I have always wanted to go blonde all my life. I thought it was a fun color that is very in tune with my personality. (I always think a healthy amount of shallowness is great, my intellectual friends please take note) Plus, I’m reasonably fair and I thought the look was within my reach. I was just really, really fearful how I would pass-off beng-ish. — especially when I was going to do this right before matriculation, back to back orientation camps mean non-stop interaction and I would not want to make a bad first impression to people I’ve just met! Who is this attention seeking person with blonde hair? Aiya, beng ah confirm super stupid one.
It was mostly useless internal conflict that held me back.
I had my fair share of negative impressions but I was quite heartened to have people think of it positively too. Negative stereotypes hold, but for the interests of this article I would consider most of their opinions irrelevant. Instead of being considered a beng, I would get asked if I was either a FASS or Archi kid. And in terms of an aesthetic, that is the ultimate goal – I feel honored to be subtly identified with the dressing elite of the campus. It was very fun through my first few weeks when I surprised new friends that my home faculty was at Business. I think the funniest of first impressions was when I got asked if I like K-Pop, stars of funky hair colors to encourage their group aesthetic.
What I found really interesting about the whole experience was how a hair color could encroach into so many aspects of my life. Not just the impressions I make, but even the nature of social interactions. A striking hair color becomes a great topic for conversation. Lecturers and people identify you by your hair color. It’s a great conversation starter for people you just met. People also became very forward with their opinions – even if you never specifically asked for it. Largely these comments are made with innocence and good faith – but there were acquaintances who were very upfront about their feedback. Whenever I touched up my roots and switched my hair up one shade, people would notice. It looks nice! Oh I don’t like this one. It looks like Hay!
Suddenly, your whole outlook becomes open to a debate you never expected.
What I never expected was how impressions of me with old friends had changed. They would be surprised at the incidence of bleaching. I never really thought about hair color as self-expression until I ran into an acquaintance of mine at UT Starbucks. He was shocked at the color, and had commented how he had never expected me to be so daring with my choices. This was a friend from way back, and granted; he only knows me at the state of who I was years ago. This acquaintance knew me as a geeky science kid back in secondary school. A side of me which I still cherish through my curiosity, but not as evidently in my personality. Perhaps, over the years it can be argued that I have changed, but I prefer to think that me bleaching my hair was just making others more aware of my other personality traits that were less obvious then.
In the context of different groups and friends, I was understood and known in a different way. Dyeing my hair was only a trigger point which made these nuanced understandings of me (to others around) more obvious. I think we subtly also rely on these types of systems without realizing it. Our reliance on these systems are more obvious when we study the familia effect we get in our own homes. Imagining returning back homes weeks after being away. Upon arriving, there will always be a renowned sense of calamity. In the context of a home, you are known as a member in this institution of family, where you have guardians such as your parents and siblings that fight for your best interests. This understanding by stakeholders in your home is what creates this form of emotional security unique to your home.
Similarly, in the context of blonde hair (as an identity) in… this varsity environment, I am known as a more expressive and loud person with bright hair. People judge a book by its cover, and I think this is not something to shame others for. Why else would you be so vain if not for others to understand the positive externality you generate?
Explaining the economics behind that extra-30 minutes of get ready time.
When writing this article, another recurring theme that was obvious was how my own thoughts were very much informed by others around me. What I found particularly interesting through this year of being blonde was how opinions given of me affected the way I perceived myself and my own identity. While they might have each been insightful and interesting in their own way, they should not be a limiting factor to who I intended myself to be.
With vibrant and bright hair, there was a play up on expectations of my extroverted personality (amongst many other nuanced behavior expectations). As much as I liked how people felt more endeared to specific characteristics of me (that were associated with being blonde) I think the version of myself I presented was also too narrow, such that friends were only focused on several traits of myself that were more obvious then.
This was the most obvious when I decided to switch my major from Marketing to Finance in the previous semester. I had a lot of friends who told me otherwise. As a creative and more expressive person, there was an expectation I was someone best fit for marketing and only that alone. But as a shoutout to the inner kid whom has loved his science and math for a very long time, I know very much that the career I want is beyond just the creative outlet. I want a career with numbers and financial rigor and structure. While I agreed with the insights given, I think this decision in time made it very obvious; how although perceptions of me offered were relevant and justified the final decision on who I make myself to be (and hence my identity) will always be determined by the choices I make first.
On a concluding note, I will admit that the perception others have of me were also greatly informed by the way I responded to these expectations in set environment. If I was truly sincere in representing myself in a certain way, this entire incident would not even be an issue in the first place. In my opinion, attempting to settle on a conclusion would be a very circular argument; does the perception of others inform your identity first or the belief in self that enforces said identity? When the latter is only but an outcome of the former, this becomes a very confusing matter. The most useful learning outcome I can offer however; is the importance on individual autonomy and knowing when to make decisions you feel are truly important to represent thyself.
If I want to influence who I want to be, I make a difference through the conscious choice in how I behave. Not what someone else expects it to be. It is tempting to respond in likeness from the expectations of others, but it should never be a controlling factor. If I want to have blonde hair with investment banking dreams, I get to choose to be that person even if others believe otherwise. I liked myself with blonde hair, and while it was not an aesthetic choice everyone would agree with. I find it interesting how it informed perceptions of myself, against others through multiple scenarios. It is always tempting to follow the expectations that were already set of you but is also important to remember that no one successful was ever borne by being vanilla to expectations of others.
This itself should be the biggest motivating factor to explore the ecosystem of opportunities varsity & Tembusu life has to offer. Whether is it to dye your hair in the next most ph14 trend, explore skillsets outside your disciplines, or random learning opportunities in general. Do not dive into them simply because “it’s the last time you get to do this you start working”. That’s a cliché product of a herd mentality. Rather, make a conscious decision for the activities you do – because even beyond the walls of NUS, these decisions contribute to a construction of an identity that fulfils the interpretation (from just your decisions alone!) of the human condition you have set to achieve. This my friend, is what a guy who has dyed their hair blonde through a whole year will tell you.
Pictures by Marshall Too.
About the Author
Asking me to choose my favourite bubble tea is like asking me to choose my favourite child. In which case, I pick Koi. Biz admin kid that gets a bit too excited about food.