Ms Tan Bi Ling does not know anyone with cancer, but that has not stopped her from shaving her head: She took part in cancer charity fundraiser Hair For Hope for three years from 2008. In 2011 and last year, however, she took a break to boost her chances of landing a job.

“I didn’t know if potential employers would approve, so I decided to play it safe,” says the 25-year- old, who had short, cropped hair for those two years.

Hair for Hope: To be comfortable in one's own skin
Tan Bi Ling plans to shave her head for Hair for Hope in 2014. PHOTO: TAN BI LING

She now works as a programme coordinator for a counselling organisation, and got the green light from her bosses to go bald again at this year’s Hair For Hope event in July 2013, organised annually by the Children’s Cancer Foundation. Her clean-shaven head has not affected her work, she says, as clients do not ask her about it.

Going bald in support of cancer patients appeals to her because it is a “very different form of charity”. MsTan says: “It does not ask me outright for money, but requires me to do something and then step out and support a good cause.”

She has raised about $300 in cash pledges so far.

To avoid looking like “a puffball”, she trims her hair every month to keep her shaven head neat.

Ms Tan, who is single, is not worried that her lack of hair would make her unattractive. “It does not make me feel any less good about myself.”

Her family supports her decision, but strangers still stare. She shrugs it off, saying: “If they want to stare, let them stare. It is not me who gets uncomfortable, it is them.”

The best thing that has happened to her after going bald was “a friendly look of understanding” a family gave her at the airport two months ago.

There was a child with the family whom she believes has cancer. “She was bald, looked very frail and was wrapped up in a jacket,” Ms Tan recalls.

When the family turned and looked at her for a long while, it was a “humbling moment”, she says.

“They probably knew what I shaved my head for and I was obviously comfortable with it. Hopefully, that helped them feel a little less alone,” she explains.

She plans to join next year’s Hair For Hope again. “I want to be a walking statement that you should be comfortable in your own skin. Hair is just hair – being bald does not make anyone less of a person.”

This article was first run in The Straits Times newspaper on September 22, 2013. For similar stories, go to sph.straitstimes.com/premium/singapore. You will not be able to access the Premium section of The Straits Times website unless you are already a subscriber.