I was waiting for the train at the subway station, here in Seoul, and was noticing the flawless, permed, and often dyed hair of all the women around me. I thought to myself, “natural hair—not just for black women.”
I started to feel self-conscious about my untame mane. Practically every grown female in Seoul seems to have a perm, from a straight or wave perm on a college student to the short tight curls that grandmothers rock.
I did get a magic straight perm once in 2011 when I had long hair. It was great, the only downside being that I could no longer pin my hair up using a hairstick because my hair was too sleek.
My natural hair is wild and it’s not fully within my control how it will behave day to day. It often flips out on one side (the last hairstylist described it as half curly) which I don’t mind in the least but more often than not, it’s like a mushroom when short, a mound of too much hair on my head. It’s probably a combination of having very thick strands (I’ve never lost a hair battle* against someone outside of my family) and a large head—more surface area for even more hair.
I often see positive role models, gorgeous black women sporting natural hair like Tracee Ellis Ross, whom I adore, to Esperanza Spalding and Lupita Nyong’o but there’s no such Asian equivalent. We see natural hair on Koreans and say you need to do something about your hair. Of course, there’s still stigma attached to having natural hair for black women but there’s also celebration of it.
For me as a Korean woman, there’s neither stigma nor celebration. There are just options for different types of perms. Can we get a natural hair beauty role model too?
Chances are that she’ll just look like she’s not having the best hair day.
*Hair battle (not the official title, if there is one) is a game my sister and I used to play a lot with my mom. You and your opponent each select a strand of hair. Then you put the two strands at perpendicular angles, one on top of the other, and push them against each other until one snaps. The one with the unbroken strand wins.