From time to time, when letting
off steam about being constantly stared at, someone (it’s usually a man) will
“Well waddya expect.You’ve got PINK hair.Hullo??”
Which shows that some, at least,
of the Westerners I meet in China, think I have pink hair because I WANT people
to look at me. These are, once again, usually men.
Because any foreign woman in
China understands how it feels to be scrutinized,from head to toe and all places in between,
by elderly men, young kids, curious contemporaries, and Uncle Tom Cobbley and
All. It’s very, very difficult to try not to feel somehow violated. Women seem to
react to being stared at in a completely
different way to men.
Though everyone has their tolerance point, men
seem either not to notice the staring, or to bask, somewhat, in it. Then when
it gets uncomfortably intrusive they tend to get angry.It’s probably this, coupled with the fact
that foreign men are, on the whole, bigger, hairier and more unpredictable than
their female counterparts, which results in them not having to go through the
same experiences as women.
So I dyed my hair bright,
shocking, neon pink not long after I arrived because I couldn’t shake my
seemingly irrational conditioning that this behavior signaled something bad.
I don’t think I’ve ever been in a
country, however, where people stare so blatantly, extendedly and so
imperviously as they do in China.My
conditioning led me to think that being stared at in public was what happens in
those nightmares when you turn up for some event with no clothes on. Or you
were behaving, or looking, in some way not socially acceptable.
So, try as I may, I could not rid
myself of the idea that there was something wrong with me: did I have parsley
in my teeth? Was my skirt tucked into the back of my knickers? (oddly enough,
the day I actually paraded through the city in that state I found that no-one
affords it even a flicker of a glance. Which means not one soul took pity on me
as I sashayed through a city of 8 million people displaying my g-string and,
consequently, bottom cheeks to a goodly percentage of that 8 million).
So finally, when I realized I was
actually becoming reclusive, I marched in to the village hairdresser with a
neon ribbon in my hand, pointed to it and to my hair a few times and he got the
From the minute I walked out of
the hairdressers, I stopped fearing people were staring at the parsley, or my
knickers. Or my bum-cheeks. Now, every
time I was surrounded by a ring of impassive faces silently staring, I would
know exactly why – they would be staring at my hair. There was a reason for their
behavior which didn’t involve the idea that I was, in some way that everybody
but I knew about, transgressing in some way.Nah.They’re just staring at the
End of reclusive period.
But the thing is that now, over
time, I have come actually to be, for the first time ever, perfectly happy with
my hair.Not that I ever give it much
thought until I see the roots are growing out again. Pink has just come to be
the colour of my hair – the same way ‘mouse’ used to. (“Mouse” was what my
father actually wrote when he filled in a box marked “Colour of Eyes” in my
first passport application).
Not that it stayed mouse for very
long. I’ve always had a need – doubtless due to my father – to change the colour
of my hair frequently.
By now however, and for most of
the past half a dozen years, it’s pink.
Now in China the fact that I have
pink hair does not actually outweigh the other thing about me that causes
people (quite literally!) to walk into lampposts: I’m a foreigner.Foreigners are strange.Middle-aged foreign women are the strangest
species of all.
Foreigners aren’t judged on their differences;
assumptions aren’t made about them based on the way they look.
So it gives me great pause to
wonder: what’s it going to be like going back to where I’ll be part of the
majority and no longer a seldom-spotted species about whom or what nothing is
Is the way different people will
see me, in a culture that makes a snap judgement within the first few seconds
of seeing a person, going to effect me? Marginalize me? Label me in some way?