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I didn’t expect the microaggressions.

Anusha Kav
Mar 30, 2021 @ 1:53 pm
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dyeing hair blonde became a political statement
Credit: Anusha Kav, HelloGiggles

I remember standing at the checkout at a home goods store with my mom, waiting for the next available till to light up. I was scrolling through my phone until my mom nudged my arm and said to me in a low voice, "Wow, you were right—people are staring at your hair." 

I had been blonde for months at that point, much to my mother's chagrin—she didn't understand why I had decided to dye it. Honestly, it wasn't deep. It was the end of 2018 and I'd been toying with the idea for months after seeing influencer Simran Randhawa post an Instagram photo of her bleach blonde hair.  I'd always been in love with the vintage aesthetics of the Golden Age of Hollywood but had resigned myself to the fact that I'd never fully embody the Marilyn Monroe look. Sure, I wore my hair in pin curls and wore long, flowy skirts—but dyeing my hair platinum blonde? I had never seriously entertained the idea until I went for it. 

Before bleaching my hair, I had already anticipated the months it would take to get as light as I wanted to go, the itchiness and burn I'd feel on my scalp from the bleach, and the hefty cost. I even anticipated that my natural waves would disappear, cursing me for putting them through five processing sessions. However, I hadn't anticipated the microaggressions I'd endure and the many stares I'd receive.

I remember people telling me they were shocked I could "pull off" bleached blonde hair considering my medium-olive skin tone with the golden undertones I get from my Indian heritage. I've always been comfortable in my skin and love playing with my hair color. (I've had warm tones, ashy tones, copper-rose gold, reds, warm browns, deep chocolates, even ash-blonde balayage.) It had never occurred to me before then there were certain shades I couldn't wear as a woman of color until I brought the bleach up to my roots.

dyeing my hair blonde became a political statement
Credit: Anusha Kav, HelloGiggles

Some people even went so far as to say it was a good thing I had the skin tone I did, because I, a relatively light skin person, looked good—implying that anyone darker than me couldn't. Someone once told me that dyeing my hair blonde was brave, as though they implicitly understood how it would make me stand out and go against what was accepted for me, a Brown woman, to do to my hair.

I was also asked if I hated my natural hair and told that I was less in touch with my own culture because of my blonde shade. Someone even suggested I was trying to be more white or western because of it. This was incredibly frustrating. Were brunette white women asked about their authenticity when they went blonde? Were white women who dyed their hair considered brave, too? How often is a white woman's skin tone brought up in a conversation about their hair? How many white, blonde women are stared at while standing in the checkout waiting to buy a lamp at HomeSense?

For years, Eurocentric beauty ideals have told women of color how to look, dress, and wear our hair. These standards socialized us into thinking there's one way to look like a "good" person of color—stray away from that and you're wading into territory that was never meant for you. 

The idea of women of color, such as myself, being so bold as to dye our hair platinum blonde flips the narrative on what we've been told our whole lives: To be accepted, we must make ourselves smaller and less bold, and that we aren't entitled to the same freedom of expression as our white counterparts. Frankly, it's bullshit.

After nine months, I decided to dye my hair back to a darker color, a reddish-brown that didn't turn nearly as many heads and didn't require as much upkeep. I don't regret going blonde, nor do I regret dyeing my hair back to a more manageable shade of brown. However, during my stint of having platinum hair, I realized that if you're BIPOC, dyeing hair blonde—something seemingly so trivial and fun—can become a political statement without it intending it to be so.

I recognize that my experiences weren't as bad as they could have been, considering I have a lighter complexion than other women of color. For Black women, blonde hair has even been a source of employment discrimination in the US. In 2017, influencer Jackie Aina posted a video challenging the myth that there are certain trends that Black people "can't" do, and revealed she had also received comments over the years that stated she couldn't or shouldn't wear blonde hair as a Black woman. 

At best, these microaggressions constrain us and restrict our choices, enjoyment, and identity in the world, and at worst they've even cost us opportunities and reflect the issue of hair discrimination Black women are especially subject to. Even the seemingly small, unsolicited comments and opinions about BIPOC hair speak to a long history of fighting against and challenging stereotypes. I never wanted my platinum hair to become a political statement, but in a world where race is part of every conversation and every decision, I recognize that I never held the power to prevent it from being one because of where society's at.