Photo Credit: Illustration by Olivia Lake
In Time We Look At Things Differently
Everyone has that core instinct telling them to fit in, and yet there are those that have a fascination with the adventure of standing out. It is natural to feel safer surrounded by people like you, especially in teen years when it feels like gaining acceptance and approval is life or death. It is a balancing act of fitting in enough to feel accepted and standing out enough to express personal identity.
People use many different outlets to express themselves, dying their hair being one of them. For a couple of years now, I have debated whether or not to dye my hair purple, or at least add an ombré of purple highlights. In the grand scheme of things, this is not a big deal, but right now in my teenage brain, it is.
I have just as much curiosity as I do anxiety. It is exciting to think of my friends’ reactions, yet frightening to think what the newfound attention will feel like.
My natural hair is already so different. I am Asian and my hair is black. Although, apparently I do not look different enough. From the back of my head, I look like every other Asian girl—regardless of hair length. And according to some people, I look related to essentially every Asian in America. This is why, for me, dying my hair would be a fun experiment with expression, setting myself apart, but almost a loss of cultural identity, distancing myself from my roots.
When I was younger, I thought only blonde and brown hair was beautiful, I hated mine. That was because I would only see white people as models in advertisements. The only Asian model I ever saw was in a poster of a little Asian girl with popcorn in her mouth at the Target cafe—no one in clothes, no one in beauty. Among all the things that influenced my self-image, the lack of Asian representation in advertisements and social media was the most detrimental.
In one of my mom’s efforts to cheer me up, she showed me a picture of a beauty pageant winner who had black hair. Even though this was a new, exciting revelation for me, the model was not Asian. Initially, I wanted to believe black hair was beautiful. I truly wanted to feel better, feel prouder, but there was something off about it that kept me from believing. Back then, I could not put my finger on it and ended up settling in disappointment. As I got older, I figured out that my poor self-image of my hair was actually a poor self-image of my ethnicity.
In middle school, I enjoyed watching Wengie, a popular Youtuber. She was the only Asian YouTuber I knew of, and for as long as I can remember, she has always had bleached and dyed hair. Looking back, I realized how discouraging it was for me to see a major Asian influencer prefer blonde hair.
I am sure that is not a message she purposefully wants to send across. I understand she uses her hair to express her style and love of pastels; but to my unconscious, malleable, tween mind, it negatively impacted how I viewed my hair. As all kids, tweens and teens do, I wanted to be cool and be like those I looked up to. Admiring Wengie’s colorful, blonde hair reinforced the ideals that blonde hair was better than black.
At the end of the day, I know who I am and I am proud. I also know that I am overthinking this and no one else cares.
As teenagers, we tend to spiral into indecisiveness over insignificant things, afraid they mark the end of the world. As people, we spend too much time feeding into fear by worrying what could go wrong rather than wondering what could go right.
But if you take the time to slow down every once in a while, you will realize your present will soon become your past; a fading memory that has no impact on what really matters—family and true friends, the ones that will stick with you when the world feels like it is falling apart.
It does not matter how you identify yourself or how you display your identity, but more importantly, who you identify yourself with.