While many teenage girls are obsessed with styling their hair and amassing a collection of hair-care products, Caterina Giammarresi, 16, doesn't have to concern herself with that anymore.
The junior at Northwest School of the Arts recently said goodbye to her long locks in the name of charity at a fundraiser called Invisible Hair: Shave to Save.
The event raised money and awareness for the Invisible Children organization, a nonprofit started by three young filmmakers who traveled to Africa in 2003 in search of a story.
They discovered a tragedy that disgusted and inspired them. Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony was using his army to terrorize northern Uganda and surrounding countries. Many of the soldiers in his army were children abducted from their homes and forced to fight.
The conflict continues today and has been considered by many to be the most neglected humanitarian emergency in the world. Invisible Children seeks to end this conflict, bring the children home and restore the countries to peace and prosperity by rebuilding schools, educating future leaders and providing jobs.
Giammarresi watched the Invisible Children rough-cut documentary when she was in ninth grade; it brought her to tears.
"I felt entirely helpless. A week had passed and I could not stop thinking about the atrocities happening on the other side of the world," said the Ballantyne Country Club resident.
Giammarresi rallied her friends to shift that helplessness into hope by starting the Northwest School of the Arts chapter of Invisible Children. In the past three years the club has raised about $10,000 through film screenings, bake sales, school dances, T-shirt sales and benefit concerts. The funds collected will help build Lacor Secondary School in Uganda.
Beyond bringing attention to the cause, Giammarresi said, she also wanted to make a statement by shaving her head because she feels too many people in today's society are obsessed with appearances.
"It would be a lie if I excluded myself from that group of people, though I'd like to think I am less so than others," she said.
"I really want to tear down this false idea that girls have to have long, perfect hair to be pretty. Shaving my head will help me become less preoccupied with superficial things and let me focus on things of substance," said Giammarresi, a theater and photography major.
At the April 7 Invisible Hair event at Northwest School of the Arts, bids were placed on several teens willing to cut their tresses in the name of social activism. The highest bidder got to shear the head of the person they bid on. In the case of a group bid, the members of the winning group took turns.
Giammarresi's winning bid of $374 was a collaboration between her parents, sister and friends.
As she took to her barber chair, she said, she wasn't nervous, just excited. Her hair was donated to Locks of Love, an organization that provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children in the United States and Canada who suffer from long-term medical hair loss.
When the buzz of the clipper started, Giammarresi's eyes widened and her mouth dropped open as hair dropped to the floor. Her bidders took turns trimming her brunette hair. When the buzzing stopped she jumped off the chair and ran to the bathroom with her cape flying behind her to get a first look at her new hairdo.
She came out all smiles, saying it felt really good.
Giammarresi's mother, Gabriela, said her daughter has displayed altruistic tendencies from an early age.
"Caterina has always been different," said Gabriela Giammarresi. "Since she was a toddler, she has been thinking outside the box. She has always spoken her mind. She has never been a follower, always a leader. She always has questioned everything, and most importantly, she has been a very giving person."
Because of her work with Invisible Children, Giammarresi said, she wants to study international relations with a focus on peace and conflict. Before she attends college, however, she is applying to volunteer for a year with AmeriCorps to focus on educating children and combat poverty.
Giammarresi says it's important for teens to get involved with humanitarian causes because it lets them know at an early age they are not powerless.
"Invisible Children has opened my eyes to real suffering and has made me incredibly grateful for things that are too often taken for granted, such as having a place to sleep at night, being able to go to school, and not having to worry about whether or not I'm going to go hungry that night.
"Not only has it made me appreciative, but it has also given me a voice and the strength to use it. I saw something that I didn't agree with and I'm speaking out against it."