Colored Streaks on Asian Women: The Damaging Trope
Nothing is wrong with colored hair, and as an Asian woman who has had colored hair in the past I can confidently say that it’s a fun thing to have and is beautiful nonetheless, but when a bright streaks (and more often edgy bobs) becomes Hollywood’s go-to hairstyle for Asian women, you’ve got to wonder “What’s up with that?”.
While some may claim that these characters have a backstory and reasoning for the often blue/purple colored hair, it’s the lack of diversity among how Asian women express themselves in Western media that’s the problem, not the color itself. You may be thinking that hair color isn’t a big deal, and most of the time it isn’t, but what seems like a fun twist to a character in more actuality is Western media’s way of making Asian women more “spunky” and “Americanized”. Somehow, a colorful streak in an Asian woman’s hair is the only way Hollywood knows how to make her stand out and seem “less boring”. It’s a repetitive trope that doesn’t serve much purpose other than making it seem as if there is no variety of Asian women.
It’s extremely subtle, and the the fact that I’m even pointing this out may seem like unnecessary nitpicking to most, but when most of the Asian women you see in movies have the same “unique” hairstyle—e.g. Psylocke, Mako Mori, and Blink— it becomes an annoying, even racist trope that we are tired of seeing, and it’s not like we’re picking out the few characters who fit this trope in order to make this argument. This problem exists because almost all Asian women in media are depicted like this, and like comic illustrator and artist Jen Bartel stated on Twitter “If there were more Asian Characters that DIDN’T sport the hair streak as a default form of identification, it wouldn’t be a problem”.
There are other ways to write a good Asian female character (such as giving them more than 2 minutes of dialogue, but that’s a discussion for another time), but instead creators seem to be giving us a lazy attempt to make Asian characters catch out attention. By making Asian women seem like an alternative, exotic character and like Tumblr user shoorm said in their post “The East Asian women + colored hair trope”, “She’s not a giggling schoolgirl or a delicate lotus flower, she’s different! See, she has a streak of purple hair (god forbid she dyes it any other color), look how radical that is, look at our modern Dragon Lady!”.
This characterization of Asian women in Western media is getting boring to say the least and the build up of repetitive tropes creates less opportunity for Asian visibility within media. We may be seeing more Asian characters, but it’s not as opportunistic if they all carry the same characteristics. I don’t necessarily want to see less colored hair on Asian women in media— these women rock the colors they wear— I’d just like to see more female Asian characters that are different. We don’t need to be a “spunky” Manic Pixie Dream Girl to be interesting, we just need to be better represented.
My significant other and I often watch films Mystery Science Theatre style, which is to say we heckle the heck out of it. We love Pacific Rim, and part of it is the mocking of Mako’s hair as a stereotype. It was funny again when we could revive the joke for Big Hero Six and GoGo Tamago. By the time we saw again during X men: Days of Future Past, it’s become a meme for us to call it out when we see “Asian Girl Hair”.