The Fake Hair Debate: 5 Real Girls Discuss

At the root of every bad hair day is a desire to achieve the highest level of hair amazingness possible...and the subsequent failure to meet those expectations. We always want what we can’t have, so we set ourselves up for disappointment when our strands can’t live up to our high hair hopes. We all fall prey to mane envy, and with that comes the desire to enhance — whether it be through straightening, coloring, cutting, or adding extensions.
There’s been an interesting debate brewing recently over what "natural" hair actually is and whether hair enhancements like wigs, weaves, and extensions play a misleading role in how we define beauty these days. Is wearing your hair natural “better” than wearing extensions? What exactly gets everyone so riled up when a woman chooses to wear fake hair?
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We found five real, stylish girls who have all dabbled with faux hair to answer those questions and more. Read on for their insightful opinions on this hot-button issue, then weigh in with your own thoughts on the “natural or not” debate.
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Stacie Smith, 25, ad sales finance manager

Tell us a bit about your hair.
"I consider it natural because I don’t have a relaxer. When it's straight, a lot of people assume it's a weave. I actually appreciate the people who just outright ask instead of staring and trying to figure it out, because it's awkward and then I feel like I have to do something so that the question can be answered and they'll stop looking at me."

What's your usual hair care routine?
"For the most part. I wear it straight but in the summer, I wear it natural. When I wear it straight, I wash it once a week, I blow dry it, and use a flat iron — Hair Art Infrared TI450 flat iron.

In terms of products, I swear by Matrix Biolage shampoo and conditioner. The reason I really like it is that their detangler works wonders. My hair gets really matted in the back section and when I put that in, I can detangle it really easily. I use Hair Art MorocVita oil to try to provide some nutrients to my hair. It smells good and it makes my hair feel moisturized and not greasy. I also use the Matrix Biolage Fortifying Heat Styler before I flat iron."

Have you ever worn fake hair before?
I have, once. It's funny because no one really noticed at first. Everyone thought it was my hair even though I purposely gotten something like a 20-inch weave. I actually got it because I was thinking about cutting my hair shoulder length and I wanted to see what it would be like. I had it for about 2 months and progressively cut it shorter and shorter until it was like a bob. It was fun being able to play with the hair and straighten it every day without worrying about heat damage, but I actually thought it was more difficult to keep up than just doing my own hair. I found it hard to wash my hair and actually get to my scalp clean, and it was challenging to manage and style the two hair textures (mine and the weave)."

What's your stance on women who wear fake hair?
"I think it's a personal decision. The one thing I do like about it is that it gives women options. With hair extensions, women are no longer confined to one particular hairstyle and can try different things without (or before) making a permanent change.

I do believe that women should love themselves as they are, but I don't have a problem with a weave. Hair extensions can be viewed as an enhancement similar to fake eyelashes or other beauty enhancers. I'm not a fan of unkempt extensions! But besides that, the only thing I don't particularly care for is that due to their popularity, some people automatically assume that everyone is wearing extensions."

Why do you think there is such a huge divide between women who wear fake hair and those who choose to go natural? Why is it such a sensitive topic?
"Honestly, I see more of a divide between those who are natural (without a relaxer) and those are not. I also see a divide between those who choose to wear their hair in its natural state without straightening and those who do not.

The sensitivity comes because for some reason, in some situations, it's taboo to wear a weave. It really shouldn't be an issue or a sensitive topic. You will have the slightly awkward, 'oh is that your real hair?' questions, but if they're not asked rudely, this just encourages dialogue on the topic, sometimes even between different races. I really appreciate when women just ask outright, 'is that your hair?' And I do the same. I'm from what I consider to be the black hair capital of the U.S. (Detroit) and I love talking about hair. And who knows, the woman may be asking because she likes your hair and wants to follow up with a 'where did you get it done? or 'what products do you use?' or simply 'it looks really nice, I like it.'"

Photographed by Erin Yamagata
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Alyssa Goldstein, 25, production at Gap

Tell us a bit about your hair.
"I have naturally thick hair with natural highlights. I wear it curly for the most part, but sometimes I like to straighten it. I recently dyed the tips turquoise, but that just faded out, leaving my ends lighter."

What's your usual hair care routine?
Currently, I'm using the Redken All Soft shampoo and conditioner. I try to use anything with moisture, just because I don't like to have to cut my hair — I want it to grow. I use Matrix Biolage Hydrating Conditioner as well as L'Oréal Nature's Therapy Heat Control Moisture shampoo and conditioner. If I'm leaving it curly, I don't like to wash my hair every day, only two to three times a week. I use Bamboo Kendi Oil on it for the in-between days and it smoothes out my hair and makes it fresh. Sometimes I enhance my highlights with a box of John Frieda color."

