I decided to dye my hair orange this summer. It wasn’t neon or bleached, and my sister’s homegrown hairdressing skills showed when the left half appeared more tinted than its right counterpart. Nevertheless, I was happy with the result. To me, the color symmetry was nowhere near as important as the recognition of the act itself. For the first time in my life, I’ve officially dyed my hair. And that meant a lot.
A conservative at heart, my dad takes an avid interest in criticizing the beauty industry and its practices, especially with respect to women’s hair. His vehement opposition probably stems less from a misbelief in the detrimental effects of these interventions, and more from an unwieldy loyalty towards “traditional” beauty. So growing up, I was taught to not only think of black long hair as the allegory of women’s chastity but also of color-headed peers as, euphemistically, uneducated. And being a child who wants to please her parents, I learned to preserve my Asian hair in its most primitive form - long, black, neatly straight to minimally curly, all the while suppressing a counter desire that was blooming underneath.
Almost everyone has their own “hair problem”. They are these little things that appear inconsequential on the surface, but actually lurking behind with full destructive power. Like aninsignificant outlier, a feature-turned bug, usually they are better left alone because the cost of confronting them can outweigh the benefits by large margins. Truth is, going against my parents’ dearest wish and risking a sure-to-come emotional outburst are too high a price to entertain a relatively deferrable need. Another concern is the “judgment of the entitled”. I remember having skimmed through some global depression statistics and was extremely surprised to see Finland at number 9. Despite the Nordic countries’ much-envied universal welfare policies which crown them “the Earth’s happiest countries” title, young people turn out to account for the majority of Finland’s depression census. Overprotective public safety nets seem to have underprepared the fledgling youth and hence made them more vulnerable to losing their grounds when leaving the nest for the first time, coupled with a perverse social stigma against “being depressed in a country that is too happy for depression”. Ironically, my hair is also too trivial a cause to legitimize a domestic uprising, and my entitlements apparently doesn’t add much to the case.
But the problem isn’t only about dying my hair or not. It’s actually the only way of life I’ve known and come to embrace. My over-reliance on others’ opinions was evident in my career choice, the result of viewing the world myopically and having internalized the family’s dogmatism. Upon the belated realization of a wrongly chosen career, I became trapped in a depressive montage of academic distaste and stumbling around in the dark to reestablish my grip on reality. I started an interning frenzy, scrambling for any opportunity to reframe my identity and reimagine my next steps. This “rebellion” was foreseeably met with disapproval by my parents, who’ve always wanted me to have the stable life of a government official. Fortunately though, self-honesty and canine therapy helped me escape the loop at last.
Heavy or lightweight, every decision is a battle between living your life or outsourcing that right to others, especially when your critics could be anyone, whether the perpetual “others” or good-hearted family members. But right now, I’d rather just err on the opposite side of caution, knowing that I’m privileged enough to do that.
My tinted hair was a nice punctuating dot to commemorate a special summer. Of course, it created anger and disappointment in its wake, but also dialogue, reckoning and acceptance. Though still prejudiced, eventually dad subsided and left his daughter’s hideous orange-ish shade alone.
Fighting to live as you wish, as long as that doesn’t do harm to other people, isn’t a justifiable cause because what you choose for yourself is always guaranteed to be the best option. It’s entirely possible that my hair will get less hydrated, the color will fade, and I might jump back on the retro bandwagon that prefers blackness to chromaticism. But regardless of what I decide, it is still my decision. And ultimately, that’s really all that matters.