Who says bald girls are bad girls?

BRAVE YOUNG WOMEN: Students Cherry Wong (left) and Leia Lai, both 15, shaved their heads to raise funds for a cancer charity, but were reprimanded for not wearing wigs in school.


    Aug 05, 2013

    Who says bald girls are bad girls?

    DEAR Ms Marion Tan, principal of St Margaret's Secondary School, I am offended by your recent decree that students in your school who shaved their heads for charity must wear wigs.

    As a woman who has chosen to wear a buzz cut with pride, I take particular umbrage over a piece of your flawed logic that The Straits Times quoted last Friday: "Can you imagine if I were to say yes, I'd have everybody coming to school with a bald head. Sometimes it's a fad, so they would take advantage of the situation."

    Um, seriously? Do you, as an educator, really think some bald girls showing up in class would encourage a spate of mini Sinead O'Connors? In a society where most young women want to look like long-haired Korean actresses or reality stars such as Kim Kardashian?

    If seeing a few contemporaries sport a shorn pate is all it takes for human beings to embrace being devoid of hair on their heads, then hair-care centres and trichologists would long have gone bust.

    As any loyal viewer of America's Next Top Model would tell you, for a teenage girl to shave her head can be a traumatic experience. It involves tears, hysterics and even hiding under blankets.

    The few young women with the courage to cast off vanity for a worthy cause should be applauded. Sadly, an adult has made them wear unflattering, scratchy, fake toppers instead. For shame.

    What message does this send to girls afflicted with cancer and undergoing chemotherapy - and suffering from alopecia as a result - who have no choice in the matter of seeing their hair drop in clumps? That they are "punk, unfeminine or sloppy" - adjectives used by you to describe hairstyles deemed unsuitable?

    That they are freaks and should be hidden away, or made to wear disguises rather than be accepted for who they are?

    It has taken me about a year to come to terms with the fact that my hair is falling out, bit by bit, after a bad hair-dye allergy.

    I own six wigs, but have come to realise that I look best showing my egg-shaped head, populated by sparse spikes, to the world. Some mornings, when I don't feel particularly pretty as I examine my rapidly receding hairline, I type "bald and beautiful women" into the Google search box and hit "Enter".

    The results have ranged from celebrities, such as Amber Rose and Jessie J, to make-up blogger Talia Joy Castellano, who died last month of cancer at age 13. Talia Joy wore her baldness with pride. Her tagline was, "Make-up is my wig", and she had experimented with colourful looks sans hair.

    In a world where women are often still defined by the way they look, objectified and made to conform to culturally-determined standards of beauty, you, Principal Tan, have missed a priceless opportunity to do some real educating.

    Girls should be taught that their strength, integrity and good deeds, their intellect and compassion, are what really make them beautiful. Not the presence of keratin sprouting from their scalps.

    Life is about letting go of the dross, and never hiding who you are. Greatness is often about not being afraid to be different, to stand up and be counted, as well as stand up in solidarity. It is about reaching out to others and telling them: I understand; I feel for you.

    I have two sons but no daughters. However, I often think about how I would raise my hypothetical daughters: I would emphasise that it is not how people look that determines their worth, but what they can contribute to society.

    And the school I would choose to enrol them in would not be some 21st-century version of a finishing school, complete with make-up and deportment classes, but a serious learning institution that demands its pupils be the best they can be, without making them conform to narrow physical ideals.

    Since the Hair For Hope event late last month to raise funds for and awareness of childhood cancer, I have had renewed confidence walking around with a head I shave myself in my bathroom every month.

    I see more people rocking the near-bald look, looking fresh and wonderful with fuzzy regrowth on their heads. When we catch each other's eye, there is a spark of recognition, a silent fellowship.

    At a Japanese restaurant, a young waiter suddenly piped up while serving my bento set: "Ma'am, did you recently shave your head for Hair For Hope?"

    Surprised, I replied that I had wanted to, but missed the deadline to register (not the entire story, but true).

    The nice waiter exclaimed: "And you chose to support them anyway. That's great!" His enthusiasm put a smile on my face.

    They are the ones who make me feel less alone. People do not give a bald man a second look, but a bald woman is rare enough for folk to stare rudely at my head as I walk past.

    My hope is that, one day, a woman with all her hair shorn will be just another woman with just another hairstyle.

    I hope that ignorant people will get that wearing a short, cropped hairstyle or having a shaved head does not make a girl unfeminine. Equality of baldness for the sexes!

    Worried about a head-shaving revolution on your hands?

    The bald truth is this: Revolutionise your thinking about the important things a woman can do, first.