To Part or Not

By Suzan Chiacchio Brand

To Part or Not

Twirling my long blonde hair around my fingers waiting in an airport lounge, I couldn’t imagine being bald. I certainly couldn’t imagine being bald at 13. The nearby TV was showing Locks of Love makeovers, and what I saw got me thinking. Several women agreed to shear their beloved tresses to be made into wigs for people with medical hair loss. They showed “before” photos of each woman and noted the length of hair she would be donating. After the shearing they appeared before the audience to reveal their new looks. Greeted with hoots and catcalls, these women looked great. Flashing before and after photos on the screen, each woman described her feelings of liberation. I was more than skeptical of those feelings as I twisted my own gossamer strands, yet I was intrigued. My hair was my identity, I wasn’t sure I could part with it.

Next they introduced a Locks of Love wig recipient. This young girl had Alopecia, a condition that causes the hair to fall out, sometimes in very irregular patterns, leaving the person either bald or with patches of hair. These wigs are more than just fashionable…they are custom fitted and much like the recipient’s own hair. The girl was absolutely adorable, and she was beaming with joy at the transformation her wig gave her. The audience cheered her and her smile lit up the world. She was beautiful.

My whole flight home I was preoccupied with the girl’s smile and the difference that wig made in her life. I thought about what it must have felt like for her, to be nearly bald at an age when looks, peer pressure and acceptance were so all encompassing. When I was her age, I was pulling my hair back in a pretty bun for ballet class or braiding it for a soccer game. I couldn’t fathom her situation.

Some months later, I heard about another young woman with a condition that had left her with barely a strand of hair anywhere, not even eyebrows or eyelashes. Her attitude was inspirational, yet it was obvious that her situation was holding her back. In her 20s, she had the societal ideals of beauty to contend with. It pained me to think this vibrant young woman was holding back on life due to her lack of hair.

I pondered these stories. Every morning, as the clouds of shampoo bubbles would rinse from my hair, I would think of these young women. I loved my hair, and as much as I didn’t think I could part with it, the difference for me was mine would grow back. As I sat on the beach with the wind blowing my hair over my shoulders, I thought of the young woman not living life to the fullest because of a head of hair. I knew that I could help someone like her if I only had the courage to cut my tresses. I knew I had to do this.

This was huge for me. I felt I was tampering with my whole identity. I was having some sort of Samson complex and wasn’t sure I could chop off this seemingly vital part of me. I began to tell people what I planned do. I let my hair grow as long as possible so I could donate the minimum ten inches and still have some to spare. I had been talking about it for months – now I had to take the plunge and schedule the shearing.

I checked the Locks of Love web site and found a salon in downtown Charleston, Whispers on Wentworth. I went in and talked with Becky Zach, a stylist who’s performed numerous Locks of Love haircuts. Becky checked the length and condition of my hair and told me everything was good, I could donate ten inches and still my hair would be to my shoulders. I was pleased. I made an appointment with Becky. The date was set.

In the chair at Whispers, Becky asked if I was ready. Yes…terrified, but ready. She measured my hair again, and we decided to cut off 12 inches, leaving my hair just above my shoulders. Becky pulled my hair into two little ponytails. I held my breath and whimpered softly as I heard the sound of the scissors slicing through the strands. One ponytail gone – my heart was pounding and my palms were sweating. I tried to maintain my composure while Becky cut the second ponytail. I told myself it would only take a year for it to grow back to a reasonable length as Becky and I chatted about weekend plans. Next year, I thought, I’ll look like myself again, still doubting the outcome.

Becky snipped and styled. I gazed at the two ponytails on the counter and I thought of all the girls on the Locks of Love website. Someone was going to have a nice wig of flaxen blonde. I started to feel better. Becky combed and curled, and the finished product was revealed…It looked better than I ever could have imagined. I looked, well, almost fashionable! Somehow, although it was hard for me to believe, I still looked like me. I picked up the two freshly shorn ponytails, and Becky took an “after” photo. I felt good about what I had done and glad I had finally mustered the courage.

I honestly thought people wouldn’t recognize me without my signature long tresses. I truly believed that was all people noticed about me. Without my hair, I’d have to get by on my stellar wit and sparkling personality, and I wasn’t sure that could be done. To my surprise, people did recognize me. Amazingly, there were some who did not notice the change at all. How friends could not notice that I was minus a foot of hair defied all my beliefs about my hair and its links to my identity. One friend said, “Suzan, you’re so much more than your hair.” This baffled me, and I had to reconsider what truly was the essence of me. Maybe the stellar wit and sparkling personality were there all along?

I don’t know where the gift of my hair donation ended up. I like to think of some young woman twirling it’s silkiness around her fingers or a girl tying it back with a pretty pink bow. Maybe she too feels it softly caressing her shoulders as the breeze blows it about. Or lets it splay all around her as she lay back in the grass on a warm summer night to count the stars. I hope that it has given her a positive identity and confidence enough to use her stellar wit and sparkling personality to her advantage and not hold back on life. And if there is another gift I could give those girls, it’s the gift of knowing that they truly are so much more than their hair.

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2 Responses to “To Part or Not”

  1. What a lovely and well written submission. This is done quite frequently in my area. Bless you.

  2. Indra Chopra says:

    I am an Indian settled in Hong Kong and I believe that hair donation in Asia it is big business. Your article has given a human touch to the commercial aspect of donating/selling hair.

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