Like many Asian kids born to lazy parents, I had a bowl cut. It was the bane of my existence and I was sure it was why mean kids called me ugly. In reality it was probably because I was different all around–other than me, a black boy and a white girl, my kindergarten was entirely black and female. I had a lot of time to study their beautiful braids, wishing my mom put as much effort into mine the way theirs did. Wondering what it must be like to be Angela, the cutest girl in our class, who had a fresh head of braids and barrettes every Monday.
As I got older and better at outrunning my dad’s scissors, my parents finally let me be. I planned on looking just like the yellow Power Ranger or Claudia from the Babysitter’s Club. In time, long, sleek Asian hair would be mine.
Sadly, my hair had a mind of its own. First, there was too much of a good thing. It was too thick to hang obediently, instead puffing out like cocker spaniel ears. Then I started swimming, which fried it so that no swim cap or intense conditioner could bring it back to life. By my preteens, I had a huge nest of knots on one side, which took at least an hour to untangle. Anyone who tried would work up a sweat and give up halfway through.
My hair and I ended up leading largely separate lives until one day I lopped it off. In high school, my androgynous phase kicked in, and I happily took to alternating between pixie cuts and short bobs. The goal was to avoid looking like any other typical Asian girl, and I thought short hair was crucial to my identity as a nonconformist. I rejected the designer bag toting, boba-drinking, babydoll stereotype and hoped the short hair would speak for itself. It did fabulously.
Now I’m at a fork in the road. My hair is now at my shoulders, and actually cooperating. I look like a girl, in a good way. Maybe, in my old age, it’s thinned out and ready to settle down. I just hope t hatisn’t the case for me. I wouldn’t want people to think I’m normal.
But at the same time, who is this battle against being a stereotypical Asian girl really benefitting?