Why Are Indian Women Expected To Have Long, Thick Hair?

Why Are Indian Women Expected To Have Long, Thick Hair?

Indian women have long, gorgeous hair – MYTH

Reality? Indian women are expected to have long gorgeous hair!

I've been noticing hair a lot lately.

Like most things in life, some have more than their fair share – case in point, some of my colleagues, and the mums outside my daughter's school gate.

Mums outside my daughter’s school gate
Mums outside my daughter’s school gate
(Photo: The Quint)

All is fair in love and hair... or is it?

The Quint spoke to actor and model Lisa Ray about beauty standards for hair. Lisa’s hair has seen the long and short of it from when she was acting in Deepa Mehta’s film Water and then again when she shaved her head when diagnosed with Cancer.

“Hair is considered this pinnacle of feminine beauty here in india. How can you be a beautiful woman and not have long hair, thick hair, great quality hair…In a  story about widows who are disempowered, disenfranchised...the biggest way of taking away their power was by shaving their head.”
Lisa Ray, Actor, Model, Writer

Wow the story of the Indian woman and her hair is lambaa, ghanaa and Ironic.. Welcome to India's less known export – Indian Human Hair.

So famous are we for our Kaale Ghane Baal that the whole world wants it. Even the stuff that collects on our brushes that we throw away makes it's way into wigs in China. But the most prized Indian human hair is that hair which is sacrificed to the Gods here in Tirupati. Sixty scalps are tonsured by one barber in a six hour shift. ( data for 2016 courtesy Economic Times) 35000 heads shaved a day yielding hair that weighs 500 kilos daily.

This hair travels the world and a small portion of it comes back to India, a store called Diva Divine Hair Extensions and Wigs deals with this very prized commodity. I speak to founder and Krishan Jhalani.

Hair Extensions made of Indian Human Hair at Diva Divine Hair and Extensions
Hair Extensions made of Indian Human Hair at Diva Divine Hair and Extensions
There is an enormous expectation for Indian women to have thick hair, long hair, and great quality hair. The problem is they don’t often have it. So women come to us for two types of reasons. One is for beauty, fashion bloggers, beauty influencers. And the other are women who for some reason have lost their hair and want a substitute for having their crown back.
Krishan Jhalani, Founder of Diva Divine Hair Extensions And Wigs

Krishan kindly lent me a session at his store where a set of ten extensions costs about Rs 9000. And while talking to my hair stylist Pavan, I learnt a lot about this amazing industry. Each extension has hair from more than one woman. The average wig has hair of two and a half women and the average fashion influencer has at least three people’s hair on her head.

Eight extensions, made of the best ‘Indian Human Hair’ from Tirupati
Eight extensions, made of the best ‘Indian Human Hair’ from Tirupati

Goes to show that when it comes to hair, great expectations are here to stay even in 2019. But lets not be too quick to judge.

Tanisha Bagchi a reporter in Mumbai tells me her story about how wearing a wig is infact liberating and a great way to express yourself.

I was in first standard when I was diagnosed with Alopoecia, an autoimmune condition. I was made to try all sorts of things to bring my hair back, until I met a doctor who gave me life altering advice. He told me to wear a wig. After that I felt transformed. I was finally able to express myself. So I tell people in a similar situation, embrace yourself, be who you are, wear a wig.
Tanisha Bagchi, Journalist

My entire hair outing had me thinking...

Perhaps we worry too much about conforming around our hair. Maybe with all the social conditioning out there, most of us feel we NEED to have BEAUTIFUL hair. Which leads me to the conclusion that when it comes to our expectations around hair, NEED and BEAUTY are both the same thing. I conclude my hair adventure with a quote from Lisa who summed up her feelings about hair and beauty standards in general.

Maybe we need to liberate ourselves from the idea that our beauty is in someway tied in with our hair. 
Let me tell you when it is a matter of life and death, hair don’t matter that much.
Lisa Ray

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