St Margaret’s girls shaving bald for charity

From ‘3 girls who shaved head bald for charity told to wear wigs in school by principal’, 2 Aug 2013, article by Grace Chua, ST

When 15-year-old Leia Lai and two of her classmates went back to school on Monday, they sported a new look – bald. The three St Margaret’s Secondary School students had cut their hair to raise funds for a cancer charity.

But this drew the ire of their principal, as they had not donned wigs, as they had promised earlier.

The school’s rules do not allow “punk, unfeminine or sloppy hairstyles“. Said principal Marion Tan: “It’s very clear in our mission: it’s about their turnout as a young lady.”

And if the girls were allowed to go bald, others might take advantage.

“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.”

…As for Leia and Cherry, they have been allowed to go to school bald. But only because of doctors’ notes certifying they had rashes on their heads from wearing wigs.

If there are convent schools that SUSPEND girls for a week for having hair that’s ‘too short’, what more to be said for those who choose to shave their heads bald, for whatever reason? In 1993, two schoolgirls were forced to wear swimming caps because their hair was too short (School punishes girls whose hair was too short, 9 April 1993, ST). As silly as that would look, it is less patronising to the cancer cause than making the girls cover their head with wigs. Incidentally, St Margaret’s was founded on the basis of a missionary’s charity, with the aim of helping homeless ‘slave’ girls and turning them into ‘good homemakers’. It is also active in raising funds for the Singapore Anglican Community Services. Plenty of such activities involve singing, dancing and hosting gala dinners, but clearly none involve turning ‘young ladies’ into GI Janes.

It’s ironic that the ‘shavees’ retracted their promise to principal Marion Tan to don wigs after going bald for charity because a woman shaving ‘botak’ is often portrayed in pop culture as an act of defiance. Local actress Cynthia Koh’s character in a Mediacorp drama went bald because she was forced to marry an abusive husband. Natalie Portman and Demi Moore had their locks shorn to play a freedom fighter and a Navy Seal respectively. A bald Robin Tunney exudes rock-star chic in Empire Records. Some, like Britney Spears, do it during a mental breakdown. 

So how DOES Marion Tan wear her hair then, as an example to her students? This is her in 2008, from the school newsletter. You can’t go wrong if you follow your principal’s hairdo. It’s also 100% protective against wolf whistles from naughty boys.

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Calling a bald head a potential ‘fad’ that may go viral among schoolgirls is like worrying about shaved armpits for the boys – It will never catch on. Going bald is the exact opposite of ‘sloppy’, nor is skinhead recognised as ‘punk fashion’ in today’s context. So according to St Marg’s hair rules and by the process of elimination, one can only conclude that a girl with excessively short hair is considered ‘unfeminine’ by St Marg’s standards, an image that goes against what founder Maria Dyer wanted to achieve for her slave girls in the first place way back in 1842. My Fair Lady, not My Bare Lady. But this is 2013. We don’t groom girls into obedient wives anymore.

Some have even accused such rules for being discriminating against lesbians. If the girls had gone botak to raise funds for a Pink Dot event instead of a children’s charity, would critics be as quick to pounce on Marion Tan for, well, splitting hairs when it comes to school rules? I have done Hair For Hope myself recently as a corporate publicity stunt and got a ‘head cold’ because I was so intent on looking like Vin Diesel or the Rock that I ignored the hazards of exposing my vulnerable scalp to extreme temperatures. Like the St Marg’s girls I too had to see a doctor after shaving my head. Alas, he didn’t waive consultation fees after I told him about my noble deed.

Postscript: Upon public pressure and intervention by Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, Marion Tan relented and waived the rule for all 5 bald girls, otherwise she would have faced months of angry people calling for her head to be put on the chopping board, though I think subjecting her head to a clean shave should probably shut everyone up for good.

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