Dr. Miller, for one, hopes this is a trend in which young Asian-Americans are pulling style and cultural cues from Asian countries. “What they see in Asia, especially in Japan and Korea, is a lot of hybridity and playfulness with hair colors and styles,” she said. “When Asian-Americans bleach their hair, they may not have in mind white Americans, but rather Asian celebrities such as Moga Mogami or Hyo-yeon Kim.”
One can make the argument that hair color and race are, or should be, mutually exclusive. “Caucasians are able to jump around, and it’s not a big deal for them to be blond, a redhead or brunet, whereas those same rules don’t apply to us,” Ms. Lee said. “It would be so empowering to be able to just try anything the way the rest of the world seems to be able to without any problems.”
Even if the intention is to fit in, having pale hair as an Asian has unpredictable effects. Ms. Leung said she has noticed more head-swiveling stares. Ms. Rim found it to be an outlet for creativity. And Jessica Wu, a stylist, producer and model, credits her six-month-old icy blond hair as the reason she is landing more modeling jobs, including the recent Glossier Lidstar campaign.
“Having blond hair has forced me to reassess how I wanted to present myself to the world,” Ms. Wu said. “It’s given me more confidence, it affects the way I dress and the way I perform as a model, and it’s allowed me to be more experimental in terms of my personal style.”
This freedom of expression feels right in line with the values of millennials and Gen Z-ers who prioritize experiences and authenticity above everything else. “I just wanted to shake up my look, but I think with any modification, it’s a break in tradition, and I think we’re more brazen now with what we do,” Ms. Leung said.
While it’s easy to write this off as a beauty trend, this growing community points to stirrings of change on a much larger scale, like the shaping of a new Asian-American identity.
“Maybe this is one part of unlocking the standards we’ve been imprisoned by,” Ms. Lee said. “It may seem like a silly, frivolous act, an act of vanity, but Asians and Asian-Americans have a history of being marginalized and ignored, so whatever the political statement is, maybe by having blond hair, it’s a very simple declaration: ‘Here I am. Pay attention to me. See me.’”