Genetics Be Damned




















I’ve never particularly wanted to be blond. It's the idea of defying genetics that intrigues me—the insubordinate attitude that makes women like Soo Joo Park and Charlotte Carey so appealing. As if you could hear them say, "Punnett square be damned!" while enduring the dreadfully long double process. The impulse is an ancient one: Dark-haired Romans sheared flaxen locks from German slaves for their own. One archaic bleaching practice involved applying stale urine, lye (sodium hydroxide), and lemon juice before exposure to sunlight.

But there are certain connotations that come with being an Asian woman with blond hair. As Soo Joo told ITG, "My hair doesn’t really make me feel very different, but I know that I get perceived as a different person. People think that I’m more eccentric, open, or adventurous, but it’s really just the hair…" Lindsey Higa of the Hawaii based blog Pineapple Ice who has been platinum for the past six years shared this story: "I was hiking down Koko Head and this guy ran in front of me, turned around, and said, ‘Damn, I thought you was one white girl, but you’re Asian!'" There’s also the unfortunate fact that many dye jobs turn out very badly—i.e. brassy or orange, making realistic blond on an Asian person hard to find.

A mixture of boredom, congenital contempt, and the desire to see if I could pull off being a blond Asian urged me dangerously close to dyeing my hair. But then, Annie and Emily both fortuitously shared their hair color experiences and it all seemed like a decidedly less fun way to spend my time. Also, the memory of a wine-induced impromptu buzz cut—inspired by Emily’s undershave—followed by two years of an awkward grow out stage resurfaced, making me reconsider.

Luckily, at ITG, my desire to be blond can be assuaged (if only temporarily) without me actually being blond. Enter: Bumble and bumble colorist Zoe Weipert, who outfitted me with a blond wig. I emailed Molly Young, fellow ITG contributor and wig enthusiast on not one but two counts, about what to expect.

Molly: The main thing with wigs is, they always look fake. It's so disappointing. Have you ever worn a really good wig? Even the expensive ones, in my experience, look super fake, which taints the entire experience a bit. Because instead of reacting to a "blond Asian", people are reacting to "an Asian in a blond wig"—you know?

I don’t—but, on one Tuesday morning at 10am, I find out.

Zoe, who is bright-eyed and very intrigued by this concept, has prepared two wigs for me. One, she explains is a "beige blond," the other, a "wheat blond"—immediately making me think of flights of beer (not a good sign).

I try wig one (beige blond). Take a picture. Email Molly.

Me: Wig numero uno. I look like a bad Housewife of Orange County.

Molly: It's nutty how quickly a hair color can alter your skin tone. You look so rosy-cheeked here—like one of those bronzed sun-kissed Swedish women. The roots are very realistic.

She’s right about rosy-cheeked; blond suddenly shows all of my red undertones, which are apparently numerous and splotchy. Then I try the cooler-toned of the two, the wheat blond. It is agreed to be the better choice.

Downstairs, cutting apprentice Mackenzey Forrey braids my hair around my head, slips a wig cap around the braids, then snuggly applies the wheat blond wig, making my head feel like a freshly swaddled baby. As she styles the wig, people descend and hover.

What Molly said about the wig looking fake is true—but, not in the way you would think. Instead of the color, the most artificial aspect of the wig is its unnecessary luxuriance. There's a lot of hair. It's thick, wavy, and, completely obstructs my peripheral vision. But Zoe is an expert colorist. (Colorist Aut Sivongxay and the Brooklyn-based Japanese hair salon, Shizen are also extremely reliable options for the New York cohort.) The color compliments my skin so well, it’s as if my brown hair wasn't buried below. "It looks good," people remark. "You should really consider actually dying your hair blond." I’m surprised. Going into the salon, I was convinced the blond would look like it does on most Asian women: glaringly fake or worse, orange. "Anyone can be any color," Zoe says matter of fact. "It just depends on the tone."

Cool, icy blonds like beige, wheat, or ash are best for yellow-toned Asian skin. Had Zoe used a golden blond, I might have resembled an El Dorado effigy. While Mackenzey curls, Zoe detects I’m contemplating committing to blond hair. "Your hair is thin, so the double process probably wouldn’t take that long." For a few moments, I consider asking for a glass of wine and taking her suggestion.

I leave the well-lit and supportive salon on the high of a hair transformation and run into Tom on my way to the Gloffice. "I thought you actually dyed your hair blond," he tells me under the sweltering sun. No one in the office recognizes me at first glance.

Later, I stop by my friend’s apartment. We decide to walk to Whole Foods so he can gauge people’s reactions from afar. Men make lewd comments. One apparently follows me for a few blocks. And another tells his girlfriend "That’s a wig, that’s totally a wig," after we pass. She’s on her smart phone and doesn’t notice—all confirming Molly’s prediction that in most instances, "Instead of reacting to a 'blond Asian,' people are reacting to 'an Asian in a blond wig.'"

This is disappointing. Also, distracting, because reactions towards me having blond Asian hair or a head of ridiculous cascading curls, become inextricable. And, I’ve never felt more sexually objectified in my entire life.

This, I think, is largely the result of the wig. It is novel and campy (see: Cindy Sherman and her collection of 157 wigs), heightening my femininity into a borderline solicited stratosphere.

Yet, I wonder, would another colored wig have had a different effect? Or, are these the types of reactions—fetishizations, even—blond Asians receive regularly?

I should also note this is the hottest day in August. My head is sweating. I am irritable. I email Molly.

Me: *Wearing a wig is surprisingly exhausting. Maybe it's because I know it's fake. But also, my scalp is perspiring profusely and the hair blocks my peripheral vision. Did you experience any of this? *

Molly: It's so hot, right? Like a bear's got you in a headlock?

*And yeah, peripheral vision is fucked. Which makes it hazardous to walk down a crowded NYC street, or ride a subway, or avoid molten piles of summer garbage. It's like being a handicapped character in a video game.

You look great though. Like some lucky hedge fund manager's wife! *

Me: I was thinking government officials madame. I like your comparison better.

At home, I switch into the beige blond wig, happy to see some semblance of myself for a few seconds. Shockingly, I miss my hereditary hair. And at this point in the day, the new wig also does not look as realistic or good as before, providing the key word of this experiment: dedication. The longer you spend out of the salon, the shittier your hair will look. Though blond Asians are badass—I commend them for not only sitting for upwards of six hours, withstanding the stares and statements, and looking cool the whole time—I’m happy to not have to return to the salon more than my usual six months. Ultimately, it’s an unsustainable look as Soo Joo noted, "I’m still really into the blond, but I know that it’s going to give up on me soon. It’s already suffering from severe breakage from all the shows and the styling."

Still, I go out for a few hours more hours in the wig. I send selfies to friends. Comparisons inevitably happen.

Caroline: Omg, Asian Daryl Hannah.

Blair: You look more Asian, very Harajuku or K-pop.

Lizzy: WOAH. Harajuku all the way.

My friend Lindsey, who has been a platinum blond Asian for the last six years, tells me: "When I first dyed it, I got a lot of Justin Bieber jokes. Then when Miley went blond, I got those too."

The good news is: no one calls me Alexa. Instead, I look like the Pope.

—Alexis Cheung

Photos by Tom Newton.