Beverley sits in a hairdressers in England, having new hair extensions put in. Neeharika kneels on a temple floor in India, a razorblade scraping at her skull. Ruslan stands in a Russian shopping mall by a sign that says "my pokupayem volosy – We buy hair".
The message behind Victoria Melody’s latest docu-show is familiar: products we purchase cheaply and unthinkingly are rarely produced in the same way. That this product is human hair, however, adds a certain frisson. We’re not talking about people’s labour, but their bodies. It shouldn’t feel different. It does.
Melody’s out to trace three of her ponytails: one Indian, one Russian, one origin unknown—possibly actual Pony—and recounts her journeys using video footage and a handful of props. She’s a goofy presence, made goofier by her rotation of bad wigs.
It is, of course, a warped economy. Demand is growing, supply running out. (Hair today, gone tomorrow, etc, etc). Extensions need replacing thrice yearly, yet two decades of growth fetches £30 on the street. In the salon, it sells for £1,200. The Indian temple where pilgrims flock to be tonsured earns £22 million a year through selling offcuts. It’s an entirely unregulated industry.
Melody explores the motives as well as the market – how, in Britain, beauty is still, bafflingly, a measure of a woman’s worth. Her global view puts that into perspective, but it’s still too easy to shrug off the point.