My Hairstyle, Their Lifestyle: Why I Donate Hair

Most stories begin at the beginning, some begin long before you realise it has, and others begin when one ends. My hair donation story began when I was ten years old and it began with a death.

When I was ten years old I lost my best friend to cancer. She had long black hair, just like I did in the photo below. She always had a huge grin as if she knew her future was going filled with exciting success, just like her older sister’s present. She had the innocent yet mindful energy of a growing child, just like all of our friends did. We and another best friend of ours would play everyday after school: hide and seek, basketball, ride around on our bicycles, and hang out with our dogs. You know, kid stuff.

But one day we stopped seeing her. She stopped coming to school. Her family would tell us she couldn't come out to play. Our teachers avoided the topic. We never understood why but we accepted it. We chalked it up to adult stuff.

Then at school one day, we were told that she had cancer. That it was bad, that that’s why she hadn’t been at school, and that our entire grade should all write cards for her to cheer her up and wish her well. So we did. I handed my card in, wondering why I couldn’t just give it to her myself. After that, classes went on as usual, conversations changed, and my hair grew.

Some time passed and one day I was told I could see my best friend. So after school, with excited nerves, I went to her house. I walked into what was supposed to be a familiar family room but was now a foreign one. I felt like I should be uncomfortable but I wasn’t, and I felt guilty that I wasn’t. She no longer had her long black hair, just patches here and there. She had a polite smile pasted on, just appropriate for regular check ups and occasional visitors. She had the innocent yet mindful energy of a child, just no longer a growing one. She was reading the cards we had written for her so I walked over and sat on the floor by her feet. She rummaged through the pile for mine and I looked up to her as she read it. Her parents lingered not too far off and Lizzie McGuire played on the TV but it might as well been on the radio. She turned my card upside down and I knew she was reading the punch line of the joke I had written. She flashed her huge, genuine grin, the only smile I remember, and I couldn’t help but grin back.

You see, long before my best friend lost her life, she had lost her body, her childhood, her future, her confidence, her hair, and so much more. As my time passed with classes, hers passed with appointments. As my conversations changed topics, hers stayed on one. As my hair grew, hers fell out.

When someone is sick, everything and everyone gets pushed into the background. Their lifestyle is now centred on the sickness. Choices become very important and frustratingly scarce. People feel powerless. And when a sickness robs someone’s physical features, they often become trapped in a diagnosis. Others begin to see and treat them as a patient.

This is why I donate hair. So those, especially children, who go through what my best friend did have some control in their isolating situation. So they feel a little less different around everyone else. So they have one more thing to hold onto and one less thing for the sickness to take. Just like our clothes, make up, and tattoos, our hair is an expression of ourselves. When they pick out a wig, they can express, remember, and hold onto who they are. It is an armour of strength, a choice of power, a crown of victory. My hairstyle is their lifestyle.

I didn’t realise until my first hair donation in Thailand in November 2013 that my story had begun one random day nine years ago. I was 100 centimetres of hair lighter but heavy with the immeasurable weight of loss and responsibility. Since then, I’ve decided to always donate my hair when I can. Most recently I gave 240 centimetres of my hair to Variety - The Children’s Charity NSW, here in Sydney. In a few years, you can be sure I’ll be donating again.

Just like donating blood, money or anything else, donating hair isn’t for everyone. But if you’re able to, I encourage you to seriously consider it. When long, my hair tells the story of my best friend. When short, it tells the story of everyone else who needed it more than I ever will. My hairstyle is mine, hers and theirs.