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By H. Fields Grenee

Straight, wavy, curly, fine, curse – few things generate more passion or anger among African American women than their hair. Some critics note that the emphasis placed on hair is a double-edged sword aimed at ones’ self esteem. Or when quaffed well, i.e. “Good Hair” becomes a passage to acceptance within the dominate cultures’ ideal of beauty.

Then there are those who view hair – commercial or natural – as an accompaniment to an outfit; like a hat or that essential accessory that glams up the whole look. Despite what stance you view the landscape from – hair – African American hair and the cultivation of that “look” via the placement of weave is a multi-billion dollar industry.

Extensions can cost as low as $300 (depending on your geographical area) and go up to $10,000; based on the service – strand by strand extensions or weft (track) that are calculated per weft or a set price for the entire head, says Atlanta-based beautician Toni Love, who has more than 20 years experience styling hair with the addition of weave placement.

Factor in maintenance; better known as touch-ups, required every four to six weeks determined by how fast the recipients’’ natural hair grows – commercial hair placement can range between $4,000 to $80,000 a year – not including transportation, child care or lost productivity incurred by the three to eight hours required to complete the process.

Despite the cost reductions since weaves first gained popularity in the late 70s and early 80’s – when it was primarily used for theatrical purposes, movies, videos and on fashion runways – the expense is difficult to juggle with real incomes. Nevertheless, their hyper-visibility can be seen everywhere from corporate boardrooms to inner-city food desert bodegónes.

Quest for fashion fabulous hair speaks volumes about us

Consider this: $46,326 was the median household income in the United States according to 2010 U.S. Census data and the average income for African American families was $32,584, well below a middle-class lifestyle. Yet we over-spend for the purpose of appearance. Why is this?

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