There are flourishing markets in human bodies and body parts, as Kim Krawiec has documented here, here and here, for example. Eggs, organs and bodily fluids and sexual services can be bought for a price. Today’s New York Times considers the flourishing Russian market in human hair in For Russia’s Poor, Blond Hair is a Snippet of Gold.
Dark hair from India and China is more plentiful, but blond and other light shades are valued for their relative scarcity and because they are easier to dye to match almost any woman’s natural color. * * * But as more of the world’s light-haired woman have climbed the economic ladder, the search for poor blondes willing to part with their locks has become ever more difficult.
“It’s not hard to understand why people in Ukraine sell their hair a hundred times more often than people in Sweden,” David Elman, a co-owner of Raw Virgin Hair Company, an importer based in Kiev, Ukraine, said in a telephone interview. “They are not doing it for fun. Usually, only people who have temporary financial difficulties in depressed regions sell their hair.”
Here in Mosalsk [Russia], a 16-inch braid, the shortest length a buyer will consider, fetches about $50 * * * Generally, about 70 percent of the hair bought in Russia comes from locks kept at home from previous haircuts. Some Ukrainian and Russian women, for example, traditionally cut their hair after the birth of their first child, and may decide only years later to sell it. In areas of dire poverty, it is a final resource to tap in times of desperation.
A few things about this article caught my eye. First, the writer advances the hypothesis that the availability of blond hair has diminished as women’s economic power increases in blonde-dense parts of the world. Second, the hair broker himself suggests that women are motivated by financial need, not “fun.” Third, the majority of Russian hair for sale has been in storage as an heirloom, a marker of a life event (childbirth), a treasured keep-sake. In sum, selling hair isn’t an economic activity just like any other. It usually is motivated by economic need.
Kim Krawiec has argued in How is an Egg Donor Like a Prostitute? that there is not much difference between egg “donation” and prostitution. I agree with that analysis, and would extend it to selling hair, too. It’s more comfortable to think of women who sell their hair as the impecunious-yet-plucky-and-hopelessly-in-love Della Young of O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi. But the New York Times article suggests that sellers of hair are motivated by miserable, unabated poverty. If the body is one the few resources a person has, selling it seems like a rational choice. Somehow, that choice seems less value-laden when it comes to hair than, say, sexual services (i.e., “traditional” prostitution). Perhaps that is because society does not traditionally associate hair with virtue. A woman’s (or man’s) hair will grow back, after all. But sexual “honor” or “virtue,” once sold, can never regenerate (or so the story goes).
By the way, I have straight, shoulder-length red hair. Starting price should be around $100.00. See here.