DARIEN – Actions speak louder than words, and symbols can serve not only as inspiration but be everlasting.
“I think it’s more important that the students at our school learn the lesson that there are things more important than your vanity and your looks,” said Ashley Yong, 16, of Darien.
On Feb. 10, as hundreds of spectators looked on during the students vs. staff basketball game in the Hinsdale South High School gymnasium, the junior with the 25-inch long hair did something that most girls her age wouldn’t dream of – shave it all off.
“My friend had to drag me into the chair, but I eventually got up there and they tied the little apron thing around me, split my hair into sections and just like snipped it,” Yong said.
Yong shaved her head in support of children’s cancer research through the St. Baldrick’s organization. She has never had cancer nor has she ever known anyone with it, but it was thanks to an incident at a hair salon a couple of years ago that led up to this event.
“Two years ago, I was at a salon getting my hair cut, and the girl next to me ... was breaking down crying because she was talking about how her hair didn’t look exactly how she wanted it to,” Yong said. “That got me thinking. Then a year ago, I saw a video of a girl getting her head shaved for St. Baldrick’s so that sparked my interest and I’ve been growing my hair for almost two years now.”
Yong said her hair has never meant that much to her, but tell that to other teenage girls.
“I had some friends in the crowd that were crying literally for me and I didn’t understand that,” she said with a laugh.
The next day, as she walked through the halls at Hinsdale South, Yong said she got “a lot of stares,” but she was also surprised by the number of compliments she not only received from teachers but also random people and students.
Twitter also “exploded” the night she lost her hair.
“I got tweets from random people saying, ‘You inspire me,’” she said.
The next stop for Yong’s clippings is Locks of Love, an organization that uses donations to create hair prosthetics for people who have lost their hair due to a medical condition.
Yong may have surpassed her goal of raising $500, but she said it wasn’t just about raising money for cancer research and St. Baldrick’s. It was about breaking the chains of what society views as beauty, whether it’s on the cover of a fashion magazine or on a reality TV show on Bravo.
“You don’t need material things to make your life better and no matter how small the things you do are, they can have a big impact if you have a message to go along with it,” she said.
In between getting her head shaved for a cause, Yong also keeps herself busy with volunteer work, and at Hinsdale South she participates in peer leadership network, Spanish club, yearbook, newspaper, principal student advisory council and outdoor club.
Next year, Yong said she plans on participating in St. Baldrick’s again and is also hoping to get a group of her friends together to participate with her, even though they may be reluctant.
“People will get used to it anyways,” she said.