About a year ago, I happily chopped off the longest hair I have ever had in my life and donated it for cancer patients though Pantene Australia Beautiful Lengths Program.
It actually just started with the fact that I badly needed a haircut. Being blessed (or cursed) with rather voluminous and stubborn hair since young, my waist long hair was becoming increasingly impractical (taking 7-8 hours to fully dry after a hair wash, adding a few extra pounds to the total weight my neck had to carry…etc). So when summer was almost over and it was time to head back to uni, I started pondering what was I going to do with all that hair that was coming off!
When I was growing up in Myanmar (Burma), I have heard of stories of Burmese women (some of them still keep long hair for most of their lives, as it is a treasured trait of traditional beauty) donating hair for charitable causes. But the process goes like this: you chop your hair off, you sell them at the markets (usually buyers source them out for commercial wig industry, mostly in China) and then you use the money to donate for causes such as building bridges in inaccessible/rural areas. Extremely noble of these brave women but I could not imagine myself doing the same feat! The idea of selling your hair for money would not be everyone’s cup of tea!
So I started researching other possible opportunities in Australia and Singapore. That’s when I chanced upon Pantene Beautiful Lengths Program, which states that as long as the hair you are chopping off is 20 cm and it meets two other simple requirements, you are good to go! But what struck me the most was the cause (no matter how some can critique it’s all part of the branding and marketing strategy) and the philosophy behind the whole campaign.
What happens to this 20 cm of your hair then? Your ponytail will meet other 8 ponytails, and together, they will all be transformed into a real hair wig. This wig will then be gifted to a special woman – a fighter who is in the midst of her battle with cancer or a warrior who has already conquered her war.
Now feminists in us would say that hair is not everything, that it does not define a woman’s worth, and that a woman can be as strong and confident without the hair! Initially, I thought of these exact arguments. I felt these women don’t really need the wigs, for they are already strong and beautiful. They are heroes (or heroines 😉 ) combating the most feared disease of mankind. But then, I finally understood that not all women are given the chance to display kickass confidence and spread inspirational empowerment and influence to others like Michelle Law (A bald woman’s guide to survival: Michelle Law at TEDxSouthBankWomen).
We all wish we could be like her, standing up against the active and passive social norms placed upon women in the course of history. In fact, I believe all women can be like her, for we all have that potential in us.
But the truth is, many, many of us are still constrained by this deep-seated social construct that runs in the veins of everyday lives. Some of these women are being boxed in the time and space, where the larger society still imposes the definition and expectations of “a woman” upon them. We may be the fierce, independent, unstoppable, and invincible feminist individuals but we are still part of the global community and the citizens of the world still needs time to grow, mature, and transform their traditional views on how they see women. We are leading the fiery battle towards gender equality and one day a bald woman and a bald man will be able to lead an equally fulfilling life, but till then we need to do it step by step.
So I just went to my hairdresser (who almost cried as she struggled to snip my long ponytail), packed the neat ponytail in an large envelop and mailed it off to Pantene Australia headquarters, in hopes that it will give the additional strength this special woman, the cancer patient, needs to fight this battle. Whether she is in the middle of her treatment cycles or she is already in the stage of recovering, I hope this small lock of hair will buy her, her family, friends, and society, the time needed to comfortably transition from the perception she had of herself before and the one she will have to construct after, so that she can go on to inspire others with her own story.
If you are interested or would like to donate your hair too, do check out the program’s website! A few days after I cut my hair off to donate, my brave sister decided to do the same, and since then, a few friends have also asked me about it (here it is, I am so sorry it took me ages to share!). To this date, “approximately 5,000 women and men across Australia and New Zealand have made the kindest cut of all to donate their ponytails to Pantene Beautiful Lengths”.
So thinking of having a haircut? Why let your powerful 20 cm hair fall to the floor of the salon and be swept away into the dustbin when it can empower another woman as she battles the war of cancer and gender equality?
Soe San Htike (PiPi)