So long, hair! Lebanon becomes more cancer aware

BEIRUT: Her friends told her not to do it, however, Sofia Sacre had already made up her mind – she was chopping off her hair. But while she says her friends’ opposition made her decision “more difficult,” Sacre adds that when she explained her reasoning many of them grew more understanding, with some even deciding to follow suit.

On Dec. 15, Sacre, whose locks flowed to her shoulders, sat down in a salon chair, allowed a stylist to tie her hair in a ponytail, and then bravely let him chop it off.

In doing so, Sacre became one of the first donors to “Make the Cut,” the latest campaign from local NGO One Wig Stand, which works to raise breast cancer awareness and support in Lebanon.

Following the NGO’s 2011 initiative “Bras for a Cause” – a lingerie design competition highlighting the difficulties breast cancer patients have finding suitable undergarments – One Wig Stand’s founder Loryne Atoui says it “seemed natural that we would go into wigs after bras.”

Make the Cut calls on long-haired women and men to donate at least 20 cm of hair in a quest to collect 400 ponytails by June 2013. The donated tresses will then be used to make wigs free of charge for breast cancer patients.

“[Wigs] are expensive,” Atoui says, explaining that even if vendors offer cancer patients a discount, affording a $200-$300 hairpiece may be a challenge in addition to a range of other costs involved in battling the illness.

Yet, for many patients, having a wig that feels comfortable and looks natural is, especially in Lebanon, enormously helpful.

The campaign website cites startling statistics: “One in three women will be diagnosed with cancer in her lifetime and nearly 60 percent of them regard hair loss as the single worst side effect of cancer treatment.”

Speaking to The Daily Star, Atoui considers the experience in a Lebanese context. “For the most part in our society they [breast cancer patients] try to hide what they are going through because they don’t want people to look at them differently or treat them differently,” she says.

Beyond this, Atoui says the “looks culture” prevalent here often leaves women feeling uncomfortable with the baldness caused by their treatment.

With her now short curls dancing playfully about her face, Sacre, who has seen two women she is close to “go through every phase of cancer,” articulates why women place such value on their hair.

“It’s a big part of what makes us feminine,” she says. “It structures our face. The rest of our body parts are covered or accentuated by what you wear [but] the first thing people see is your face and hair.”

“Boyish” is among the words Sacre uses to describe her current cut, but she adds that many of the naysayers now tell her how much short hair suits her. But even if they had proved less than enthused by her new look, Sacre’s attitude is practical: “At the end of the day, in the grand scheme of things, hair grows back.”

Among the paraphernalia – certificates for donors, stickers for the participant salons – Atoui pulls out to show The Daily Star is a Make the Cut measuring tape.

While a 20 cm chop may sound akin to a scalping, when Atoui holds the tape up to demonstrate the length it appears rather less cruel.

“I tell them: ‘Look, it’s nothing!’ If your hair is long and you cut that much it won’t make a difference,” she says.

In fact, 20 cm is just half the length of the longest donations the campaign has received to date.

Three women, including Rita Lamah Hankah a former Miss Lebanon runner-up, have parted with 40 cm of hair, while the rest of an estimated 50 donations so far have been between 18 and 25 cm.

Other hair donation campaigns in Lebanon have accepted as little as 10 cm, but these shorter offerings are used to make wigs for children with cancer. As contributions to Make the Cut will be used in wigs for adult women, a minimum donation of 20 cm is requested.

One of the stylists ready and willing to trim your tresses is Phillippe Hadchiti. At his Zalka salon he has already given six donors the snip, and says he has another four lined up.

Offering participants a 50 percent discount to entice them into his barber’s chair, Hadchiti says he became involved in the campaign simply because he loves to help people.

Nineteen other hairdressers are also currently on board with the campaign, but Atoui says the number will soon reach 30 across Lebanon.

While donors can take the Make the Cut guidelines (provided on its website) and present them to their own stylist before he cuts their hair, donating at a participating salon, which also serves as a collection point, saves the donor the trouble of having to deliver their ponytail to One Wig Stand.

Several of the participating salons – many of which are within campaign partner L’Oreal’s network – are also offering discounts to donors.

As the number of ponytails collected climbs toward its target of 400, Atoui, who works as a freelance graphic designer, is now arranging the next steps: finding a local wig manufacturer and teaming up with other NGOs working in the area to make sure the new wigs reach the patients that need them.

Exactly how many wigs will be produced remains to be seen, but Atoui says each one takes around eight pony tails to make.

Now in her third year of awareness campaigning, Atoui has an intimate understanding of breast cancer: Her mother is the survivor who owns the wig stand after which Atoui’s NGO is named. Passed from patient to patient, this wig stand initially became a talisman of the support women gave each other as they battled the disease. Later, after Atoui caught wind of how her mom would pass on the wig stand to newly diagnosed women and decided to blog about it, the object became an icon of awareness-raising.

“I started the blog not really knowing where it would take me,” Atoui says. That was in 2010. Now, she believes One Wig Stand, an officially registered NGO since January 2012, has made an impact and the taboo surrounding breast cancer in Lebanese society has decreased.

“There are more people talking about it,” she says, “there are more people sharing stories.”

For more information on Make the

Cut visit the campaign’s Facebook

page at

makethecutcampaign or website at

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 05, 2013, on page 2.




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