When you’re trolling the Internet after midnight, brainstorming quick ways to make extra cash, it’s little consolation that you are not alone.
My fingers clicked through the classifieds:
ASIAN EGG DONORS WANTED: Chinese, Korean and Japanese earn $8k-$10k.
Figure Model Wanted in New York City.
It was late May, nearly three weeks after I received a layoff notice from my newspaper reporting job that I held for five years. I had already hawked everything worth anything on eBay and Craigslist. Financial anxiety seized its grip on me after I moved to New York from Los Angeles to pursue greener journalism pastures. That’s how I ended up at 1 a.m. on a hair classified website, where hairwork artists bid on strands to be incorporated into their art—or so they claim.
Using PayPal money that I earned from peddling broken Chanel sunglasses on eBay, I bought a three-month ad for $25 at Hairwork.com. The website looked like the back of a free newspaper, with ill-formatted ads plastered on what could have been a 1990s design template. Blurred faces of sellers advertised their “virgin hair.” It appealed to my subversive sensibility.
To craft my ad, I copied the lingo and format in other classifieds.
13 Inches of Healthy, Shiny Part Korean Hair (The Hair and the Attached Person)
Background: This is 13 inches of dark brown hair that has been treated with level 4 violet hair highlights using the balayage technique courtesy of the talented Liz in Los Feliz, Calif.
I own a flat iron, blow dryer and curling iron, but I use them on a very rare night out with the girls.
Ponytail Thickness: Three and a half inches.
Care: I don’t smoke and I’m a pescetarian. I do a lot of yoga, bicycling, meditation and running. Bangs not included.
While I waited for buyers to start a bidding war over my hair, I met the other sellers and asked for tips.
Synclair, 16, California. “If you want to sell your hair, be smart and be patient,” she said.
Her Goal: To make money for cheerleading expenses.
Tips: 1). Virgin hair sells the best. 2). Hair should be healthy and long.
Her Experience: She received 10 to 15 offers ranging from $25-$200. Her 12.5” Beautiful Hispanic Brown Hair sold on June 18 via PayPal for $400 to a man in Mississippi, who said his friend would use it for artwork.
Benoit, 23, France. “Wait for as long as you can, minus one month, which is the time it will take for you to sell it. Prepare lots of pictures and, of course, take good care of your hair,” he said.
His Goal: To make around $1,200 to fund his travels and penchant for expensive stuff like a nice camera and clothes.
Tips: 1). Red hair is the most in demand for hairwork. 2). Buyers likely prefer hair from females over males.
His Experience: For his 27+inches of French virgin hair with shiny red highlights he received seven offers, three of which he believed were scammers. Bids ranged from $200-$1,000. Benoit is still waiting for a buyer.
The day my ad was posted, I received my first creepy offer:
I’m writing about your ad here.
Would you be willing to let the buyer cut your hair?
What was I getting into? Would I really cut my hair, and ship it to a stranger for the right price? I opened a new tab on my computer screen, and looked at my bank account statement. I tallied––using my fingers to count––this month’s bills.
It was worth a try.
The next day I received an offer from a stranger named Jada, who wanted photos of the underside of my hair. I obliged. I washed my hair, parted it down the middle and combed it straight. Under a bright light in my bedroom, I looked away from the camera and began snapping photos of my hair, draped over my shoulder.
I would send Jada the photos in the morning, and hope for an offer in the $300 ballpark. Nothing less.
Nalea J. Ko is a L.A.-based writer, reporter and badass collage maker. She was born and raised in Hawaii, where she was used as weekend labor on her father’s taro and banana farm. She’s currently working through her bitterness in therapy.