Let’s discover the history, the meaning and the world of “virgin hair.” A research paper on the media influence and financial impact from buying “virgin hair.”
There is a growing trend of American women purchasing human hair known as Virgin hair to be worn as a style, and sometimes, to look like the owners hair. African-American women, as well as biracial ethnicities are the usual consumers of the trend. Social media has had a major part in advertising the product as well. This paper discusses the ways social media posts use advertising techniques to sell the hair, the history of Black hair, as well as the possible psychological and financial implications from wearing and purchasing weaves. The results show research that supports the thesis of priorities needing to be in order and women needing to educate themselves on what they’re buying.
The trend of women spending extensive amounts of money on hair weave has been around for decades, but the most popular form of weave is now known as Virgin hair. The hair is usually purchased in order to be worn as a style on a woman’s head and to appear like their own real hair. Though many women partake in buying the Virgin hair, it is primarily popular with African-American women. The highly popular Virgin Hair is human hair in its purest state that has never been processed or chemically treated (Human Hair Factory, 2011). Although, there are other hair types, Virgin Hair is normally the most expensive, and the most advertised on social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram. Women who indulge in expensive trends such as buying Virgin hair for a new hairdo are posed to serious priority issues with their financial funds. These women need to educate themselves on the classifications of real virgin hair, the cultural impact and perceived illusions of obtaining a certain look with the hair, and the fiscal impact that buying the hair may have.
Recent studies like these shed new light on the approach to women, specifically African-American, having identity issues because of the way they choose to style their hair; which ultimately previous studies had not addressed. It also ties into the financial aspect and consideration that women may need to take when purchasing products and services that may seem frivolous to others. Not to mention, the new forms of media that are now being used to advertise and sale the Virgin hair, are growing immensely popular and are more susceptible to containing false information on the products being sold. The issue of buying Virgin hair and its implications may seem trivial to some, however, it is in fact crucial in terms of today’s concerns over media pressures on beauty and women being able to maintain stable financial security.
Social Media Advertisements & Real Virgin Hair
Social media sites like Facebook and Instagram are well-known for displaying posts promoting the wearing and buying of Virgin hair. Many vendors usually create accounts on these sites to attract potential buyers. The advertisements are displayed as “posts,” and feature women (usually African-American) with their hair already styled with the product. Sometimes the posts are promoted as Virgin hair or Virgin “Remy” Hair. Where Virgin hair is human hair virtually unprocessed, Remy hair is slightly different because it is normally altered. Remy hair usually lends itself to being processed to a certain color, style and the cuticle of hair being removed (Lenhart, 2010).
In the Facebook account of All Virgin Hair Boutique, a popular vendor for weaves – specifically Virgin Hair – there are many posts that advertise Virgin hair (All Virgin Hair, 2013). Most of the posts are of sales that are going on, popular textures of hair (already styled on a person), or the Virgin hair in a pack (All Virgin Hair, 2013). Vendors such as the latter continuously display their products with ordinary women (not models or celebrities). These posts appeal to the potential buyer because of their portrayal of the finished look – should they choose to buy the hair. Viewing posts with satisfied clients already styled with the product resonates with the potential buyer and tends to leave a lasting impression.
Researchers Hirschman and Thompson describe the process of how the ideological structure of mass media and traditional forms of advertising work; they assert, “the idealized images conveyed by media vehicles may engender a sense of displeasure in consumers with their current personal appearance, lifestyle and possessions” (p. 44) Therefore, the constant exposure of advertisement posts with women styled to perfection can pursue them into taking the next step and purchasing. Hirschman and Thompson also explain, “Advertisements then fill the emotional void by generating their own set of idealized images that when read in context of the broader media universe, implicitly promise that the promoted product can move the consumer toward the desired ideal state” (p.44).
