Miss Samoa Victoria shaves her head
When current Miss Samoa Victoria, Tiafau Zahriya Leaoasoma was four years old, she lost her mother to cancer and joined a fundraising effort last weekend to raise funds to fight the disease.
To raise awareness about breast cancer, the beauty queen shaved her head over the weekend, in a charity event covered by ABC News Australia.
"I just kept looking to the sky and staring at my mum's face in the sky, and I kept thinking I get to choose to shave my hair off, but you didn't have a choice," Leaoasoma told ABC.
She has stressed the importance, especially for people in the Pasifika community, to get regular check-ups.
"My mum passed away when she was 26 and that's very young, and so it's important for all ages but especially young girls to get checked too," Leaoasoma said.
On the weekend, members of the community took turns cutting her hair as a symbolic gesture in support of the event, before the hairdresser shaved it all off, ABC reports.
She said shaving her head was empowering, and it felt "really good to be bald".
"It was really emotional to have everyone come and cut a piece of my hair and I felt so emotional and so overwhelmed, but so connected to my mum at the moment," Leaoasoma said.
"I've just been so super blessed to have the community behind me and all the small businesses in the community who have really stepped up and offered their services and time to raise funds for this cause."
Miss Samoa Victoria has raised about $13,000 from the Pasifika community for the National Breast Cancer Foundation — more than double her $5,000 fundraising goal, according to ABC.
She said the community got behind her because they understood the cultural significance involved in cutting one's hair.
"In the Pacific islands, our hair is our crown and glory and we are taught that our hair is sacred and from our ancestors going back years and years," she said
"My grandma is very Samoan and was very strict about my hair growing up and I always had to leave it long and thick. I wasn't allowed to cut it — I always had to put it up in a bun or in plaits."
Her grandmother, Vagana Tauvasa Leaoa, also shaved her head on the weekend in support of her granddaughter and in memory of her daughter, said ABC.
Bronwyn Pa'u, a cultural ambassador for Miss Samoa Victoria Inc —the not-for-profit organisation that runs the Miss Samoa Victoria pageant — said hair had always played an important part in Samoan society and was at one stage a visual symbol of hierarchy and status.
"Prior to missionary contact, Samoan women wore their hair very short — sometimes shaved close to their heads — and it was the men who wore their hair long as their prized possession," Pa'u said.
"You [can recognise a warrior] by the way he wore his hair: the untying of a man's hair, down and free flowing, meant he is among his people and was relaxed, [but] when it was time to go to war, it was tied up at the top of their head in a knot."
It just holds so much importance in our culture — it's kind of like money — and it still carries on in cultures back in the islands," Leaoasoma said.
She said the charity shave for cancer was a "long time coming".
"Because of the relationship I had with my grandma I didn't speak about my mum much," Leaoasoma told ABC.
"Even though I knew it wouldn't have disrespected my grandma, I didn't want her to feel left out because she was doing such a good job at being my mum and mothering me when my mum passed away.
"However, this is my time and my mum's time to shine."