Thursday, August 12, 2010


This afternoon, I had my hair dyed black. It's been a long time since I've had black hair, too long to really remember. When I was little, when my hair was baby-fine and wispy, it was brown. People are often surprised when they see my baby pictures. After all, aren't Asians supposed to have jet-black hair? In Grade 2, the girls who sat behind me made it a game to find all the blonde hair that was scattered throughout my head of dark brown. They would reach forward and pluck the strands out and then show me. In Grade 3, when my class played our version of "twenty questions," where the questioner waited outside and the rest of us picked a student for that person to guess, I was chosen as the "guessee" during one round. When the questioner returned and asked if the person had brown hair, one girl in my class replied, "Yes, reddish brown." 

It's funny how something like hair colour could cloud a child's self-perception. I cannot tell you what I learned in school in Grade 3, but I sure remember when someone said my hair was reddish brown. I was embarrassed; even at that young age, I was sorely aware that I was not supposed to have reddish brown hair. I was afraid that people wouldn't believe me if I told them that it was natural, that I didn't have it dyed. Then again, now that I think about it, no one ever did ask me. I guess kids were actually a lot more accepting by nature than I had ever expected because society had not yet ingrained its rules and norms on them.

Then, as I got older, my hair deepened into a more stereotypical shade, and I was glad. Fast forward a few years, to when I was in high school. I went to a school where dreadlocks, eyebrow rings, and hemp clothing were mainstream. We would sit outside and hold hands and meditate in our spare time, I kid you not. I loved going to school there, but I also felt a bizarre sense of inadequacy from being so normal. I started putting red highlights in my hair as one small way of asserting my identity. Since then, I've not had natural black hair. It's been burgundy, light brown, golden brown, and all shades in between.

Two summers ago, while I was waiting for the bus in downtown Vancouver, a young woman came up to me, pointed at my hair, and shook her head. I took off my headphones, and she remarked boldly, "I don't understand why you would dye your hair blonde. Black hair is so beautiful." I smiled, but before I could reply, she went on, "I don't get why all you Asians want to look white." I was shocked into speechlessness. As I later sat on the bus, I wanted to go up to her and say, "You know, you really don't understand. I don't want to be white. I just want to be me, and the me right now happens to have lighter hair. I would never accuse you of wanting to be Asian if you decided to dye your hair black. That's the same as thinking that someone wanted to be a troll if she dyed her hair green." But, I never did say that. Instead, I merely replayed her comments in my mind.

Over the past year or so, I had attempted to darken my hair. I had gone to all the drug-stores by my apartment, bought three different kinds of permanent hair colour, and tried to deepen the hue into something more natural-looking. However, try as I might, my hair would turn light again after two weeks, particularly under the summer sun.

In today's final desperate attempt, I have finally succeeded. Now, as I look at the new me in the mirror, I can't help but think that I have cruelly shoved aside my former self, that golden-brown-haired girl, in favour of someone I don't even know and might not even like. How could something as superficial and trivial as a box of hair dye cast me into such self-doubt? Am I still the little eight-year-old girl who, in her naivete, feared that people would call her vain if they thought she dyed her hair? Didn't that girl know -- how could she not -- that her vanity lived in that fear itself?


  1. I love the last sentence...
    ("Didn't that girl know -- how could she not -- that her vanity lived in that fear itself?")

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