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Why Are We So Weird About Fake Hair?

Photo: Getty Images.

As a culture, we are weird about hair. There are constant, ever-evolving rules about where and how hair should (and shouldn't be) on our bodies, for example. It's either good or bad depending on where it is, and if the style and coarseness of the hair itself is aesthetically pleasing. Bizarrely, it's the same story with the hair on our head.

When it comes to hair, there are so many misconceptions, not to mention expectations. Women shouldn’t have fake hair — that’s weird — but it’s a pleasant surprise when they reveal that their Rapunzel-style strands were actually purchased and adhered to the scalp using some form of adhesive or clip. Black women who wear wigs and weaves hate themselves, supposedly, but there are states in America where it is accepted to discriminate against natural hair and natural hairstyles. (Shout out to the CROWN Act.)
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It may come as no surprise that hair — especially fake hair — is big business. According to market research company Aritzon, the global wigs and extensions market is expected to reach over $13 billion by 2026. Social media has been a game-changer for the world and the way we approach fake hair, but it’s always been an option for people. Oprah is easily the first woman I remember being a famous Wig Wearer, and there’s a whole history behind wigs and Black women, which is rarely touched on. 
Marjon Carlos wrote for Refinery29 Unbothered in 2019: "After all, Black hair within Western contexts has historically been a tool to shame and undermine our beauty, femininity, and humanity. Take the Tignon laws of antebellum New Orleans, which demanded that free women of color cover their hair in public. Their intricate and eye-catching hairstyles, which were often bedazzled with jewelry and feathers, were said to attract the attention of white men, much to the threat of the social order." To say wigs have a deep historical history with Black women is just a gentle way of putting it — they have been halos for my ancestors and my family members.
Plenty of people wear fake hair and there are a variety of different reasons for this, including: illness, volume, length, joy, variety, pure laziness, a fun event — or just because someone wants to.
And at the end of the day, none of those reasons are any of your business.
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I can't believe I’m writing about Sex and the City yet again (the last time I wore a bird on my head like Carrie Bradshaw), but I was watching a late series episode (the one where Samantha begins losing her hair due to chemotherapy) and she and Carrie go to the wig store. There’s an incredible interaction between Samantha and the wig merchant about the (admittedly comical) wigs they had her trying on. Samantha is exasperated with the quality of the hair, wanting to just look like herself. The merchant responds, “Ma’am, these are wigs — they’re never going to look exactly like you.” Samantha tells him: “Well, that’s not acceptable.” And it’s true.
Part of the reason wigs got such a bad rap for years is because they were typically associated with Halloween and party stores. We all remember when Nene Leakes, in a wig of her own, shaded Kim Zolciak-Biermann for her “Party City wigs.” It was a great watch, to be honest, but let’s also keep Party City out of this.
For years, buying a wig on the Internet felt like a financial risk, because some wig websites look like they were built in 1998 GeoCities and have never been updated since. The best places to buy wigs were gatekept. But in 2022, wigs have never been better — even the synthetic girlies are giving what they need to give. 

Mane Character is a love letter to everything relating to wigs, weaves, extensions, and even hair transplants — all the ways we are trying to connect to our hair in our own way.

I’m still genuinely shocked when someone asks me if my wig is my hair. Do you really think I’m rich enough/talented enough/have the time and money to afford this beautifully styled balayage? No, honey. It came from a bag. Most female celebrities have had some form of extensions in their hair, too. It’s not news. Ariana Grande literally said, “Like my hair? Gee, thanks, just bought it.” Yet, it’s shocking to some that her famous ponytail isn’t grown directly from her scalp, but rather a cute clip-in option.
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I fully admit that wigs allow me to exist in my world easier. I save so much styling time on my massive mane of natural hair. That’s my personal reason for wearing wigs, and I’m happy to share that. But not everyone is open about it like I am. Do I, at times, feel a sense of moral guilt that fake hair isn’t the most ethical of choices? Absolutely. But there are morality and ethical issues with pretty much anything in existence, which we will explore in this series. It's how you navigate them which counts.
There are more options out there than ever before and we need more discussion. That’s why I dreamed up Mane Character. This week's article series is a love letter to all things hair, relating to wigs, weaves, extensions, and even hair transplants — all the ways we are trying to connect to our hair in our own way. I just want to take a little bit of the weirdness out of the ways we approach how we have (or don't have) hair — whatever allows you to feel the most comfortable in your own skin and live your life.
So, Mane Character is for anyone who’s had their wig fly off in the club, for anyone who’s had the awkward “Oh, that’s my hair extensions, you can’t dig into my hair” conversation during a hot make-out. It's for the knee-length knotless box braids gals and everyone in between: I salute you. All of this is for you.

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