Sporting 10 inches of silky, brown hair that draped over his shoulders, there were moments these past 18 months when 13-year-old Reed Brown was mistaken for a girl.
He was occasionally teased; a waiter at a Billings restaurant once offered to take the “young lady’s” order. He was even propositioned.
“I’ve only been hit on once,” he said with a sheepish smile.
The Lewis and Clark Middle School eighth-grader was unfazed, shrugging it off with what became his signature response, “Dude, I’m a dude!”
Reed, the youngest of three boys who traditionally wore a “bowl cut,” was prompted to grow out his hair on a bet from his father, Todd Brown. The familial patriarch offered his son $10 for each month he did not cut his hair.
His mother made a counteroffer of $20 for every month that he kept it neatly trimmed.
“When I was a kid I always had to have my hair cut above my ears,” Todd Brown said. “I wanted him to know he had a choice.”
And, choose Reed did.
As one month rolled into two, then three and more, Reed raked in $10 bills and stuffed them into his piggy bank. Soon, he was on a mission to do more than build his nest egg. He had a bigger purpose.
Reed vowed to grow his hair at least 10 inches long so he could donate it to Locks of Love, a public nonprofit organization. It provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children in the United States and Canada under age 21 suffering from long-term medical hair loss from any diagnosis.
Locks of Love uses donated hair to create quality wigs. Most of the children helped by Locks of Love have lost their hair due to a medical condition called alopecia areata, which has no known cause or cure. The prostheses the organization provides help to restore their self-esteem and their confidence, enabling them to face the world and their peers.
Reed first heard of the organization from his fifth-grade teacher whose child had donated hair to Locks of Love.
“That always stuck with me,” Reed said. “I’ve always wanted to be remembered and put a smile on someone’s face.”
On Wednesday, Reed wore his hair in pigtails to school. At 4 p.m., flanked by friends, family and his girlfriend, a slightly nervous Reed had the dangling pigtails sheared at Guccioné Salon & Spa in downtown Billings.
“It’s kind of an end of an era,” he said.
Though Laurie Guccioné, owner of the salon, said she sends at least 5 pounds of cut hair each month to Locks of Love, Reed was the first male she’s had donate.
“He has been tortured this year,” Guccioné said. “I’m pretty proud of him. He’s a good kid.”
As a gift of celebration, Guccioné gave him the $20 haircut gratis.
Rita Brown, Reed’s mother, said her son is self-assured and self-confident, which helped him weather some of the teasing this past year. His desire to donate his hair to help another child illustrates the heart of his character. His yearning to help less fortunate children also trumped the teasing.
“He hates to see anybody sad,” Rita said. “He has a big heart and is excessively happy. He is searching for something bigger. He’s a special kid who has a big heart for special things. It’s his nature to be good to people.”
As Reed ran his fingers through his barely-there hair, he was presented with a tall glass of ice-cold, sparkling grape juice. Surrounded by friends and family, he made a toast to Locks of Love.
And, Reed was presented with a yellow T-shirt emblazoned with his signature retort to those mistaking him for a girl — “Dude! I’m a dude!”
“This is the best T-shirt I’ve ever gotten,” he said laughing.
Whether he will again grow out his locks or keep his head shorn remains to be seen. His decision is pending.
“I’m kind of a drifter right now,” he said.