Still, not all Virgin Hair that is advertised in social media outlets are of Virgin quality. Being that Virgin hair is now known to be synonymous with an exotic location such as: Brazil, Mongolia, Russia, the Philippines and Peru, many women perceive it to be of the best hair sold (Jouelzy, 2012). However, the truth behind the term Virgin may quite honestly be just a selling mechanism, in order to lure women in to getting the most expensive, highest quality type of hair. Writer Jouelzy (2012) from Mademenoire explains that some of the textures that women believe they are buying are almost too unrealistic to be true. She states, “So that Peruvian loose wave you are thinking about buying, let’s think about that. Is there a tribe in Peru that has loose wavy hair who just happens to be walking into factories to have their hair chopped off?” (Jouelzy, 2012).
Jouelzy’s article lends to believe that there may not be any hair out there to actually be of Virgin quality, others claim the opposite. Journalist Homa Khaleeli for The Guardian (2012), uncovers the process of the hair trade from donors in the business, exclusively from India. According to Khaleeli, “Much of the hair on sale come from small agents who tour villages in India, China and eastern Europe, offering poverty-stricken women small payments to part with their hair” (Khaleeli, 2012). Although, Khaleeli writes in The United Kingdom and Jouelzy in America, there may not be much of a major difference in the way the hair is collected and sold. There may be, however, different resources or tactics used in order to sell hair as Virgin hair. Nevertheless, most buyers are oblivious as to where the hair actually comes from and are more concerned with getting the “look.” Hair historian, Caroline Cox, points out, “The fashion for such a long time has been about the glorification of artificiality […] The whole idea of beauty is [now] predicated on artificiality and getting rid of humanness”(as cited in Khaleeli, 2012).
Dominant Beauty Standard
The act of buying Virgin hair inevitably results in changing the appearance of one’s hair. Virgin hair is known to be of the highest quality, and regardless of how much the hair costs, women will pay high amounts for it. Atlanta, GA based beautician Toni Love asserts, “Extensions can cost as low as $300 (depending on the geographical area) and go up to $10, 000” (as cited in Fields-Greene, 2011). Some of the reasons why women will pay such enormous amounts range from wearing the hair for protective measures to following societal trends. Women also appreciate the versatility that the weave provides. Jaclyn Marshall (2012) states, “Studies have proved women love switching up their hair and weave offers a viable way to try a haircut, a color, and even a new texture without committing long term” (Marshall, 2012). However, women will normally follow what’s trending or what’s popular, therefore, societal trends is one of the more prominent reasons as to why a woman will pay such a large amount for weaves.
One of the societal trends among Black women (and bi-racial) that’s been going on for many years is that of having “good hair.” Good hair is perceived to be long, straight, flowing hair, which was usually the ideal of white women of European descent (Thompson, 2009). The idea of good hair, however, seems to be embedded so thoroughly that H. Fields-Greene (2011), writer for Mademoire explains, “Some can’t and will not be seen without weave despite the cost and the time required to achieve it” (Fields-Greene, 2011). The woman who serves as the pioneer in the idea of “good hair” styling for Black women is Madam C. J. Walker, whom according to historian Rayford W. Logan “made straight hair ‘good hair’” (as cited in Gates Jr., p. 165).
Although it would seem like the straightening of one’s strands would have no underlying meaning, in a way it passively tapped into the idea of looking like a White woman – having straight, long, and flowing hair. In Henry Gates Jr. article (1999) Madam Crusade, he states that the straightening of hair was a politically controversial process that Walker claimed her grooming products didn’t do. However, he emphasizes, “but she also sold a ‘hot comb,’ which did in fact straighten kinky hair, consciously tapping into a racial aesthetic that favored Caucasian features over ‘African’ physical characteristics” (p. 165). Being that the natural texture of Black hair is that of course/kinky tresses to naturally loose curls, in order to conform to the standards of America and “fit in,” Black women straightened their hair.
That’s not to say that there wasn’t a time when Black women didn’t embrace their natural tresses. As a matter of fact, in the 1960s and 1970s there was a Black Power Movement in which Afro hairstyles and different types of natural hair styling for African-Americans were embraced (Thompson, 2009). Now, however, the wearing of an Afro or natural tresses for Black women does not warrant the same pride within the society. Instead, those who stay natural are within the minority, and as writer Mcdowel states, “They will often face criticisms of being unrefined, unhygienic, low-class and ugly” (as cited in Thompson, 2009).
