On Asian Standards of Beauty and What It’s Like to Have Blue Hair
Granted, my hair is mostly green now.
When I was little, they told me that as a girl, you didn’t need to be very pretty. You needed to be kind and happy, and yes, smart — everyone needs to be smart.
But what is a pretty girl? Pretty is very general. Many things and people can be very different but they can all be described as pretty. I’d like to clarify that I am, in particular, Chinese, so perhaps the same standards don’t ring true with other Asian races and there are many, despite media’s portrayal of the word “Asian”. If you’ve seen the manipulated images of the same woman in accordance to ideals of the people of different countries, you know that the most severe one is China’s. The girl is skin wrapped around bones, very little meat, no fat. Thin. Pretty… I suppose I was taught to think. But I don’t. Especially when I look at that image slit in between the others. It bothers me. So. Much.
Beauty encompasses a larger group of things besides your looks though, and we talk about it all the time: “It’s your insides that count.” Well. Inside and out. Both. They both count.
From what I encounter in society, it tells me they would like me to be slim, kind but assertive, intelligent, and clean, and, yes, dark-haired (because you ought to be natural).
I got quite some flack for getting inked back in 2013. I was eighteen. But somehow, it was not as much as having my hair bleached and dyed a bright blue, which slowly faded to a weird green. Probably because it’s just really loud, and no one can ignore it. I am the only one in my very large extended family who has done both of these things, which traditionally, for the Malaysian Chinese, I suppose, are things that “uneducated gang members” or “samseng” do. I am different, threateningly so. Like having a tattoo on my chest is going to rot my heart and having my hair bleached and dyed is gonna damage my brains (which some argue may be the case, I don’t know) — and that means I will be neither slim, nor kind, nor assertive, nor intelligent, nor clean, nor, now, dark-haired. Because one thing blindsides you from another and all of a sudden, I’ve been put in a different category in your black-and-white world.
But I don’t see it that way. I’m a distinct personality. To facilitate your understanding, here is a list of ways having blue (green) hair has benefited me:
I feel uniquely more like myself.
My body is mine. Everything on it is used in lieu of self-expression. The way I move, the way I look at you, the way I look, period. How I dress, the ink on my skin and the colour of my hair — that’s included, too.
I have the means to use that to tell you who I am, so why should I deny myself that opportunity? Most of the time, people aren’t listening to what I’m saying, but they have to look at me, even if it is a fleeting glance. This isn’t an attention-seeking complex. It’s not about wanting people to look at me, but more that, when they look at me, they glimpse what’s inside of me. It’s here to make you stop and think, oh, who could she be underneath her skin? Here, then, is your attempt to be more empathetic, and it could open up you to a whole new world of possibilities and connections, maybe even inwards, in introspection. I couldn’t tell you what it was exactly, though, “what’s inside of me”, but if you all weren’t making me so self-conscious about it, I’m sure I’d feel more myself than I’ve ever done before.
It isn’t my fault that you choose to interpret my hair colour as that of a “samseng”. You aren’t looking for what I have to tell you. You’re just looking at what I’m showing you and thinking, God, why are you not what I want you to be?
It fights the stereotype.
Oh, yes, I am doing it for the shock factor too. It’s to fight the stereotype. It’s to go against the ridiculous notion, in today’s world, that this, my hair, has anything to do with my education.
It’s a strange thing. Culture is a hard thing to beat. It is the essence of human civilization. There is a lot of assimilation nowadays but your roots is your roots. Of course, my roots are still very Chinese. I adhere to many traditions. Of course it affects my outlook on life. It shapes my person. So where do I stop? I stop when I understand people don’t think like me, and they’re entirely entitled to whatever choices they make in life for and about themselves.
Just because you believe in one thing doesn’t mean other people’s beliefs simply cease to exist. Tolerance.
Yes, this may be an act of rebellion, but what against? Your need to tell people who they should or should not be.
It builds character.
When the aunties tell you your hair is ugly and that you should please dye it over, they don’t just say it once. They say it until you respond to it with more than a smile, even if you’re being polite. They say it until you say, “well, what to do.” And then they have to reassert themselves once more.
I will answer you all here:
My hair isn’t ugly. It is just hair. When it is blue, I feel special. When it is blue, I feel like I am expressing my personality, which you do not see, clearly, because you are telling me that people who are educated don’t have hair like this — and you, for goodness’ sake, know that I am very well-educated. My hair doesn’t affect my intelligence. My hair doesn’t mean I don’t make sound judgments. No, I have not lost my mind. No, I have not turned dumb. Yes, I am still the same person — you have just never really known me. Thank you for your concern, I understand there will be a lot of other people just like you, making assumptions about my person just because I have brightly coloured hair. But like all the problems of tolerance in the society, should I be told to fit in or should you open your minds a little wider and accept me because I don’t see how I’m harming anybody by putting a little colour in my hair?
Character level up +1.
It gives me insight into how people perceive others.
In the month I’ve dyed my hair, I’ve received all kinds of feedback, verbal, non-verbal, directly or directly. It’s completely expected, but I didn’t expect how painstakingly they will tell you they do not like it.
More than the people who are accepting of it or who approve of it, the people who do not like it will make their opinions heard time and time again. They will tell you what they think of it (insert a list of negative adjectives here), they will tell you why it’s a bad idea, they will tell you what you should do with it and they will also make use of any all opportunities to slip in insults (so thank you there).
With exception of one of my cousins who cried when she saw me and another one told me it’s “not nice”, kids are pretty nondiscriminatory about your hair colour. Teenagers will either worship the ground you walk on or at least be interested. People my age think it’s cool or are accepting of it, but aren’t entirely concerned about it. Then there are the people in their middle adulthood, forties, fifties — they hate my hair the most. Some are more vocal about it than others. Old people don’t care — my grandpa actually came up to me, inspected it and said, “Eh, no difference.” And he’s the only one who commented on it at all.
We’re taught not to judge a book by its cover. I don’t know whether the lie is in the idiom itself or everyone’s behavior that falls short of reinforcing it. First impressions count, they’re imperative to our survival. We navigate this world based on what we see and how we understand that when we act upon something, it will react to us. When we see steam rising out of a pot, we know that it is hot and approach handling it with caution. When we see deep blue water and not the bodies’ bottom, we know that it is deep and take safety measures like wearing a life vest.
When you see a girl with weirdly-coloured hair, what do you do?
But you know what, I bet if I were “pretty”, no one would even bat an eye. You told me to be smart. You know that I am smart, but somehow that is still not enough.