I’ve always had black, pin-straight hair, a family trait on my dad’s side that the Hong clan is extremely proud of. I can’t count how many times my dad has told me the story of my grandma who still had inky black hair without a single trace of silver at 70 and therefore had become the talk of her small Chinese town. My mom, who has natural, frizzy curls – the complete opposite of my pin-straight hair – told me repeatedly how glad she was to find out that I did not inherit her rebellious curls, which had always given her such a headache in the morning when she was young. During our moments of mother-daughter bonding, she would often touch my hair and say, “Look at your hair! You don’t ever have to go to a salon to straighten it!”
Thus, I was taught to be proud of my hair, too, though I sometimes secretly wished that I had ended up inheriting my mom’s natural curls, which are rare among Asians. How special would I be then!
Nevertheless, I still appreciated my natural black, pin-straight hair for giving me such an easy time, and I kept it as it is for almost 19 years.
In high school, a lot of my friends started dyeing, curling and doing all kinds of things to their hair. As for me, I just watched, gave my comments on their new style and shook my head “no” when they egged me on to play something with my hair too.
It was not until college that I reconsidered the option. During the Fall semester of my first year, I was so excited, nervous, hopeful, scared, confident, insecure, curious and confused that I felt like I was thrown into a big whirlpool: being away from home for the first time, making friends and finding a group, making every decision on my own — the thrill and chill of this new college freedom.
At the same time, I started to realize the narrowness of my previous view of the world and the smallness of my anti-climactic high school life, which consisted only of home, school and Tim Hortons. In high school, everyone could only be either a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer or some figure in business. In college, I suddenly discovered so many paths that I’d never heard of or dared to consider before.
As a result, I also began to examine myself and every decision I’ve made in the past. Did I take business classes in high school because I really liked it, or because my parents were in business and that’s what they wanted me to do as well? Did I let my pen, books and imagination gather dust in the corner because I was over those childhood dreams of creativity, or because I was actually afraid of others’ opinions? Did I ever prejudge people before I got to know them better? Did I ever easily deem people unforgivable when they’ve wronged me?
What kind of a person am I? Who do I want to be?
I felt like I was tearing myself down into pieces and reconstructing them to create a new self that belongs completely to me. She would do what she loves to do, not what others tell her to do. She would reclaim the ownership of her love for the arts and stop pretending to like something else. She would try to make many friends, but would be content both by herself and in a group.
In terms of physical look, I thought I should change it up a bit too, and the number one thing was my hair. Maybe I was a little sick of people asking me all the time (hairdressers among them), “Is your hair naturally that straight?” Maybe it was that I wanted to use my hair to show to the world my internal struggle and self-exploration. Maybe it was that I realized that pin-straight hair doesn’t actually suit me the best.
Whatever the reason, I went home during winter break with the determination to change my hair. When my mom habitually touched and praised my hair again, I told her that I wanted to perm it. She looked surprised at first, but quickly smiled understandingly and replied, “Sure. I remember that I wanted to change my hair too in college.” My dad was a little less willing, but obviously he would be wise enough not to argue against something the two women in the household decided to do.
So marching into a new year, I now have my new curly hair, though still the same questions in my head. Recently I’ve been wondering: Can I still go back to my pin-straight hair if I want to? What if I can never get back my innocent, black, pin-straight hair that nobody would believe is only natural? But then again, that would be another chapter in the book of college doubts.
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Eva Hong is a Trinity first-year and Recess staff writer.