Does dying my hair mean I want to be white?

What I eavesdropped on the bus and why it isn't okay to judge people based on their hair colour…
Publish date:
July 27, 2012

Contemplating how light I need go to be Kate Moss

Overhearing two women on the bus mortified over an acquaintance’s newly bleached curls, I was intrigued at how a box of Clairol could cause such distaste. In condescending diatribe, one of them says, with authority: “She’s just trying to be white.”

As I think of my own Asian hair, marred to its frizzy splendour by years of bleach and rainbow-coloured hair dyes – reminders of teenage rebellion gone wrong – I can’t help but take offence at her sentiments.

True, the western standard of beauty perpetuated by mainstream media has been forced down women’s throats for decades, but was my last attempt at blonde really an attempt to, ahem, literally ditch my roots?

Palty hair dye

On the surface, it does seem like the west has a strong influence on idealised notions of beauty. In Asia, white skin is persistently marketed as beautiful and healthy, encouraging naturally tanned women to lather their faces with potent creams to achieve an artificial pallor.

My mum is strangely proud of the naturally pale wonderchild I have become, though I don’t doubt that whitening products would have been strategically placed by my dresser had that not been the case. Long lost relatives and other older asians who somehow are insistent on playing the “which Asian are you?” guessing game incessantly comment on how lucky I am to be “so white.” Tell that to my high school.

Double eyelid surgery, where a permanent crease is stitched onto the eyelids of those who are mono-lidded, is one of the top cosmetic surgical procedures requested in Asia. My friend Karen, who is Chinese-Canadian, considered undergoing the operation herself.

“I've thought about doing it, then I realised that it's an insult to Asian beauty. Single eyelids used to be viewed as beautiful, but now because of western culture, they’re not. It's very sad to see.”

Can these extremes really be construed as part of a process of western cultural and white ethnic ascendancy?

I’m not sure. 50% of east Asians are born with a double lid, so it’s not like the Western world can claim patent on the “ideal” eye shape. But is it the fact that monolids are a trait shared almost exclusively amongst Asians - a characteristic that many seem to want to eradicate - that’s problematic?

Secretly judging this crazy blonde bitch

Still, it seems silly to suggest that the purchase of a £6.99 box of colourant from the local chemists really represents the renouncement of one’s ethnic identity.

Accusing Caucasians of self-loathing and racial embarrassment based on their chemically achieved raven hair, is an argument that will never see the light of day. Artificial redheads, blondes and brunettes can attribute their coloured locks to a simple desire for change.

However, musing on this, I was taken aback when my best friend agreed that Asians with blonde hair were expressing a desperate desire to mimic their white counterparts.

Judas - standing before me with his own hair, faded black from the last of his many do-it-yourself attempts to erase his mousy brown - was not pleased with my retaliation: that, by his logic, his own decision to dye his hair black was based on a hidden desire to be Jackie Chan.

Unfortunately for non-whites, our choice of hair colour can not so easily be ascribed to a fashion statement or boredom. Instead, a view exists where a bottle of peroxide can double as a big ol’ jug of Aryan dreams.

Double meaning developer

I don’t doubt that for some, the pursuit of blonde may stem from a suppressed aspiration to look like Barbie. However, this ill fated desire can be shared by all ethnic groups.

White westerners have no monopoly on hair colours. Why should other ethnicities stick to their natural hue lest they be accused of self loathing, cultural betrayal and race shame? Let me suggest that only those with purple hair should be condemned; they aspire to be Martians.