Have you ever worn fake hair before?
"I haven't lately but I have in the past. About 2 years ago, I mistakenly cut my hair off and I didn't like it, so I had a weave for most of the year. I prefer weaves — the braids hide my naturally curly hair. When I wear extensions I always wear my hair straight; I find it easier to keep my hair straight with a weave because I am straightening less of my own hair. Every once in a while, I'll do clip-ins as well, but my hair has gotten really long recently so I haven't had to use those."

Do you think of fake hair as a way to enhance your mane, or is it more like false advertising?
"Enhancement! Hair (natural or not) gives women confidence and makes them feel sexy and beautiful. No matter what your hair is — natural or fake, short or long, straight or curly — you will radiate confidence if you love it. "

Do you agree that African-American women get more flak for wearing fake hair than women of other races do?
"Black women have a totally different texture of hair, so it's more common for them to wear extensions. I don't think they deserve any type of criticism for it though. I do think anyone who wears crappy extensions — black, white, hispanic — should receive flak! In my opinion, if you are going to wear extensions, you need to take pride in the quality because at the end of the day it is your hair and your appearance. In the past, when I wore a weave, it was 100% human hair and it matched my color perfectly — you could never tell the difference. If you have a good weave and a nice cut to go with it, no matter your race, no one should hate on you."

Photographed by Erin Yamagata
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Janelle Grimmond, 29, fashion editor/stylist

Tell us a bit about your hair.
"I transitioned out of wearing weaves and now I wear an amazing wig, but underneath my wig I’m 100% natural and unprocessed. Usually I wear my wig all the time, but I am currently wearing a weave because I am taping a reality show based on hair."

What's your usual hair care routine?
"When I'm wearing a wig, I'm able to take care of my natural hair underneath a better than when I used to rock weaves. Every two weeks, I shampoo and deep condition with Hair Rules products, then get my hair braided up while underneath the wig.

With my wig, I can either manage it on my own, or I take it back to the salon and let them refresh it. They put it in the oven, they seal the cuticles, and really make it feel brand new again. When I take care of it at home, I use Moroccanoil shampoo and conditioner, then I blow it out like they do at the salon, and that's that."

Has anyone ever criticized you for not being 100% natural?
"When I was younger my dad used to say little things to me about me loving my natural hair. But honestly, I never get negative feedback about my hair. Even guys who are completely opposed to wigs or weaves, once they see mine, they're cool with it. I always get a pass."

What do you love most about wearing fake hair?
"I love to switch up my look and achieve whatever texture I really like. I live and die for an amazing weave, but I prefer wigs — it's less stress on the hair. I like being able to take it off and put it on whenever I like and when my stylist, Q Hardy, isn't available, my wig holds me down."

Is there anything you don't like about it?
"Wearing hair extensions can sometimes damage or pull out your hair. It definitely thins out the hair if you don't take breaks in between."

Do you agree that African-American women get more flak for wearing fake hair than other races? Why do you think that is?
"It really annoys me that black women get so much flak for wearing hair extensions when everyone else does the same thing. I was shocked to see how many women of all races come into the salons with extensions. One thing I can say is that the black women who do wear extensions and don't care what it looks like (i.e. tracks showing, texture not matching) also contribute to the bad stigma. Get it right ladies, or just wear your natural hair. From experience, only black men have negative things to say. When you really think about it...it's pretty sad."

Why do you think there is such a huge divide between women who wear fake hair and those who choose to go natural? Why is it such a sensitive topic?
"It's a sensitive topic because some women who don't wear extensions feel like the women who do are hiding behind the fake hair and not proud to rock the natural tresses that God gave them. But that's not always the case. Women who don't choose to wear extensions should just respect the choices that other women make regarding their hair. Are we all supposed to look, think, and dress alike? No. Do what works for you."

Photographed by Erin Yamagata
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Ebony Thorne, 24, clinical research coordinator

Tell us a bit about your hair.
"I've been getting it pressed every two weeks for so long, it's conditioned to staying straight now. It doesn't have as much volume because the curl has loosened over time, so I could never really wear the afro-kinky look."

