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Loving “Locks” for kids who need it

March 12, 2009

by keito

This past December, I chopped off my hair for charity.

I first heard of Locks of Love from my sister, who heard about it from a coworker and later donated her own ponytail.  Locks of Love is just one way to donate; there are a lot of other great organizations out there that take donated ponytails and turn them into wigs for those who need them — many go to cancer patients or those with medical conditions causing hair loss.  The challenge?  Ponytails must be 10 inches from tip to tip.

Q&A with Sydney
Sydney, 24, of Boston, has donated her hair twice to Locks of Love, once in 2004 and again in 2007.
Q: Did you go to a salon to get it cut or cut and mail it in yourself?
A: The first time, the summer of 2004, I went to a salon. At that time, they had a list of salons on their website that would cut your hair for free then send it in for you…The second time, my mother chopped it and I mailed it in…I’d recommend either way!

Q: How long do you usually grow it out?
A: The first time I decided to start growing it out to donate it was in 8th grade (1999)…I decided I wasn’t going to cut it until high school graduation (2003), when I would donate it. But then I didn’t end up cutting it until the summer of 2004. So that was 5 years!!! Wow!…I kept it around my shoulders for a little while, then decided to grow it out one more time before entering the “professional world.” So that was from sometime in 2004 to 2007. And when I cut it, it was closer to my chin.

Q: Did you ever feel reluctant to cut it off once it got long enough or chicken out for a while?
A: The first time, I think I might have chickened out for a whole year.  My goal was to cut it around high school graduation, but I kept it my whole freshman year of college. I’m not sure why. But at that point it was ridiculously long so I was ready to be free. The second time I had been so ready to do it!

Q: How did you feel after they cut your hair?
A: Light! It was really great. It’s such a simple thing, and a unique way to give back. And it’s so easy, all you have to do is grow your hair. And it’s fun to shock people when they’ve seen you with long hair for years, then all of a sudden you have a cute new hairstyle and a good story to go with it.

Q: Do you have anything to say to someone who is considering donating their ponytail but isn’t sure?
A: DO IT!

Like my sister, I chose to donate to Locks of Love, a Florida-based charity founded in 1998 that makes wigs exclusively for children ages 6 to 18 years (children younger than six require prosthetic hair wigs because their heads grow so rapidly).  “Most of the children helped by Locks of Love have lost their hair due to a medical condition called alopecia areata, which has no known cause or cure,” reads the Locks of Love press release.  “Others have suffered severe burns or injuries or endured radiation treatment to the brain stem or other dermatological conditions that result in permanent hair loss…The prostheses [Locks of Love] provide[s] help to restore self-esteem and confidence, enabling these children to face the world and their peers.”

Locks of Love really is a labor of love.  Children are the largest donating group, and some individuals and salons will even have Locks of Love “haircutting parties.”  It takes 6 to 10 ponytails to make a single wig, which also takes 4 to 6 months to manufacture, and the whole process can cost anywhere between $3,500 and $6,000 per hair piece.

Though some charities have requirements that gray cannot make up too large a percentage of the hair, Locks of Love accepts most non-bleached hair and will sell both the gray hairs and shorter hairs to help offset costs.  Many of the wigs are given to children for free or offered on a sliding, need-based scale, so, with respect to those for whom long hair is anathema, financial donations and volunteering are also good ways to help.

So what does this labor of love look like from the hair-donator’s side?  Sydney, 24, of Boston, has donated her hair to Locks of Love twice.  “I was visiting my friend in Texas and wanted to come back and surprise everyone with short hair, so I found a salon there and did it,” she says.  Though the act may sound impulsive, it was the product of four years of growth, with the occasional trim, and lots of courage.  While Sydney admits that “the first time, I think I might have chickened out for a whole year,” she also adds, “It’s just hair. Lucky for us, it grows.”

As for me, my December haircut was my first professional cut in two years — I’d trimmed off 2 to 3 inches of winter-damaged hair the year before, but that was it.  Not wanting to be left with no ponytail at all (and, yes, chickening out a little), I overshot the 10-inch mark.  By the time I got up the courage to cut off that much hair, my ponytail was 20 inches long and my hair had reached my waist.  It was almost a relief to get it off.

Anyone donating hair has two options: you can cut it at home and mail in your (completely dry) ponytail to the organization of your choice, or search organization and salon websites for lists of the salons near you that participate (many of them do, and will even mail in your ponytail and cut your hair for free).  I went to Fantastic Sams, the leading salon for hair donations to Locks of Love in 2005, and brought my mom with me for emotional (and photographic) support.  As any girl who’s ever had a bad haircut knows, hair is serious business.

So I sat down, the hairdresser gathered up my hair into a big, thick ponytail, and, after a bit of a struggle with the scissors, my hair was suddenly a good twelve inches shorter.

“We’ll have to leave it longer in the front if you want to be able to pull it back,” the hairdresser told me, pulling on the ends of my hair which, for the first time in months, were light enough to actually move when I nodded my head.  “It’ll grow back, I promise,” she told me.  It wasn’t a style I would have chosen for myself, but I actually really liked it when she finished.

Donating my ponytail was such a small-and yet very big, and personal-thing to do to help someone.  My sister tells me she felt really happy afterwards, knowing she was helping a child who needed it.  Though the decision to actually go and cut it can be a pretty hefty one, Syndey says, “If it has to be cut a little shorter than you prefer, wait a couple months, they will still need it. Or if you are really sick of long hair, just chop it.  Short hair is easy, you might like it, and if not, it will grow back, I promise!”

My biggest worry and obstacle to finally donating my hair was that I might wake up in the morning, reach for my long hair and be horrified when I realized it was gone.  Nothing like that happened, though, because the first night with my new, short hair, I went to gather up my hair, got a handful of air and thought woefully, “I have no hair!”  But my next thought was, “Well, I’ve got a lot more than the kid who’ll get my ponytail.”  Problem solved.

That was December.  The hairdresser was right.  It did grow back.

Special thanks to Sydney for her personal insight and candid answers, and to Locks of Love for giving me free range over the materials on their website.  I hope this article inspires somebody else to get brave and chop off their hair for charity, too.

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One Comment
  1. dna strands in my hair permalink
    March 17, 2009 12:18 am

    my ponytail is still in my closet from last christmas because i never went to the post office. ;-(

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