My hair journey began in middle school — a time of Silly Bandz, chocolate milk in plastic bags, and square pizza. As a Chinese-American preteen in a predominantly Caucasian neighborhood, I desperately wanted to look and act like my white classmates. I was tired of being stereotyped as the uncool Chinese girl who sat quietly in the corner of the classroom and aced her math tests. After thorough research on Google and Pinterest, I decided that my ticket into the cool kids’ club was dyeing my pitch-black hair the most trendy hairstyle of the 2000s: ombré.
Unfortunately, my new hairstyle didn’t solve my preteen identity crisis. Rather than becoming “cool” among the white kids, I looked too Caucasian to hang out with the Asian kids, but still too Asian to hang out with the white kids. My Chinese friends began to refer to me as “whitewashed,” and I felt increasingly isolated from the Asian community. I promised my 13-year-old self that I would never, ever dye my hair again.
Fast forward to my junior year of high school: I’m overworked, stressed, and too tired to care about fitting in. My signature look consisted of cheap leggings, a sweatshirt, dirty slip-on Vans, and impeccably groomed brownish-blond hair that extended down to my waist. My hair became my ultimate accessory. Whenever I needed to act confident, I would run my fingers through my hair like a model at a photo shoot. If I felt embarrassed or nervous, I would bury my face beneath the mountain of hair.
People would approach me and tell me, “Wow, you look amazing with long hair. Don’t ever cut it,” and, “You remind me of an Asian Pocahontas with your beautiful, thick hair.” Pretty soon, I began to credit my hair for any positive compliments about my physical appearance. Rather than filling my room with hundreds of clothes and accessories, I bought all the haircare products that I could get my hands on. Every night before I got into bed, I would wash my hair, massage three hair creams into my scalp, dry every single strand, and curl my hair from top to bottom.
Apparently, the hairstylist took my mom’s request as merely a suggestion and cut off more than 10 inches of my hair.
One day, my mom said to me in her standard broken English, “You hair has many split ends. You want cut?” Ignorantly, I agreed to her request and she took me to her regular Chinese hair salon. My mom told the hairstylist in Chinese, “My daughter just wants a little trim on the bottom of her hair to get rid of the broken strands.” The hairstylist waved her off and said, “I will do what looks best.”
Apparently, the hairstylist took my mom’s request as merely a suggestion and cut off more than 10 inches of my hair. Ten. Inches. I watched in slow motion as my beloved locks fell from my head and onto the dirty salon floor. After the massacre ended, I broke down crying. I felt like the core of my identity had been ripped away from me. In between sobs, I told my mom that I refused to go back to school with this awful hairstyle.
I jumped online and found the only hair salon that was still open at 6 p.m. on a Saturday night. I knew I needed to do something drastic if I wanted to keep my title as “the girl with the pretty hair.” Four hours later, I exited the new hair salon with bright pink hair and a satisfied grin.
When I arrived at school on Monday, it was complete chaos. Students gawked at my new hair and I received dozens of comments like, “I would never dye my hair pink, but I think it works on you!” I was relieved to return to my comfort zone as “the girl with the cool hair” and I felt proud of myself for receiving so many compliments from people around campus.
But, as the excitement wore off, I began to feel like the little, isolated version of myself from middle school. I learned that some students around campus had labeled me as “that weird girl with the ugly fashion sense” and I wanted to melt away. I felt completely removed from my surroundings and I began to separate myself from my friend groups because I never knew who was talking about my appearance behind my back.
Rather than trying to fit in, I forced myself to stand out as a pink dot in a sea of blacks, browns, and blondes.
It took me over six months to embrace the uniqueness of my pink hair. Once I stopped trying to alter my appearance to please other people, I realized that my hair was not the core of my identity. Even when my hair was tangled and messy, I still had friends who were willing to sit down with me and make me laugh. I stopped curling my hair every day and I took some time for myself. I began writing poetry about my experiences and discovering myself through my writing.
Looking back on my experiences, I’m so glad that I chose to take risks and accept the consequences. Rather than trying to fit in, I forced myself to stand out as a pink dot in a sea of blacks, browns, and blondes. I think that middle school me would be proud of how much I’ve grown. I still love playing with my hair and I still haven’t quite figured out every aspect of my identity, but I’m proud to say that I’m the girl with the pink hair.