‘My hair was a way to make myself hypervisible’: One Asian creator reflects on return to natural hair color after 7 years

Whether it’s a means of personal expression, the pursuit of change or the desire to further oneself from their previous image, there are several reasons why someone might choose to dye their hair.

An Asian Australian woman got candid on TikTok about returning to her natural hair color after seven years of dyeing it blond.

On Sept. 7, Jess Tran (@jessglistening), a photographer, writer and marketing strategist living in New York City, reflected on why she opted to dye her hair blond for so many years.

“This thing that I always thought when I had blond hair was that I don’t want to go back to black because I don’t want to look like every other Asian girl,” she said. “This has been a very interesting experiment because as soon as I dyed it I was like, ‘Dude, I look so boring now.’ And where did I get that idea that I had to look special?”

A 2018 article published in the New York Times delved into the growing trend for Asian women, particularly those who are East Asian, to rebel against the traditional, and at times exoticized, connotations of having jet black hair.

“For those who do, it may serve, symbolically, as an act of rebellion against the Asian good-girl trope, an extension of the ‘model minority’ stereotype — conservative, quiet and hard-working,” reads an excerpt of the article. “And since ‘Asian hair’ has a history of being exoticized, often accompanied with descriptors like ‘long, silky smooth and jet black,’ flipping it completely on its head becomes a way of taking back ownership and of reclaiming identity.”

The experience of being an Asian woman, explained Tran, is tied to this feeling of invisibility. Actively choosing to dye her hair blond, to that end, felt like a way she could take control of her identity and the way she was perceived by the outside world.

“I think my hair was a way to make myself hypervisible because it didn’t feel like I could stand out in any way otherwise,” she admitted, before revealing how her return to black has impacted her sense of style. “It also felt like my blond hair served as an easy way for me to feel stylish without having to invest too much in my clothing.”

Tran, who grew up in a low-income, refugee immigrant household, reflected on whether or not her tattoos and blond hair were ways she tried to distance herself from her Asian identity.

“Having tattoos and blond hair and an eclectic sense of style was my way of trying to push myself far away from where I came from and I guess try to be white in a way,” she said in her post. “Because in my head it was like, ‘The white people are allowed to be artists and photographers and models and all these things,’ which is obviously not true these days.”

It seems many Asian TikTokers who’ve seen Tran’s video are connecting with the experience she described.

“I resonate with everything you said, especially re: being invisible, being hyper visible/individualistic and understanding past trauma,” @bossboo1 wrote.

@streamed_energies0 added, “Thanks for making this video !! I think also having black hair and looking less Asian AMERICAN (‘experimental’ whatever vs ASIAN (more Othered’).”

Now, about a month since returning to her natural hair color, Tran has noticed a significant shift in her sense of self — namely, that she’s gone from feeling as if she were looking at a stranger to feeling “the most embodied” she has in a long time.

“There’s an ease to having my natural hair color again that feels like I’ve returned home somehow. Like I’ve taken a really long journey through my 20’s trying to find a version of self that reflects how I feel inside, and in many ways it feels like I’ve completed that specific journey and am at the beginning of the next one – my 30’s,” Tran told In The Know by Yahoo via email. “My hair color feels like it reflects where I’m at right now, which is confident, really stepping into what my own skin feels like, and understanding who I am without having to signal that by a loud hair color or by looking ‘different.'”

Tran, who is of Chinese and Vietnamese descent, said she also feels more connected to her heritage now.

“I’ve noticed that aunties and uncles at Hong Kong Supermarket are speaking to me in Cantonese more, which didn’t happen as much with my blond hair, and I catch glimpses of my mother in the mirror from time to time when I look at myself,” she wrote. “It feels like I’m looking at what I’m actually supposed to look like, or that I’m seeing myself accurately for the first time in a long time.”

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