'Hair Peace' should be a documentary on Channel 4. Where do hair extensions come from? When it come to beauty, do we care?
The quick answer is that a lot of people don't think about it. We assume that the 'system' - goods, imports, the law has taken care of all that. Would we be shocked to know that hair extensions are human hair? That most of the hair comes from women in Russia and India. That some of the hair comes from dead women and prisoners.
Are we shocked that human hair is not considered a body part by the UK authorities? and is imported as a beauty product. Is wearing hair extensions glamorous or is it like gluing on someone else's fingernails?
Victoria Melody goes on a quest to find out and along the way meets a Celebrity Big Brother contestant, a forensic scientist, a Bollywood financier and gets customer insight from her cousin who has been wearing hair extensions since she was a teenager.
Unlike a documentary 'Hair Peace' is also a performance, funny as well as touching. The set comprises of three screens, a chair on castors, a hairdryer, and a cast of multiple wigs and extensions which are exchanged whilst footage is shown on screen. Some of the wigs really suit Victoria. Some look like her natural hair. What is she saying to us as she changes her hairstyle and hair colour numerous times? What is the impact when we see her 'bald', just wearing a hair net. At the end of the show Victoria removes the wig.
The most emotional part of the show for me is when we see a young Indian woman, who Victoria befriended, have her hair shaved, 'tonsured' for religious reasons. Thousands of people give their hair freely at Hindu temples who sort it, bag it up and sell it to the highest bidder (the temples use the profits for charitable purposes). Victoria gives a balanced account of this practice as there are valid reasons for people giving up their hair and for those of us in the UK who want to wear it.
Victoria asks "whose hair is this?" and the show begs further questions such as why do women want longer hair and why do they pay for extensions? Victoria asks her cousin and her answers range from 'because someone else had it' to wanting to look good, and feeling even more pressure since the birth of her son, to take care of her appearance.
For me the questions raised in 'Hair Peace' go beyond the ethics of wearing someone else's hair, to why do women feel this pressure to want to have longer hair? This is absolutely a feminist question as there is no such expectation of men. It's all part of a billion pound beauty industry that says "women - natural is not beautiful - enhance". It is such a contrast to the Hindu lady who shaved her hair in the temple - who says she cried when it was removed - not because of vanity but because she was relieved to have made her pilgrimage and to have thanked God for her blessings. That she now feels more confident inside herself when meeting people than anything she could do to her outside appearance.
It was unclear from the show if Victoria had also had her hair 'tonsured'. I thought about how I would feel if I lost all of my hair. Devastated. How much of this feeling is ingrained from Western expectations of female beauty? If I was a bald woman the assumption would be that I was ill, because that is the only rationale we have. There is no way baldness could be through personal choice. It has long been an option for men to be skinheads, why can't women? Why isn't it a fashion statement for a woman to shave her hair off? Probably because no-one in the UK can make a profit from it.
I dye my hair and as a feminist I question why I do that. There is an irony in the Indian hair all being bleached for Western heads and we are dyeing ours too, so our coloured hair matches our dyed extensions. As a woman I'm sick of the double standard of grey haired men becoming 'silver foxes' and still desirable, yet grey haired women have 'let themselves go'.
Victoria Melody should be on TV to ask questions of the hair and beauty industry and she'd better join the BBC while we still have a licence fee, as there aren't any advertisements on the BBC. The kind of ads we see on other channels selling us hair dye or make up like the celebrities endorse (for Revlon, Maybelline, L'Oréal). Because we all want to look like them, don't we.
Would such a programme as 'Hair Peace' even be commissioned? Wouldn't want to upset the advertisers. Wouldn't want to challenge the status quo. What if the unthinkable happened - and we questioned more, and consumed less.
(c) Wendy Thomson 2015
Reviewed Weds 22nd July 2015, South Street Arts Centre, Reading
The production I saw of 'Hair Peace' was an Edfringe preview and as such had to be unrated. But if I could give a rating it would be as high as Victoria Melody's beehive wig. (edit jan 2016 - we're giving it 5 stars). It's not a show full of belly laughs, this isn't stand up. It is funny, entertaining, captivating, dramatic and does what all good documentaries should do - inform.
See Female Arts Review of Victoria's previous show 'Major Tom' www.femalearts.com/node/1066