Tooth #6: The Hair Rainbow

I just thought I’d start my blog on Korean hair by posting a video that I recently shared with my roomie, Sunyoung. She was busy writing a paper on African American women’s hair trends reflecting white women’s styles, when I so thoughtfully interrupted her to share this video. We began talking about the different standards of beauty, how things have changed over time, and how we need to redefine what we see as beautiful.

But that’s not actually where the idea for this post began. It all started several months ago at the beginning of the semester when, after taking a shower, I emerged from our bathroom with a head full of very wet hair. Not thinking anything of it, I went about getting ready when Sunyoung suddenly surprised me with a cry of exclamation. She stared, wide-eyed, at my hair which had turned a shocking color of dark brown. She couldn’t believe my hair had changed color simply by getting wet! When she asked me how this was possible, I had absolutely no idea. I mean, this was something that my light hair has done since I was a baby, and I’ve never thought to ask why!

Which brings me to Korean hair…

So I know this is totally a stereotype and certainly doesn’t apply to everyone, but Koreans have amazing hair. (I mean, Asian hair is awesome in general. Come on! Tell me you didn’t want Mulan’s hair!!??)

But that’s besides the point! Where I’m getting at is this: just as the video showed the progression of our idea of beauty in the U.S., we can see how Korean standards of alter as well. In Korea it’s very rare to see someone with naturally wavy or curly hair; everyone just has straight, dark brown/black hair. So it’s now very fashionable to perm one’s hair. Now, at first that kind of surprised me, mostly because when I hear the word “perm” a woman with a frizzy mess of  late 80′s early 90′s curls comes to mind. But that’s just me! For them a perm is a bit of a wave to their hair, just enough to stand out.

And that’s what leads me to the main idea of the Hair Rainbow. In Korea, where the majority of the population is Korean, everyone looks very similar. By changing their natural hair, the Koreans look different enough to really stand out in the crowd. I’m not going to post any pictures here, but all you really need to do is tune into channel 79 on the UMW cable, and you’ll see MBC America, the Korean American network. Here you’ll get a taste for Korean news, drama, and game shows. Now not everyone is going out dyeing their hair, but it’s certainly no surprise to see someone both men and women with spiky blonde hair, or a bubble gum-pink wig. Just the other day one of the Korean Exchange students came to my room to ask where she can get her hair dyed…!

I mention all of this, not in an attempt to look at how different we are, but to point out a funny cross-cultural paradox. In making themselves look different from one another, the Koreans of course stand out, especially against an ethnic backdrop that is so alike. However, in this self-expression they also come together. They make themselves outwardly dissimilar, but through their choice for their own personal taste and fashion comes a bond with the rest of the world and its constantly changing style.

SO! This week’s Korean vocabulary word, due to the SHOCKING surprise of the crazy hair, will be an expression of surprise that the Korean students use daily. “Hore Tayba.” It took me about a month to realize, after a heavy sigh of relief, that they weren’t saying “whore.” This phrase is often used like, “Wow!” or “Oh my gosh!” But I think it’s more fun to say than both of those!



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