What's your usual hair care routine?
"For my natural hair, I go to the salon every 2 weeks — I rarely do my hair myself. It's such a long process and I can't get my hair as straight as my hairdresser does. At the salon, they wash it three times. They do two washes with Matrix Biolage Shampoo, and one wash with Paul Mitchell Tea Tree Oil Shampoo. Then every other week, I alternate between protein treatments by Aphogee and either a clear rinse (it seals in the moisture of the hair without adding any color, and gives it shine) or I'll get a coconut hot oil treatment. After that, I sit under the dryer and then get it straightened.

For my extensions, I do my own. I go to the local beauty supply and get a bunch of wig clips. I get a pack of extensions and I’ll measure them across my head how I want them to lay on my hair. I cut the track of the extension and sew the wig clips to the track. After that, I part my hair and clip them in. I do that until my whole head is full and then I'll brush it, comb it, or curl it."

What do you love most about wearing fake hair?
"I love experimenting with hair extensions and have always viewed them as an enhancement not only to my hair, but my lifestyle. I love the fact that I can wear a shoulder-length, angled cut one week and change to long, flowing tresses the following week, while also protecting my natural hair. When done right, hair extensions really are the best of both worlds!"

Do you agree that African-American women get more flak for wearing fake hair than women of other races do?
"Black women are criticized more often than other races for exercising their right to wear hair extensions, but I think it is targeted more so at those who go for long, flowing locks rather than a more kinky hair texture. Black hair is special and unique as it can range from straight to kinky, however it's more often associated with being kinky. The fact that our hair tends to curl more tightly makes it more susceptible to breakage and more difficult (however not impossible) to attain longer lengths. I think that some people have a problem with black women wearing straight weaves down their back because they simply view it as being unrealistic rather than an enhancement of their natural hair."

Why do you think there is such a huge divide between women who wear fake hair and those who choose to go natural? Why is it such a sensitive topic?
"Specifically in the black community, I feel the divide is rooted in the idea that those who choose to wear hair extensions are completely rejecting their natural hair texture and conforming to a European aesthetic of beauty. Some feel very strongly about this and while it may be true in some cases, not all black women who wear weaves do so for this reason and they should not be maligned for their preference in hairstyle. I feel that women should wear whatever style they enjoy that promotes healthy hair and makes them feel like their most beautiful and confident self!"

Photographed by Erin Yamagata
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Natasha Betty, 22, assistant buyer at Macy's

Tell us a bit about your hair.
"I wear my hair natural about 70% of the time. I only wear my hair pressed about once every three months. I chopped my hair because I saw my sister's hair when she had a Rihanna cropped cut. She told me she was natural and at the time, I couldn't believe it — her hair looked so straight! So after seeing that, I was sold. I love the flexibility that I have with it. I can literally change up my hair every day. I don’t have to be straight, and I don’t have to be curly — I can be somewhere in between."

What's your usual hair care routine?
"My weekly regimen includes a shampoo or condition-wash biweekly (when I co-wash, I literally use conditioner to wash my hair), detangling, and then flat-twisting or two-strand twisting to do a style that can last without me having to change it. I also do a pre-poo regimen with coconut oil and argan oil before I shampoo.

My favorite shampoos are Hair Rules No-Suds Shampoo, Moroccanoil Moisturizing Shampoo, and Shikaikai Shampoo Bar (if my hair is really dirty, I prefer to use the bar). For deep conditioners, my favorite is Macadamia Deep Conditioning Masque. For styling, I love the Nairobi Wrapping Lotion and the Jane Carter Wrapping Lotion."

What's your stance on women who wear fake hair?
"For the most part, I believe that women who wear extensions use it as an enhancement and extension of their beauty! I know plenty of women who wear extensions because they simply like the look. They have beautiful, healthy hair underneath but refuse to wear their natural hair because they prefer the versatility of wearing a weave."

Do you think there are any big issues with women wearing fake hair?
"One con is dependency on something that is not naturally your own. I have met several women who become so dependent on extensions that they literally refuse to wear their hair natural. They become used to the false look and have grown to prefer it over their own. To me this is a huge con because you should never become so dependent on something that it makes you dislike your natural features."

Why do you think there is such a huge divide between women who wear fake hair and those who choose to go natural? Why is it such a sensitive topic?
"I think it's a sensitive topic because some people believe wearing fake hair is false advertisement. It becomes a touchy subject specifically when women then claim the fake hair to be their own 'natural' hair. The game of wearing fake hair has it's pros and cons and I believe that women should wear their hair the way they feel most comfortable. Because what truly matters is how you feel about yourself."

Photographed by Erin Yamagata
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