A couple of weeks ago I decided to go blonde. Not just a nice sandy shade of blonde the likes of Scarlett Johansson, nor the honeyed blonde locks of Jessica Alba. No I decided to go straight up platinum blonde à la Marilyn Monroe.
Everyone’s been asking me, “why this colour? Why this blonde?” To which I usually answer, “Oh I don’t know, I just really like it. I’ve always wanted to go blonde.” However, I omit the part where I would say “but I just never had the courage.”
The courage I refer to is really the courage to think independently, make my own decisions and be an individual.
Growing up, time and time again, I was told that obedience, submission and docility are the qualities that define a ‘good girl’. A good girl knows her domestic responsibilities and remembers to fulfill her filial duties. A good girl is a virgin, virtuous and pure. A good girl listens and does what she is told.
So, I listened and I obeyed in hopes of being deemed a ‘good-girl’. I eagerly sought my parents’ approval by obeying every order and every command. Doing well in school was just another opportunity to win approval and be considered a veritable good-girl.
In any case, when mom told me that smart, good-girls don’t wear lipstick and keep their hair their natural colour, I took her word for it. I wore what I was told to wear. I kept my hair the way I was told to keep it. Hell, I didn’t tweeze my eyebrows until I was nearly finished high school.
I took her word so often and so unquestionably I stopped making my own decisions altogether and obeyed quite blindly.
It wasn’t until my trip back home to Vietnam accompanied by my mother that someone pointed out to me that I never make a decision or complete an action without first deferring to my mother to say “Yes, Jenny, you may.”
It was made most clear when a cousin asked if I wanted to go out and grab some American food – a hamburger – since it had been nearly a month since I had any Western cuisine and I was probably craving.
I knew my answer right away: yes, of course I want to come! Let’s go eat some burgers and have some fun – I’m on vacation, after all.
But I didn’t say yes like I wanted to. Instead I looked at my mother again for approval. “Is it okay, mom, for me to have a hamburger?” I was 21.
My cousin and my aunts shook their heads, chuckled and said, “poor Jenny, always afraid of mom.”
What? Afraid of mom? How did I go from an obedient ‘good-girl’ to being one who was fearful of making the wrong decision all the time? Why was I always walking on pins and needles, terrified of displeasing mother? How and when did I stop being an individual?
I started paying more attention to my own actions in relation to my mother’s opinions and I realized that over the years, almost all the opinions I had formed were not my own but belonged to my mother instead (or by extension, the culture that she was steeped in when she grew up and which she taught me too).
Whilst browsing through magazines with my mother I was afraid to disagree with the outfits she chose as beautiful, even though I might have adored them. I did not go out with friends and was not allowed to play with boys since, I was told, hanging out after school and, most especially, hanging out with boys was for ‘bad girls’ only. You don’t want to be a bad girl now, do you, Jenny?
Good girls study hard, good girls don’t drink. Good girls stay at home. Good girls always listen to mom and dad.
And then something happened to me. I grew up.
I started to mature amidst a deluge of problems that flooded my home life and ripped my family apart – divorce. It started during my undergraduate years and well, is still ongoing even now that I’ve finished graduate school.
Throughout the torrential storm, filled with thunderous fights and endless finger pointing at whom to place the blame, I was forced to stand in the middle – made referee to keep the peace, and emotional punching bag all at the same time.
I was asked to side with my mother at times and with my father at others, repeatedly, until I could no longer do it. Until I realised how ridiculous and unreasonable they were. How could I obey when everything requested was utterly unreasonable? How could I take one side and disobey the other?
The storm changed me. I started to question the opinions of the people whom I always looked to to guide my way. They were lost and so I had to find my own way.
As I took up the duty of sheltering my siblings from the trauma, and as I learned to take a step back and focus on my education before the distractions threatened to unearth everything I had worked for, I began to grow into my own person.
One day, as I was being pulled into the center of yet another fight, I said no! After being a ‘good girl’ for all those years I finally refused. I disobeyed.
And it was the most liberating feeling, ever.
In the months to follow, I moved out. A year later, I dyed my hair blonde without asking for my mother’s opinion. Yes, I made the decision all by myself. I was not going to let anyone deter me by telling me that it wouldn’t look good because my skin tone didn’t match.
Going blonde is part of my rebellion. Going blonde, in all its irony, is my assertion that I know how to think all on my own. Going blonde was me coming to an understanding that being a ‘good girl’ is so much more than just obedient, submissive and docile. A good girl thinks for herself.