When I was twelve, I shaved my mom’s head bald. Actually, three of my middle school friends, plus me, plus my aunt (who came in for quality control) shaved my mom’s head bald. Because that’s what you do when one of your kids is going through chemo and losing her hair. You find any way you can to show solidarity.
The first time I Donated My Hair
My sister was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor when she was eight years old. No one in my family had ever gotten cancer before, so it was our first time grappling with the things that cancer patients have to face: long hospital stays, chemo, radiation, steroids. Everyone knows that cancer s-u-c-k-s with a capital S. But what they don’t tell you is that treatment can be almost as awful as the diagnosis itself. Chemo is a remarkably undignified experience. It kills your energy, makes you feel like shit, and can even change the small things we take for granted like how food tastes. When your hair starts to fall out, it’s just one more way that cancer gets to kick you when you’re down.
So a year after my sister passed away, when I was just thirteen, I walked into a salon and asked them to cut off a foot of my hair. Because what I learned watching my sister fight her battle so bravely is that when you’re fighting an impossible fight, you’ll take whatever small sense of normalcy you can get: a family vacation, a wig that looks like your real hair. And if my mom could shave her head bald, then at the very least, I could let go of my hair and donate it to someone who needed it more—someone whose hair loss wasn’t a choice—so that they could feel a little like their old selves again.
APW + Pantene Beautiful Lengths: An Exercise in Wish Fulfillment
Donating my hair was one of the most transformative experiences of my life (you can read more about why right here). It radically shifted my understanding of femininity and beauty, and the value we place on women’s hair as a marker of both. But since I’ve kept my hair more or less short since that first cut, I wasn’t sure how I could keep supporting the hair donation cause without personally growing my hair out and cutting it every few years. Until APW started working with Pantene Beautiful Lengths.
If you aren’t familiar with the work done by Pantene Beautiful Lengths, they’ve spent the past nine years gathering over 800,000 ponytails for the sole purpose of donating real hair wigs to women fighting cancer. And unlike a lot of other programs that turn hair donations into wigs, Pantene Beautiful Lengths is a hundred percent altruistic; they always give away their wigs for free and never ever sell your hair to raise money. In short, they are in the business of solidarity.
Watching the APW community rally around this cause (and rally, and rally, and rally) has been the single most fulfilling part of any job I’ve ever had. We started this partnership because we noticed a pre-existing phenomenon in the wedding space (women growing their hair out for updos and then cutting it off right after getting married), and thought we could maybe turn it into something good. But you’ve taken that idea and run with it in a way I couldn’t have ever imagined. You haven’t just donated ponytails. You’ve shaved your heads, you’ve sent us your before and afters, and I still get comments and emails year round every time one of you makes the cut. Hell, even Michael grew his hair out and donated it (and he let my mom do the honors of cutting it, because what goes around comes around).
How to Get involved: The #8or8 Challenge
If there’s been any drawback to working with Pantene Beautiful Lengths each year, it’s that Meg and I haven’t been able to personally donate our ponytails thanks to our color-treated and grey hair (well, and the fact that I barely have a pony nub), so we’ve had to watch and cheerlead from the sidelines. Until now, that is. Today marks the fourth annual National Donate Your Hair Day event. While you can donate your hair at any time, each year Pantene Beautiful Lengths launches this initiative to encourage donations, and rally community support around the cause. APW has been involved in three out of four of these initiatives, and together we’ve helped donate dozens of wigs (that we know of!) to women who have lost their hair to cancer.
And this year Pantene is adding an extra means of showing support for those of us who are ineligible to donate our hair: you can now sponsor a wig through a monetary donation to the Pantene Beautiful Lengths Fund. Just like with hair donations, a hundred percent of all monetary contributions made to the Pantene Beautiful Lengths Fund will go directly to creating wigs. Since the length requirement for hair donations is 8″, and it takes a minimum of eight ponytails to make a wig, they’re calling this year’s movement the #8or8 Challenge, and asking everyone to either donate either eight inches or eight dollars to the cause. So, to put our literal money where our mouth is, we’re kicking off the APW effort with an $800 donation (the cost of a full wig) to the Pantene Beautiful Lengths Fund.