A blogger who describes her racial identity crisis with wearing weaves, Erikka Yancy (2013) explains her own troubles of not knowing who she really was because of her hair. She describes how she viewed her hair as a child, “I remember being little and running around with a half-slip on my head, pretending it was my long blonde (sometimes dark brown) super straight and shiny hair […] My real hair did not blow in the wind, or swing back and forth” (Yancy, 2013). Such confessions illustrate how from a young age the idea of what was beautiful was not that of naturally kinky dark brown tresses, but that of “good hair,” which was straight, long flowing hair. As weaves began to gain popularity, it allowed for many women to conform to the ideals of what was beautiful and how a woman’s hair should look.
Christine Hall (1995) explains in her article that because of beauty being based off of the White European standard for women, Black women are more prone to feeling a certain way about their skin complexion, body size and hair (Hall, 1995). She states,
“Media and society have convinced Black women that they must reach this ideal in order to be feminine and beautiful. Pressing hair with hot combs, “processing” hair with lye and other chemicals, and weaving extensions into the hair are ways in which Black women have attempted to emulate Caucasian hair” (Hall, 1995).
Still, the reality of wearing weaves, no matter how “beautiful” or socially accepted it may be, is that for some women it became something they hid under. For example Jaclyn Marshall (2012), writer for Clutch magazine, analyzes how the act of wearing weave may deal with a deeper psychological issue. She suggests, “Weaves and wigs have become a security blanket for many women some of whom haven’t seen their real hair in years” (Marshall, 2012). Erikka Yancy struggled with herself feeling like an outsider, even though long weave was society’s preferred look. She confesses, “I felt like I confused people and that they did not know what to make of me, but in reality I didn’t know what to make of myself” (Yancy, 2013).
The act of wearing weave, although very normal for women of all races, seems to have more of an impact among Black women. Since the natural texture of Black women’s hair normally, and almost always, does not resemble that of Virgin hair or “good hair” many times they will resort to continuously keeping weaves in their heads, or chemically altering their hairs natural state in order to please society. The outward appearance will normally please the eyes of many onlookers. Mentally, however, the wearing of the weave can diminish the essence of a women’s character and persona, leading on to feeling doubts about oneself and in the long run spending excessive amounts of dollars on a perceived notion of what is beautiful.
Proposed Financial or Priority Issues
The most expensive hair on the market 9 times out of 10 will be that of which comes with the title of Virgin hair. Many women will overlook the price of the hair, as well as the costs of having it installed (on their heads) and styled, in order to achieve the look that is advertised. Depending on the length of the hair, the hairstyle or type and the area from which the hair is obtained, the prices can vary greatly. According to the Facebook site of All Virgin Hair Boutique, the lengths that they sell are from 12” to 38” (All Virgin Hair, 2013). Their highest price goes up to $135 for a bundle (pack) of hair, which weighs 3.5 ounces. Normally, in order to have a full set of extensions (weave) installed, two bundles of hair are required; but the longer the hair is the more packs will be needed – resulting in more money being spent. As the hair length gets longer, in order for a woman to have a full head of hair look, more hair needs to be installed, and sometimes in order to see how much hair would be needed when dealing with long inches most hair stylists will offer hair consultations.
Now, getting the hair isn’t the only time when large amounts of money will be spent when in the process of obtaining a look with the Virgin hair. Women must also get it installed, sometimes colored, and washed (at their leisure) usually at a salon for a certain price. Therefore, women are yet again spending more money, and depending on the stylist, prices for certain weaving techniques and styles will vary. Premier salon in Jacksonville Florida Salon PK, is known for their popular hairstyles, weaving techniques, healthy hair management and selling of quality Virgin hair (Salon PK, 2013). Their price listing for installing a full head of extensions includes: sew – in (braiding technique) without buying the hair from the salon, $250 with a deposit of $75, and quick weaves (cap and hair glue technique) for $125 – $150; and with proper care the styles can last for up to two months (Salon PK, 2013). Virgin hair can be reused again because it is pure human hair, however, most women begin the process all over, dishing out the money to get their hair re-installed, styled and set. One of the reasons why Virgin hair is so popular is because of the simple fact that it can be reused, with proper handling and care, for up to two years. Still, the process of re-using the hair and installing it inevitably will add up plenty of dollars, and over a year a woman can end up paying thousands of dollar to maintain a hairstyle.
