COMMENT: St Margaret’s principal, listen to the girls who helped Hair for Hope

Elena Torrijos
SingaporeScene
Students from Victoria Junior College posing by a Hair for Hope banner with their shaved heads. (Hair for Hope Facebook photo)

Peppered all over Facebook is the story of how St. Margaret's school principal, Marion Tan, suspended two students for turning up at school bald. No, the two girls were not rebels. The clean shaven look did not come complete with metal studs, tattoos, pierced bodies and neon makeup. In fact, the girls went under the razor for the charity movement "Hair for Hope".

Hair for Hope is Children's Cancer Foundation's fundraising event. Participants part with their locks and get their friends to donate money to the cause. Now, you might be curious, why not just donate money? Why must they shave off their hair?

Treatments for cancer usually include chemotherapy. In layman's language, what happens is that doctors literally poison you. A cocktail of chemicals are injected into you as treatment. In the hope of killing mutant cells, your normal, healthy cells die also. The most visual effect of this is hair falling off either in clumps or strands.

Child cancer patients face social problems — they sometimes get snubbed, get weird stares and think that they don't fit in with the rest of society. Women face the horrors of losing the pride of their femininity. They fear the clumps of hair dropping off so much, many rather just shave it off themselves. I had a friend who went through this. It pained her so much, she cried. She cried so hard.

We read about cancer so often, we're probably numb to what it really is. It kills you slowly. So slowly. The physical pain, is even painful to watch. Imagine a prisoner on death row, except you don't know if the judge wants you to live or die. I think the situation is difficult enough and if we can lift unnecessary cultural pressure, all the better.

If you know someone with cancer, you will also realise most will wear a wig. Why? Because society is not kind to people without hair. I am a male, I am intentionally bald because I got annoyed with a receding hairline. Even as a male, I never hear the end of sarcastic comments. "You got cancer ah?", "Why ah? Why you cut botak ah?", "Eh, cold/hot or not like that?". And these are amongst some of the kinder comments. Sometimes I get rude comments from teenagers.

Yes, there was an agreement for the girls to wear wigs. But the basis of this agreement is the one I am curious about — it contradicts the spirit of Hair for Hope and exposes the attitude we take towards the patients.

To principal Tan, I say this: few girls would want to shave their hair off for vanity. I dare say you have little concern of getting copycat response from the rest of your students. And even if they do so, for the sake of charity and for change in attitudes, why not? They are trying to tell you something — that to be without hair does not mean you're any less feminine, or any less human.

Principal Tan, the very reason that you asked your two students to wear wigs — to see their good turnout — makes the mission for Hair for Hope all the more important.