Winner of the Victor Turner Prize for Ethnographic Writing 2017
Journeying around the globe, through past and present, Emma Tarlo unravels the intriguing story of human hair and what it tells us about ourselves and society.
When it’s not attached to your head, your very own hair takes on a disconcerting quality. Suddenly, it is strange. And yet hair finds its way into all manner of unexpected places, far from our heads, including cosmetics, clothes, ropes, personal and public collections, and even food. Whether treated as waste or as gift, relic, sacred offering or product in a billion-dollar industry for wigs and hair extensions, hair has many stories to tell.
Collected from Hindu temples and Buddhist nunneries and salvaged by the strand from waste heaps and the combs of long-haired women, hair flows into the industry from many sources. Entering this strange world, Emma Tarlo tracks hair’s movement across India, Myanmar, China, Africa, the United States, Britain and Europe, meeting people whose livelihoods depend on this singular commodity. Whether its journey ends in an Afro hair fair, a Jewish wig parlour, fashion salon or hair loss clinic, hair is oddly revealing of the lives it touches.