I first donated my hair to Locks of Love when I was in the fifth grade. Around the small town that I grew up in, my older sister and I were notorious for our “Rapunzel hair,” constantly tied up in a long ponytail on the soccer field, or with extravagant updos at dance recitals. I wasn’t partial to leaving it long, but it became such a signature that I was afraid of losing my identity when the cut was all said and done. Haven't we all been there?

When I first cut my hair at my childhood salon, I remember nervously closing my eyes before turning around to face the mirror—my long, 21-inch braid in my hairstylist’s hand. I was young, so while my hair was shorter and fresher-feeling, it lacked a style. It was a fairly plain shoulder-length look, but at the time it felt like the biggest change I'd ever experienced.

It was clear to me why I wanted to donate my hair the first time. When I read about children with diseases that result in hair loss, I couldn’t imagine the feeling of vulnerability. The self-confidence of a young girl is already so fragile. I thought if I could change the confidence of just one girl, with just a tiny bit of hair, it’d be worth it. Years and 4.8 feet of hair later, I still believe in the cause and have the desire to contribute to it. 

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The second time I cut my hair for donation, I went for the shock factor in the style. I lobbed off a good 11 inches of hair in high school, right before final exams without telling a soul (except my mom, who had to drive me to the salon). I had the classic 2009 side-swept bangs, and with all those heavy locks gone, my curls sprung up and made my hair appear even shorter.

My third major cut was in my sophomore year of college, four years later. The cycle of growing and cutting my hair to donate became my new norm. While the cut was new and exciting, my hairstyle hadn't changed much from my second chop—side bangs stayed in place, with very mild layers. 

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A few weeks ago, probably while throwing my hair up in a topknot for the umpteenth time this summer on a hot subway platform, I had the familiar epiphany that I craved change. Since I’m a complete stranger to coloring my hair and I’m not particularly creative with my makeup (a swipe of mascara and some red lipstick, if I’m feeling particularly sassy), I decided it was time to say goodbye to my locks once again. This time, however, I wanted a style that screamed maturity. My first “grown-up” haircut. Working at a women's magazine, you inevitably pick up some beauty tips (as well as nice hair products), so I felt that it was time to take charge of my reckless strands and get an actual real-life style. I scoured the Internet before I found a photo of Lucy Hale with a gorgeous French-girl inspired bob, with natural waves and limited angles. She looked classic and timeless and right away I knew I wanted that look.

While there has been some speculation about the percentage of donated hair that is actually usable, I have made sure to do my research. Damaged, dyed, and gray hair all result in the possibility of Locks of Love not being able to use the donation while creating a wig. Since I rarely heat-style my hair, have never experimented with color, and have yet to grow any grays, Locks of Love still felt like a good fit for me.

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I waked into ION STUDIO NYC, the chic flagship of Davines Hair Care Products, with few expectations and walked out feeling like a million bucks. My stylist, Colin McCarthy, asked if I was nervous and I realized I wasn’t at all. While cutting your hair can feel like a huge change, I truly believe it’s okay to want to reinvent yourself every few years. Colin and I had friendly conversation as he snipped away at more and more of my thick, strawberry-blonde hair, while my braid was secured and ready for donation. 

When all was said and done, I walked out onto the cobblestone Soho streets with my head held high, finally able to feel the summer breeze on the back of my neck. I felt as though my hair finally embodied my current persona—light and fun but also sophisticated and grown-up. I finally felt like I looked the part of a young professional. And while I was able to walk with just a bit more confidence, I knew that because of these hair donations, a little girl could hopefully also enjoy that blissful feeling.

 

This article originally appeared on InStyle.com/MIMI.