Lately, there’s been plenty of discussion about what being a blond Asian means in today’s world of beauty and racial expectations. For those that might not understand the box that Asian-Americans are often put into when it comes to how people perceive we should look, going blond can be viewed as assimilating into Western beauty ideals. But for me, going blond wasn't something I ever viewed through this lens; it actually made me feel more Asian.
As anyone who's ever bleached their hair could predict, my transformation from dark brown hair to bright blond ice queen was one that took hours. I arrived at the salon early in the morning, before the summer heat had rolled in, and sat in the chair for what felt like an eternity before the I emerged as a platinum butterfly. My colorist walked me through the entire process, and then began the transformation, coating the top of my head with chemicals that would soon make my scalp buzz with itchiness. My hair was so dark that you could actually watch as the magic happened, the brown I knew my entire life slowly turning into something completely new.
After the first round of bleaching, she washed the concoction out of my hair, revealing that there was still work to be done. (I looked like one of those Hunger Games Citadel socialites because of my neon, half-orange, half-blond hair.) One more marination of bleach, and I was finally one of those cool blond Asians that have become a much talked-about fixation in recent years.
Some may cast blond Asians as a recent occurrence, but bleaching my hair reminds me more of my childhood in Southern California. I grew up with plenty of Asian and Asian-American schoolmates who were always playing with their hair colors. During elementary school, I remember being envious of my Korean friends, whose parents let them get highlights — flashes of orange and blond through their black hair. These streaks could be seen as derivative of already-changing beauty expectations, or an ode to style nods already existing in Asia. To me, it was simply the Asian-American experience: to play with your dark hair at one point or another.
I knew exactly which icons had inspired me to go platinum from a young age. Dragon Ball Z was the absolute sh*t as a pre-teen. During recess, my pals and I would pretend to be Goku, Vegeta, Gohan, and more of the heroic Saiyans that would charge up their power and then go Super Saiyan, their dark hair metamorphosing just like mine did in that salon chair (but in a matter of seconds). The transformation enabled them to defeat their most villainous foes.
Having blond hair also afforded me the ability to channel some of my other favorite pop cultural idols. When I ran into a former colleague at a screening of Dunkirk, she told me I looked like Tidus from the Final Fantasy world. Instead of watching Harry Styles on an IMAX screen, I was too busy glowing from the comparison to one of my favorite video game characters. And there were other transformations I got to try while blond, too. The bright shade meant I could use all the temporary hair coloring products my heart desired. For a Halloween party, I mixed together blue and yellow Poster Paste to create a green coat, turning into The Fairly Oddparents’s Cosmo for a night and taking home the costume contest crown. Between my penchant for Hawaiian shirts and roots growing out, a good friend of mine also pointed out that I looked like Guy Fieri. While resemblance to the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives host might make some people’s blood boil, I gladly took the Mayor of Flavortown analogy.
As my platinum grew out and haircut after haircut, I eventually said goodbye to the icy strands that had once sat on top of my head. And while that look is now gone, changing my hair color never really made me feel like a brand-new person. It merely allowed me to embrace parts of myself that were there all along, still present even without that bright dusting of blond.
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