shaving are few and far between, whereas claims of sexual exploitation of women in poor countries, and specifically India, are frequent and often. Moreover, claims of physical exploitation by men and women alike, as evidenced by the recent Bangladeshi factory fire, are rampant and internationally tolerated. As a multimillion dollar business that begs for bodily sacrifice, the hair trade is just as exploitative as the clothing trade, the coffee trade, the electronics business and the diamond trade, all of which subject third-world workers at product inception to physical labor at a relatively meager wage. 

Even if the hair was being forcibly taken in desperation for money, the pace of hair growth would subject a woman to forced shaving only twice a year at the maximum. The alternative for many women in those countries is far more sad: the sex trade is able to take advantage of women far more frequently in a far more damaging manner. 
While it makes sense to look at the potentially damaging impact of a monetary infusion to a ritual practice of humility and to worry about what it can do to the practice's most vulnerable participants, to fail to consider the other venues of humiliation and physical strain in the third world is simply small-minded. It's not a hair extension issue, ladies, this is something bigger.