The first time I was aware of my Asianness was when I asked my mother why I wasn’t blond. I was 5, and one of only a handful of Asian-Americans living in a predominantly white suburb in Michigan. Of course, my story is not unique — it’s an experience that’s probably shared by most American-born Asians as we shake off our perceived otherness and strive to prove our Americanness. There’s a term for it: “perpetual foreigner.”
“We’re the group that’s always told to go back where we came from, and it’s partly because we have a very strong immigrant population, so we all get bundled in regardless of whether we’re fourth generation or first — to everyone, you look like a foreigner,” said Erin Khue Ninh, associate professor of Asian-American studies at UC Santa Barbara.
“我们这个群体永远都会有人要我们从哪儿来回哪儿去，这部分是因为我们的移民规模非常庞大，所以不管是第四代还是第一代，我们所有人都被捆绑在一起——所有人看你都像个外国人，”加州大学圣芭芭拉分校(UC Santa Barbara)研究亚裔美国人的副教授宁乔艾玲(Erin Khue Ninh)说。
If that’s the case, the most obvious and quickest way to subscribe to Western ideals of beauty is to lighten your hair. For Liz Rim, a stylist at the IGK Salon in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan who began processing her strands five years ago, blond hair was her way of fitting in.
如果是这样的话，要表达对西方理想的认同，最明显且快捷的办法就是把发色变浅。对于曼哈顿切尔西地区IGK Salon的发型师丽兹·任(Liz Rim)来说，把头发变成金黄色就是她融入的方式。她五年前开始处理自己的头发。
“I grew up in Georgia where everyone was blond haired and blue eyed, and I always had this image of myself as an Asian Barbie,” Ms. Rim said. “Now it’s crazy because one-third of the Asians I see in New York or Los Angeles are blond.”
While Japanese celebrities have been changing their hair color as far back as the 1960s to emulate manga and anime characters, it was only a couple of years ago, on the heels of the ombré trend, that salons in this country began to see a spike in Asian clients looking to go full platinum.
Ritsuko Hotaka, English speaker, a colorist at Hair Kuwayama in the East Village, said that nearly 20 percent of her clients are asking to go blond. Kelly Su, the founder of Sonder Hair Studio in NoLIta, reported that of all her Asian customers, about 50 percent are going lighter. (Both salons have a largely Asian client base.)
东村Hair Kuwayama的染发师保高律子(Ritsuko Hotaka，音)说，她的顾客中近20%要求染成金色。诺利塔Sonder Hair Studio的创始人凯莉·苏(Kelly Su)反映，在她所有的亚裔顾客中，大约50%的人会选择更浅的颜色。(两家美发店的顾客群体都以亚裔为主。)
“It has so much to do with the number of Asian-American bloggers who are becoming increasingly visible,” said Greta Lee, an actress who went platinum for the second half of last year. “There’s an army of Asians who are rising in the fashion world.”
Once a so-called editorial look adopted by a select few, like the popular Korean-American model Soo Joo Park, who found fame with her trademark ultralight locks, the aesthetic has paved the way for celebrities, street-style stars and more to follow suit. That includes the model and blogger Irene Kim, the designer Yoon Anh and the social-media influencers Vanessa Hong, Tina Leung and Margaret Zhang.
有少数一些人曾采用所谓的时尚大片造型，比如热门韩裔美国模特朴秀珠(Soo Joo Park)，她以标志性的超亮发型闻名，这种审美引发名人和街头时尚明星纷纷效仿。其中包括模特兼博主艾琳·金(Irene Kim)、设计师安尹(Yoon Anh，音)和社交媒体影响力人物瓦妮莎·洪(Vanessa Hong)、梁伊妮(Tina Leung)和章凝(Margaret Zhang)。
Not all of them went blond with the sole desire of mirroring Western beauty ideals. Ms. Hong was going through a major moment in her life and wanted a drastic change. Ms. Leung, after seven years with a Skrillex side shave, felt as if she was missing an edge.
“I had been seeing all these amazing Asian girls with blond hair, and I’m a sucker for advertisement,” she said, laughing. “If I see something over and over again, I kind of want it.”