But that’s just the start of things. If you want to get involved and be part of APW’s own #8or8 movement, there are lots of ways to do it:
Donate your Hair
If you’d been growing out your hair, for say, I don’t know, an updo or something (who, you?) and now that the wedding is over, you have been thinking maybe it’s time to change things up, then consider donating your hair after making the cut! Here’s how:
- First, your hair has to meet the donation requirements: 1. Each hair donation must be at least 8 inches long. 2. Your hair may be colored with vegetable dyes, rinses, and semi-permanent dyes, but it cannot be bleached, permanently colored, or chemically treated. 3. Gray hair is difficult to use in the wig-making process, so hair may not be more than 5% gray at the time of donation.
- Pull your hair into a ponytail (or multiple ponytails if you have a lot of hair), then snip! Once your ponytail has been cut, mail it to:
Pantene Beautiful Lengths
806 SE 18th Ave.
Grand Rapids, MN 55744
- When you’re done, tell us! Take a picture of your cut and tag @apracticalwedding and @pantene on Instagram with the hashtags #APWPBL, #8or8, and #BeautifulLengths.
Sponsor a Wig
If you aren’t eligible to donate your hair (you just had to have purple hair, didn’t you?) then you can sponsor a wig through a monetary donation to the Pantene Beautiful Lengths fund right here. No donation is too small. Want to donate and spread the word? You can also donate via Twitter by retweeting @Pantene’s Charitweets (happening today) for instructions on how to donate to the cause.
Challenge Your Friends and Spread the Word
If you’ve made the cut, or are just want to help get the word out, share your donation and encourage your friends to participate in the #8or8 Challenge by using #8or8 and #BeautifulLengths, tagging @Pantene (and @APracticalWedding so we can see it too).
It’s Not About Me
When we first started this partnership with Pantene, I wrote, “In my dreams, Pantene Beautiful Lengths receives so many donations from APW readers that they are able to make whole wigs out of hair just from you guys alone. In my dreams, some deserving woman gets to feel beautiful on her own terms thanks to the selfless efforts of this community alone.” While you guys have made that dream a reality countless times over, last week I had the opportunity to actually take part in the process, by helping to facilitate a wig donation to an APW reader who just recently received a cancer diagnosis and has been undergoing treatment (you might remember Bethany from a few Happy Hours ago). Of the experience, Bethany said:
I donated my hair once back in college, but had absolutely no concept of what it would emotionally mean to a wig recipient until this week. My wedding falls right in the middle of when I’m supposed to lose my hair (one to two weeks from yesterday, not that I’m counting and staring at my hair whenever I pass a mirror or anything…) and Pantene is sending me a wig that should arrive before the wedding. Really really grateful. If you’ve ever thought of donating your hair, as someone about to lose hers I can say that it’s an incredibly appreciated thing. I’m thankful for the anonymous hair donors in almost the same way I’m thankful for the anonymous blood donors whose blood I received my last surgery day.
When I talk about how rewarding this partnership has been, and how empowering it can be to donate your hair, I really mean it. But this month served as a reminder that this isn’t about me, or even you. It’s not about ponytails, or dollar donations. It’s about people right here in our community.
Need a little motivation or reassurance before making the cut? Check out all the awesome APW readers who have participated in the past (including Ask APW’s own Liz, who shaved her head and let me photograph it), plus read up on what you really need to know before cutting off all your hair, and get tips for rocking short hair like you mean it.
This post was sponsored by Pantene Beautiful Lengths. Since 2006, Beautiful Lengths has helped provide over 42,000 real hair wigs to women fighting cancer. Click here to learn more about Pantene Beautiful Lengths and how you can get involved.