Colored Streaks On Asian Women: The Subtle But Damaging Trope

Repetitive tropes create less opportunity for Asian visibility.
GoGo Tomago of Big Hero 6.
GoGo Tomago of Big Hero 6.

Nothing is wrong with colored hair. As an Asian woman who has had colored hair in the past, I can confidently say that it’s a fun thing to have and is beautiful nonetheless. But when bright streaks (and more often edgy bobs) becomes Hollywood’s go-to hairstyle for Asian women, more specifically East Asian women, you’ve got to wonder, What’s up with that?

While some may claim that these characters have a backstory behind their colored hair, it’s the lack of diversity among how Asian women express themselves in Western media that’s the problem ― not the color itself.

A colorful streak in an Asian woman’s hair is the only way Hollywood knows how to make her stand out and seem 'less boring.'

You may be thinking that hair color isn’t a big deal, and most of the time it isn’t, but what seems like a fun twist to a character is, in more actuality, media’s way of making Asian women more “spunky” and “Westernized.” Somehow, a colorful streak in an Asian woman’s hair is the only way Hollywood knows how to make her stand out and seem “less boring.” It’s a repetitive trope that doesn’t serve much purpose other than making it seem as if there is no variety of East Asian women.

It’s extremely subtle, and the the fact that I’m even pointing this out may seem like unnecessary nitpicking to most, but when most of the women you see in movies have the same “unique” hairstyle—e.g. Psylocke, Mako Mori and Blink— it becomes an annoying trope that we are tired of seeing. It’s not like we’re picking out the few characters who fit this trope in order to make this argument. This problem exists because almost all East Asian women in media are depicted like this, and like comic illustrator and artist Jen Bartel stated on Twitter:

There are other ways to write a good female character (such as giving them more than two minutes of dialogue, but that’s a discussion for another time), but instead creators seem to be giving us a lazy attempt to make Asian characters catch our attention.

By making these characters seem like an alternative, exotic character and like Tumblr user shoorm said in their post “The East Asian women + colored hair trope”:

She’s not a giggling schoolgirl or a delicate lotus flower, she’s different! See, she has a streak of purple hair (god forbid she dyes it any other color), look how radical that is, look at our modern Dragon Lady!

This characterization of Asian women in Western media is getting boring to say the least, and the build up of repetitive tropes creates less opportunity for Asian visibility within media. We may be seeing more Asian characters, but it’s not as opportunistic if a majority of them carry the same characteristics.

I don’t necessarily want to see less colored hair on women in media. These women rock the colors they wear ― and if you’d like your character to have a blue streak, go for it! I’d just like to see more East Asian women portrayed differently. We don’t need to be a “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” to be interesting. We just need to be better represented.

A version of this post originally appeared on Geeks of Color.

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