By Kristen Jordan Shamus
Detroit Free Press
We are told from our earliest days that what’s on the outside doesn’t matter.
We are told that beauty comes from within.
But when you’re different, it’s hard to believe that. When you’re different, people say things they shouldn’t. People still treat you differently.
For children with cancer and alopecia, with burns and other conditions that cause their hair to fall out, it can be especially brutal.
Regina Villemure of Brownstown Township, Mich., was surprised to see how hard it really was when her niece Sarah Hanmore was 3, and had leukemia.
“We’d go shopping and people would hide behind a rack and just stare at her,” she says. “People don’t get it. They’re not used to seeing someone who looks different. And when you’re different, you’re not accepted. It’s always going to be that way.”
A hair dresser and former beauty shop owner, Villemure tried to find ways to help her niece and other kids like her.
“I searched, and there wasn’t anything in hair replacement for kids that young,” Villemure says. “They used to have these wigs that looked like their grandmother’s — with these big bouffants that looked terrible.”
And that is how Children With Hair Loss was formed.
Based in South Rockwood, Mich., the nonprofit Villemure started in 2000 now makes about 350 hair pieces a year for children around the country with medical conditions that cause hair loss; she provides the hair pieces for free.
‘CHANGE A CHILD’S LIFE’
Molly Clayton of Wyandotte, Mich., first learned about Children With Hair Loss a decade ago, when she went to the salon thinking she’d donate to Locks of Love, a similar nonprofit based in Florida. But she soon learned that Locks of Love won’t use highlighted hair. Clayton’s stylist told her about Villemure and her Michigan organization, which not only takes highlighted and color-treated hair, but it also takes gray hair that is at least 8 inches long.
Since then, Clayton, 40, has grown out her hair and cut it off three more times to help the cause.
“Cut off 8 inches and you will be somebody’s hero,” Clayton says. “You will change the life of a child in a way that you cannot even imagine. We are not people who have a lot of money. We don’t have those means. But I do have my hair, and I can change a child’s life that way.”
Clayton, mother to 3-year-old Josie and stepmother to 13-year-old Victoria, always loved kids and wanted to help other children avoid the teasing and bullying she experienced growing up because she was different.
“I was chubby and short. And I had scoliosis, so I had a back brace, and my teeth were bad, so I had headgear. And then in seventh grade, I broke my leg and I was on crutches,” Clayton says. “It was a whole world of ugly right here. It was tough because I had to wear my back brace every year to school starting in sixth grade.”
She remembers what that was like, and says she couldn’t imagine adding baldness to that list in her youth.
But now, she’s started a project that does include baldness, one that is giving her a true taste of what these children face.
On March 30, Clayton shaved her head, donating all of her wavy brown hair to Children With Hair Loss.
And every week since then, her husband, Brian Clayton, has shaved it again so that she remains bald until she reaches a fundraising goal of $5,000 for Children With Hair Loss.
She documenting her experiences with a video diary she’s posted to YouTube ( http://bit.ly/137hbid ). Her goal is to use that diary to make a documentary with the help of Ted Fournier, a filmmaker from Garden City, Mich.
“To be able to tell the story, I felt like I needed to know first-hand how it felt,” says Molly Clayton. “I decided that I would shave my head, but then I thought, well, if I shave my head, it’ll just grow back. But these kids don’t have hair that’ll grow back. A lot of them are living bald, and they don’t know if they’re ever going to have hair.”
So she tied her baldness to a fund-raising campaign that so far has collected more than $2,000 for the cause.
“If you’re going to truly understand a person, you need to walk a mile in their shoes,” she says.
BLOW TO THE EGO
Walk, she has.
“I thought that I was over the vanity,” Clayton says. “I’m 40 years old. I have a child. I’m married. I’m not picking up guys. I’m not looking for a husband, but it has been a huge blow to my ego because I don’t feel feminine. I don’t feel pretty. People are like, ‘You’re beautiful!’ Yes, I’ve heard it. But that’s not how I feel. It has made me more insecure about my weight. It just highlights all the negative, and it has been a lot harder than I thought it was going to be.”
Some think she’s sick, but she quickly explains.
Her 3-year-old was fine with it, at first.
“Josie said the other day, ‘I want you to have hair like the other moms.’ And that made me sad, I was like, ‘Mommy will. But right now I’m trying to do something for kids who lost their hair.’”
A little girl at the preschool where Clayton works was confused, asking when her hair would come back.
“One of the other teachers said, ‘She looks beautiful.’ And the girl said, ‘No she doesn’t; she looks ugly.’ And I went home and I cried,” Clayton says.
What makes a person truly beautiful?
Though not everyone can see it, Clayton has shown that it isn’t in the length of your hair, the perfectly straight teeth in your smile. Nor is it even in the straightness of your back or how thin you might be.
It’s in the kindness in your heart. It’s in the richness of your soul. It’s in knowing that you can help a child with a simple snip of the scissors.
What could be more beautiful?