This demand can be attributed in part to the 2014 invention of Olaplex, an active ingredient added to bleach to repair breakage from chemical damage, making the process of lifting 10 levels of pigment a more achievable feat. And 18 months ago, when the West Village salon Whittemore House introduced its Hair Paint formula that protects, strengthens and treats hair during the lightening process, its number of Asian clients doubled.
Despite these advances, it’s still challenging to go platinum. It can take up to 12 hours, with as many as six applications of bleach and a bill that can start at $400. That doesn’t take into account the upkeep needed, which includes a regimen of deep conditioning treatments, toners and purple shampoos, and a diligence about monthly touch-ups that can run upward of $200 a visit.
“You’re stripping your hair down to the follicle, to the point where you have this wiry Brillo pad left on your head,” Ms. Lee said. “That kind of rebellion, that’s not something to take lightly.”
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. 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.
“Striving to present only one type of hairstyle not only accommodates narrow and fetishized expectations, it also freezes the ability to experiment creatively with appearance,” said Laura Miller, a professor of Japanese studies at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. “Bleached hair is often linked with other forms of body modification, such as piercing and tattooing, and therefore reflects a rejection of mainstream and old-fashioned femininity norms. What better way to signal thinking that is different from one’s parent generation than with a radically different appearance?”
“力求只呈现一种发型，不仅是在迎合狭隘而执迷的期望，还限制了对外表进行创造性实验的能力，”密苏里大学圣路易斯分校(University of Missouri-St. Louis)日本研究教授劳拉·米勒(Laura Miller)说。“漂发往往会与其他形式的身体改造联系在一起，比如穿孔和纹身，因此反映了一种对主流和旧式女性特质规范的拒绝。还有什么能比一个完全不同的外表更能体现与父辈不同的思想呢?”
Dr. Miller, for one, hopes this is a trend in which young Asian-Americans are pulling style and cultural cues from Asian countries. “What they see in Asia, especially in Japan and Korea, is a lot of hybridity and playfulness with hair colors and styles,” she said. “When Asian-Americans bleach their hair, they may not have in mind white Americans, but rather Asian celebrities such as Moga Mogami or Hyo-yeon Kim.”
拿米勒来说，她希望这是年轻的亚裔美国人从亚洲国家捕捉风格和文化线索的一种趋势。“他们眼中的亚洲，尤其是日本和韩国，在头发颜色和风格上有很大的混杂性和趣味性，”她说。“当亚裔美国人漂发时，他们心里想的可能不是美国白人，而是比如最上摩卡(Moga Mogami)和金孝渊(Hyo-yeon Kim)这样的亚洲明星。”
One can make the argument that hair color and race are, or should be, mutually exclusive. “Caucasians are able to jump around, and it’s not a big deal for them to be blond, a redhead or brunet, whereas those same rules don’t apply to us,” Ms. Lee said. “It would be so empowering to be able to just try anything the way the rest of the world seems to be able to without any problems.”
Even if the intention is to fit in, having pale hair as an Asian has unpredictable effects. Ms. Leung said she has noticed more head-swiveling stares. Ms. Rim found it to be an outlet for creativity. And Jessica Wu, a stylist, producer and model, credits her six-month-old icy blond hair as the reason she is landing more modeling jobs, including the recent Glossier Lidstar campaign.
“Having blond hair has forced me to reassess how I wanted to present myself to the world,” Ms. Wu said. “It’s given me more confidence, it affects the way I dress and the way I perform as a model, and it’s allowed me to be more experimental in terms of my personal style.”
This freedom of expression feels right in line with the values of millennials and Gen Z-ers who prioritize experiences and authenticity above everything else. “I just wanted to shake up my look, but I think with any modification, it’s a break in tradition, and I think we’re more brazen now with what we do,” Ms. Leung said.
While it’s easy to write this off as a beauty trend, this growing community points to stirrings of change on a much larger scale, like the shaping of a new Asian-American identity.
“Maybe this is one part of unlocking the standards we’ve been imprisoned by,” Ms. Lee said. “It may seem like a silly, frivolous act, an act of vanity, but Asians and Asian-Americans have a history of being marginalized and ignored, so whatever the political statement is, maybe by having blond hair, it’s a very simple declaration: ‘Here I am. Pay attention to me. See me.’”