There are women who can afford to spend large amounts of money on extensions, and the constant styling at a salon (or with a personal hairstylist). As a matter of fact, the African-American population in the United States is reported to have the buying power of $1.1 trillion dollars by 2015 (Black Buying Power, 2011). A study was conducted focusing on black spending, media habits and consumer trends, reportedly shown to find an increase in African-American households, “earning $75,000 or higher by almost 64 percent” (Black Buying Power, 2011). While, the report does show African-Americans advancing in terms of economic status and financial capabilities, it doesn’t show where most of the money will be spent, or where it is spent normally. Research shows that some African-Americans fail to prioritize and buy what is necessary. Boyce Watkins, a professor of business at Syracuse states; “Unfortunately, when African-Americans make money, we spend it. We don’t use it to invest or produce” (as cited in Black Buying Power, 2011).
In the article, “To weave or not to weave,” Michelle Singletary (2013) informs on an issue of a Texas Pastor whom was quoted in American Preachers.com expressing his views on the women of his church spending money on hair (Singletary, 2013). He emphasizes, “I lead a church where our members are struggling financially […] Yet, a 26-year-old mother in church has a $300 weave on her head. No. I will not be quiet about this” (as cited in Singletary, 2013). Although the pastor attacked a personal choice on which some of the women of his church partake in, he made a subtle point on the matter of prioritizing. Singletary, who doesn’t disagree with the Pastor’s statement but doesn’t agree completely argues, “You don’t help people become financials stewards by attacking their choices […] Instead, you guide them to better money management by giving them the tools to make better financial decisions (Singletary, 2013). With that being said, many women who indulge in the Virgin hair trend are usually blinded to the selling techniques that many of the vendors delve into in order to make the sale.
Women must not only educate themselves on what they’re buying, but also prioritize all of their other necessities that they have. Necessities such as taking care of their children (if they have any), paying their bills or saving up for a future car (because they normally ride the bus), are priorities that should be held to a higher standard. Common sense seems to dictate that spending large amounts of money on a luxury item such as Virgin hair when there are other necessities that need to be taken care of is not the smartest thing to do.
That’s not to say that all women are struggling financially or that they make bad financial decisions. On the contrary, there are many women who are more than financially stable and capable of indulging in what ever they may please, including buying and styling Virgin hair. The reality of all of this is that not every women indulging in the trend is financially well off. Also, many women, and young girls are unaware of the amount of money that is spent over a period of time. Erikka Yancy recalls how much money she spent from the age of 18 until early 2013, “I have spent $25,000 getting my hair weaved, raided or extended and just over one and half years sitting in a chair having it done” (Yancy, 2013).
Indulging in expensive hair trends often leads women to feeling good about their selves. Beautiful hair, or good-looking hair, can enhance the self-esteem of and quite possibly make the appearance of a woman more socially accepted for African-American women, but for most women as well. The fact of the matter is that it comes at a price. Now, social media has a hand involved in spreading advertisements and images of what is “beautiful,” and as a result, the avenues for women being lured in are more massive than ever before. Gradually, the pressures of what is beautiful will surround every outlet of where the average female consumer turns, and not only African-American women will be subject to it, but all women who identify with the images that they may see. It appears as if the media still dictates what is beautiful but now it is to a higher extent. Now, the educating of what is actually being advertised through social media outlets is more paramount then ever, especially before making the decision to purchase and buy. Women will also have to be more conscious of what society wants women to look like, and perhaps, look within their selves for their true meaning of what is beautiful – besides, it can save them money in the long run.
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