Before I entered college, I went to the same school for 13 years of my life. Out of my graduating class of 240 people, I had known roughly a quarter of them since we were five years old. I was familiar with everyone, and everyone was familiar with me. Yet that’s just about where most of my connections stopped. The environment was stifling because each person had a different perception of me. My outgoing and more popular peers saw me as quiet and shy, while my introverted classmates saw me as outgoing and sociable.
My discomfort arose not because these judgments were particularly untrue — all of these labels were applicable — but they were just scattered fragments of my personality. Different people saw me as a passionate poet or a nerdy gamer or a kind classmate or a delusional astrologer, but really, I was all of the above. I was frustrated that I felt like I wasn’t being seen for the complete person I was, but rather reduced to a caricature of other people’s perspectives. At the same time, I acted the part I was given. I felt so much pressure to live as these incomplete versions of myself because I was afraid of breaking those expectations and being socially rejected for it.
I was relieved to find out that nobody else from my graduating class was going to the University of Michigan. Nobody at the University knew my name or anything about me, so I was free to become anybody I wanted. In my liberation, I became almost vengeful. I wanted to prove that nobody from my past knew me as well as they thought they did. So, I dyed my hair.
I started out small — dyeing just a small section of my hair at a salon. Then I purchased my own bleach and lightened the entire top of my head to a blonde hue. From there, I experimented with the combination of my yellow hair and the blue and purple dyes I had on hand, trying to find a mix of colors and style that I liked best. The more I colored my hair, the less restrained I became. If I wanted to dye streaks of purple into my blue hair on a whim, I would do it. Changing my hair color became a weekly tradition. Nobody from my high school would have expected me to be so reckless. A friend of six years told me he saw my recent Instagram post and was shocked by my hair. My own father didn’t even recognize me as he picked me up from the airport when returning home after the fall semester. I took these reactions as signs that I had achieved my desired metamorphosis. I was a new person.
However, even an adamant rejection of another person’s standards allows other people and their judgments to control me. I was so focused on defying other people’s expectations that I was still allowing them to shape my thoughts and actions.
A reflection on my past experiences and reformations of self have made me question if I will become an incomplete fragment of myself again as I meet more people over the next three years of college. I know it won’t be enough to reject the expectations placed upon me; the opinions of others need to hold no importance whatsoever.
When I look back at my high school pictures, I really don’t feel as though I have changed in appearance all that much. I may have dyed my hair and switched my glasses for contacts, but I still retain my acne and double chin. I won’t rebuke my past self, because he is still a fragment of the person I am today, and I wouldn’t be complete if I were to reject that fundamental part of me. I see these past versions of myself like semi-permanent hair dye. As I live day-by-day, the colors in my hair naturally start to fade, but they will never completely disappear. When I layered deep plum over sky blue, I found myself with a pleasant shade of iris. When I built upon my past self instead of trying to restart, I discovered new hues that would have been impossible otherwise.
I began to think of bleach not as an eraser, but instead as a sort of foundation. Now I know that by bleaching my hair, I use my hair as a blank canvas to slather with color; by analyzing and understanding my past experiences, I use them to inform my feelings and actions in the future. My hair is brittle and splitting, but it is still attached to my head. It is mine.
MiC Columnist Andrew Nakamura can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.