Craig Courtney Lytle flipped her waist-length blond hair over the back of the stylist’s chair as she eased into her booster seat.
“I’m going to look weird,” the 6-year old said.
Crystal Walker, her stylist at All About You Salon, reassured her.
“You have some serious pretty hair here, Court,” Walker said. “You’re going to look beautiful.”
Walker tied back Courtney’s thick mane into a ponytail, then took a large pair of scissors and chopped away from the nape of Courtney’s neck.
What was left was more than a foot of dirty blond hair, still held together by a red rubber band.
Salon owners Crystal and her mother, Sarah Walker, are familiar with strange, detached ponytails being handed around the room.
They offer free haircuts to those who pledge to give their hair to Locks of Love, which makes wigs out of donated hair for children with cancer.
Everyone who has not bleached or colored their hair and is cutting off more than 10 inches is eligible to donate.
Sarah said she has seen several young girls come to her salon with the mission of helping other sick children.
“I’ll recommend anyone to do it,” she said. ‘“Anyone with virgin hair. Sometimes, they see it on TV and say, ‘Hey, I want to do that,’ or they hear about their friends doing it. I don’t know if they get the depth of what they’re doing, but it’s just kids being nice. Kids always want to make people happy.”
For the Walkers, seeing the piles of ponytails to be sent away hits close to home. Crystal’s cousin, Mallory, died of leukemia five years ago.
She was 16.
As Crystal washed the shampoo out of Courtney’s hair, she took out her cell phone and pulled up a picture of a smiling teenager whose hair had just started to grow back after chemotherapy.
“That’s Mallory,” she said. “I think it’s awesome that these kids even realize that they are not the center of attention all the time. It’s teaching them philanthropy at a really young age. It teaches them how to give back.”
Crystal’s grandmother also died of cancer, but she barely remembers. When she was young, she took one of her dolls and cut off all its hair, calling it ‘Grandma Barbie.’
“I still have it,” Crystal said. “Locks of Love has always been a really important cause to us.”
Courtney’s mother, Andi, said it was Courtney’s idea to donate her hair.
“She saw something about Locks of Love on TV and said she wanted to cut her hair off and give it to sick kids,” Andi said. “But later, she started crying and said, ‘I don’t want to cut my hair off.’”
That was the last Andi heard about it for a while, until Tuesday when Courtney announced she had decided to go through with her pledge. She said it had to be done Wednesday and that her mother had to sit alongside her and get the same haircut.
“I am a little scared to do it,” Courtney said.
One chair over, 8-year-old Crystal Gutierrez also was changing her look dramatically. Sarah cut off a ponytail of thick black hair that once reached the small of her back.
Gutierrez wasn’t aware of Locks of Love, but Sarah explained it to her and gave her the option of the free cut.
Once Gutierrez understood where her hair was going, she said she was proud to help other children.
“When they get my hair, they’ll think, ‘Wow, this hair is cute,’” she said with a small smile.
After Sarah finished blow-drying Gutierrez’s hair into a smooth bob, she watched her daughter finish styling Courtney’s hair.
She said it touches her every time a young child comes in to donate his or her hair.
“It makes me go into the other room, look up and say, ‘It’s for you, Mal,’” she said. “Sometimes, you’re so broke. Sometimes, I’ve cut someone’s hair off, and I wanted to charge them, but then I was like, ‘No, this is for Mal.’”
She gestured toward Courtney and her new pink and purple locks.
“These are kids that have really big hearts,” she said.