Golden Girl with Hair of Gold

“I’d never go blonde,” I said in perfect Cantonese when I was 10.

“Good, it wouldn’t look good on you anyway,” retorted my mom. “Your skin is too warm, and your dark brown hair is healthy and beautiful. Don’t ruin it.”

But at 17, I found myself walking out of a local Sally Beauty Supply with bleaching powder and 40 volume developer.

That same afternoon, I sat at the edge of my friend’s bathtub and dipped my feet into the warm water as if I were relaxing by a hotel pool, curling my toes. I grimaced at the purple mixture that my friend concocted, as the gaseous smell drifted around the bathroom.

“Are you ready for this?” my friend had asked, as she dipped the black coloring brush into the bowl of bleach.

No. “Yes.”

Within two hours, my dark hair transformed into a waterfall of gold and brass. It was my first time getting an ombré—homemade, but it was beautiful nonetheless. However, my mom wasn't so happy with my impulsive decision. In fact, she hated it.

“You look like one of those party girls who goes out for drinks and drugs!” she cried. I couldn’t tell if she was joking, but I didn’t care. After another bleaching and toning session, I was Barbie blonde. Or half-blonde.

Growing up, I was constantly surrounded by Asians, and wasn’t aware of stereotypes until I got to UCSB.  I learned of the 'model minority' myth, which had a more diverse pool of students in Santa Barbara, compared to a 90%+ Asian population at Temple City. However, I grew up as an example of the 'Asian glass ceiling effect' with my proper clothing, straight, dark hair, and my flawless report card of straight A’s. I was at the top of my class, but I still got teased by a few classmates for always “trying too hard.” Even teachers kept calling me out in a classroom of 30 students because I “looked smart.”

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Most of my friends supported my blonde binge, complimenting on how ash tones made me look striking. Making me stand out, my blonde tresses lifted my cloak of invisibility, and grabbed the attention of most of my classmates because I finally looked different from most of them. On top of that, I received random compliments from complete strangers; from the cashier at Forever 21, to a makeup consultant at Sephora. I wasn’t the perfect, model minority Asian girl anymore.

Yet, I get accused by a few traditional relatives that I’m becoming “whitewashed;” adhering to white beauty standards that have plagued magazines and movie posters with tall, gorgeous models with light hair and light eyes.

But that’s the thing; I’m still Asian. I just want to look like an Asian with blonde hair and stand out against a crowd of my peers. I don’t want to be pushed into a narrow margin of aesthetics just because I was born as a brunette.

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Since then, my hair has been through a back-and-forth journey. I got my ombré, dyed it back to brown, got a balayage professionally done, dyed it black, and now, I’m sporting a blonde balayage. The cost to maintain the color, especially ashy tones, is pretty high, ranging from a couple hundred dollars per session. It probably would be easier to just go back to my natural color.

But will I? Possibly, but it’s been three months since I switched back to blonde. The maintenance is costly in both time and money, but the results make me happy. It looks unnatural against my brown eyes and golden skin, yet it makes me a stronger and more confident version of myself. And if I do get sick of it in the future, it won’t matter.

It’s just hair. Color is impermanent.

I promise it’ll grow out eventually.