Behind every bleach blonde is someone who is likely going through it — I am no exception. Before this year, I never thought that I would even dye my hair, having gotten the same exact haircut that my Vietnamese mother had selected for me for over eighteen years of my life. But once black started giving way to brown, orangey gold replaced it until there was nothing left on my head but semi-crispy strands of platinum à la the prototypical “Asian Baby Girl.” Still, in both a literal and figurative sense, your roots never really go away. As the son of two Asian parents, that’s almost impossible to forget.
When my little sister first dyed her hair, gradually coloring just the ends from brown to blonde, our dad immediately told her that she looked better before. Among my Vietnamese friends, this reaction is strikingly common as their own parents’ responses range from calling their bleached hair “monstrous” to ignoring them for a few days and even crying at the result. What all of these interactions share is a sense of loss. Transcending a simple dye job, I believe that this transformation can be read by our families as a rejection of our Asian identities. By letting go of our dark-haired roots, it seems as if we are moving further from the more intangible roots that connect us to our cultures. Furthermore, I think that blonde, in particular, adds to this loss as it may unintentionally come off as a desire to strive towards whiteness as an ideal, especially when this already seems like an implicit trend among many Asian Americans, including myself, at times. While there is some truth to these observations, personally, this is not entirely accurate.
Oftentimes, in western media portrayals, young characters dying their hair symbolizes a kind of rebellion, in which the color of choice for these occasions is predominantly black. Asian youths, however, as our hair is naturally black, must turn to colors if we want to change things up, requiring the stripping away of the hair we were born with, in exchange for an “unnatural” or “artificial” color — that is, colors that are unnatural for Asians to have. Yet, it’s this notion of unnaturalness as “unique,” that I believe is the actual guiding force behind Asian youths’ desire to bleach their hair, rather than an inherent aspiration towards whiteness or a turning away from one’s culture. As I look toward my own inspirations for dyeing my hair, I actually owe a great deal to Asian male celebrities than anyone else, specifically, BamBam, the Thai rapper of the K-pop group, GOT7, whom I modeled my new look after. In this way, the act simply reflects a pure desire to stand out as our own individuals while holding onto our Asian identities. Now, even as my silvery blonde locks may distinguish me from the majority of my dark-haired community, I’ll still be teased by my peers as resembling Kakashi Hatake before I’ll ever be labeled as Daenerys Targaryen —this, like the constant presence of my roots, is thankfully inevitable.