Since I was a little girl, I’ve wanted to dye my hair. Looking like all the cool anime characters I grew up with was a life goal for me: mysterious gray hair like my first crush Kakashi from Naruto, dark blue like Amy from Sailor Moon, platinum blonde like the adorable Chii from Chobits.
Anything but my ugly, boring, straight, black-brown hair.
There weren’t many Asian or Asian-American characters on TV while I was growing up. The few times we were represented, I felt like their appearance seemed dull next to their usually blonde and white counterparts. They usually weren’t as cool as the white girl, so I didn’t want to be associated with them. I wished so hard for my hair color to be lighter and I anxiously awaited the day that it would happen.
My mom promised me that when I graduated from high school, I would be allowed to dye my hair – but not without first sighing, “Your black-brown hair is so beautiful and soft. Why would you ever want it to be a different color?”
I would stomp my feet and say, “I hate it! It’s so BORING.”Click To Tweet
Since I turned 18, I’ve dyed my hair a handful of times. It made me feel special, beautiful, and different. I felt special only when my hair was any color but the ugly, boring, Asian black. I finally felt like my hair was expressing my identity and how I really felt on the inside.
“Look at me!” I wanted my hair to shout at any passerby, “I’m different! I’m special!”
— ℓιnh t. ℓε (@linhtropy) April 19, 2016
Though a part of my desire to dye my hair was self-expression, it was also based on the idea that black straight hair was boring, that being a “normal Asian girl” was boring. I wasn’t Asian, I was American and I wanted to have lighter hair to showcase that side of me too. I felt like if I had colored hair, it would differentiate me from “other Asians”. I don’t think this idea of a “boring typical Asian girl” came from only one source. Maybe it came from only seeing Asian stereotypes on TV. Maybe it came from people saying that all Asians are nerds and that that was why I got good grades. Maybe it came from kids pulling their eyes into slits and calling me chink. Whatever it was, I knew that I didn’t want to be that.I wasn't Asian, I was American and I wanted to have lighter hair to showcase that side of me too Click To Tweet
Years later, I’d realize that I had fallen victim to a common Asian trope:
It IS a real thing btw—I'm not sure it's a BAD thing, but I'm personally tired of it. pic.twitter.com/wezm227cF5
— Jen Bartel (@heyjenbartel) February 18, 2016
The frustration felt by Asians has been growing on Twitter in the past few months. From Chris Rock’s Asian jokes at the Oscars (leading to the creation of #RepresentAsian and #OnlyOnePercent), to the whitewashing of Asian characters in the upcoming movies “Doctor Strange” and “Ghost in the Shell” (which created #whitewashedOUT) – 2016 might just mark the rise of the Asian activist community on Twitter.
With #whitewashedOUT, people shed light on the whitewashing in mainstream media and shared stories of what it was like growing up Asian in the Western world, where it felt like you never saw yourself in the media. As stories were tweeted and retweeted, and as my timeline was filled with stories from Asian people that felt like they were taken from my own life, I discovered a big part of why I was obsessed with dying my hair. I didn’t hate it because it was a boring color.
It was because I hated my Asian-ness.
#whitewashedOUT is making me rethink my internalized racism and self-hatred for being Asian. TY all for having this important discussion.
— ℓιnh t. ℓε (@linhtropy) May 3, 2016
I couldn’t believe it at first, because I had been on this journey of self-love for so long now. I was happy with my body, my life, my friends, my family, and, I thought, my appearance. I haven’t had self-confidence issues concerning the way I looked since I was a teenager. I loved the way my hair felt. Even after it was bleached and dyed, it still retained its softness and health (something that my Asian friends envied me for).
But in actuality, I didn’t truly love my hair. I loved that it could take all of the chemicals and still impress people with its resilience. I loved that no matter how light I tried to make it, it would still flutter softly when the breeze blew through it, resulting in inquires such as “Oh my god, can I touch your hair?”.
I loved my hair because it seemed like it was happy being any other color than black too.
Now it’s time to love my hair for what it is – beautiful, straight, black-brown hair that turns a little golden in the summertime. The same hair that Mulan, Sailor Mars, and Trini Kwan has. Their black hair didn’t make them boring or ugly. Their black hair was theirs to claim and they didn’t need it to be any other color to be an inspiring character. They’re badass Asian women who embraced their black hair. Why can’t I?
Self-expression is still important to me (and crazy hair colors are nonetheless still cool), but I will no longer be dying my hair as an act of self-hatred. I’ll be dying it because I love myself in all my different forms – black hair or not. And damn it, if I’m going to be Othered anyway, at least it will be on my terms.
But before that happens, I think I’m going to stick with my black hair for a while. It’s a good look for me.