Hi there!

Welcome to e5thestories, my Korean-American perspective on life in Seoul. You'll find my beauty, food and travel adventures here (as well as some potentially helpful tips for those who want to move here). Formerly a K-beauty blog, and now living the dream. Hope you'll keep following along! xx

Guest Post: Amy Cao Smith & Asians Going Blonde

Guest Post: Amy Cao Smith & Asians Going Blonde

I've been dying to go blonde for years now, ever since I saw model Soo Joo Park take the plunge. But I'm too chicken and my hairstylist also refused to do it for me because she's seen my decade-long hair journey and said I've been through too much for her to do it now. When my friend Amy went blonde, I was so curious about her hair transformation and asked her to share her story for anyone else who: is Asian and wants to take the plunge. Here's her super-honest hair confession and the pros & cons of being blasian (aka Blonde Asian).

Four months ago I decided to dye my naturally dark Asian hair an ash blonde. Here are things you should consider before taking the plunge yourself.

Photo by  James Chororos

If you ever get sick of being recognized by your friends, family and coworkers, the best thing to do, I’ve learned, is to drastically change your hair color. And if you’re Asian like I am, and have had the same monotone hair since birth, then even better. Because bleaching and dying your hair will render you virtually unrecognizable to those who’ve known you for years — for at least a few months.

Since getting my hair professionally colored, I’ve been asked the same questions again and again. Why? is the most popular one, and a valid question at that. After all, before you sacrifice those virgin strands to the hair coloring gods, you should probably have a motive. And if you disagree, then kudos to you for being among the few who can swap hair identities without any sort of existential examination.

I was inspired by my friend Michelle, now a design manager at Facebook, who changes her profile photo every few months to reflect a new hair color. Every season, she looks like someone new. I’m fascinated by the frequency and ease; I ‘Like’ every photo. As she tackles changes in her life and career, her hair acts like a mood ring, turning from platinum blonde to rich auburn to jet-black. What’s more, she always looks striking, especially when she pairs light hair with her naturally dark, arched brows.

I met Michelle three years ago as a brunette with red highlights. To this day, I know I can count on her to be simultaneously solid and reliable, adaptable and fluid. It’s one of my favorite things about her: never stagnant, never complacent.

Then there’s my sister-in-law, Cathleen, who casually volunteered for a celebrity makeover masterminded by her sister, an editor at Redbook. Cathleen thought she was getting a haircut, but instead underwent a total hair metamorphosis that transformed her long, stick-straight brown hair into a short, angled blonde cut. The change was so dramatic, her two-year-old didn’t recognize her at first, and her five-year-old exclaimed “New Mommy!” when he saw her.

I wanted a change, too.

For three months after my double-process hair color, I resented the inconveniences that came with caring for dyed hair. I got annoyed that it took three times as long for my hair to dry after washing (bleaching makes hair porous, so it acts like a sponge), and I was creeped out by the texture, which felt dry and filled with kinks and knots. For two weeks after the process, I’d run my fingers through my hair and pulled out tangled blonde strands. It felt like I was touching someone else’s scalp.

Dyeing my hair also changed the way I viewed other things I usually take for granted, like my wardrobe. Suddenly, certain colors and grey tones clashed with blonde hair (who knew?). The realization motivated me to wear more black, navy and white, and to update my makeup. Out with pink blush; in with bronzer.

As soon as you start the coloring process, the maintenance process begins, too. Purple shampoos and conditioners, to deter ‘brassiness,’ are just the beginning to a whole new beauty regimen. There are hair masks for extra moisture, shower filters to remove minerals, chlorinated pools to avoid, sulfates to run away from, and extra visits to the salon for touch-ups. Maintaining hair color is a bigger commitment than a lot of relationships.

My friend Nackie owns The Karcher, the salon where I got my hair color, and after complaining about how dry my hair became, she recommended New Wash a shampoo that contains aloe and essential oils and excludes Sodium Laureth Sulfate, which is basically detergent, an ingredient that’s surprisingly common in shampoos. New Wash is also supposed to work with every type of hair, which I can’t attest to, but it works for me — a person with thick hair and oily scalp.

After just a few days of using New Wash, my hair felt genuinely softer. Oh, and you don’t need conditioner when you use it.

It’s been six months since I went blonde, and I’d be remiss to leave out the original intent – the double-process was just the first step to going silver grey. My friends at The Karcher salon warned me ahead of time that it would take two sessions to go from Chinese American to Daenerys Targaryen, and I accepted the challenge not knowing just how much I would like the interim ash blonde on one hand, and loathe the straw-like texture of bleached hair on the other. 

So, for the first time, I drew the line at spending another $300-$400 on completing my hair transformation. Call me a quitter — a blonde quitter. I won’t be going “granny grey” after all.

With each passing week, my dark roots take over more of my scalp, blending into the blonde. But what I didn’t expect was to see my hair grow out in a way that makes the blonde look natural, intentional, even cool.

Photo by  James Chororos

While some friends still look at me with great concentration trying to decide whether they prefer the old or new me, I also get stopped in the street regularly by random hair admirers. Like me, my husband got used to seeing me with blonde hair within a month. 

So here’s what I’d say if you’re considering a drastic hair change: do it for yourself and for nobody else. You’re the one who will have to maintain it and see it in the mirror every day. Some of your best friends will love it; your parents might not, but even they’ll get used to it. Go to a salon that’s upfront with you on the type of coloring processes, number of sessions and cost that it’ll take to get to your desired color. Ask the stylist all the questions you want, even the seemingly obvious ones, like “How long will this take?” (Four hours from start to finish, in my case.)

What’s the worst that can happen? Your kid won’t recognize you.

And the best thing? You’ll see yourself differently, too.

Amy Cao Smith is a writer and creator & host of podcast Bad Asian. Listen to it here.

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