It turns out if you have striking, dark blue hair that fades up to a sort of silver and glows in daylight a lot of people stop you to tell you, “Cool hair!” Any time I leave our building for a walking meeting it’s interrupted by at least one comment.
The occasional street comments or catcalling I’ve previously experienced have been occasional homophobic comments and threats, because I apparently walk very gay (???), so the first few times strangers called out to me I was on the defensive. I was certain they had to be mocking or belittling me in some way. Then, for a few times after that I just blushed and gushed, “thank you so much!” And now I just reply out of reflex, “Thanks!”
It took a week for my response to become reflexive. I’m not tired of the comments – it’s kind of people to notice! Yet, I colored my hair for me and not for a single other person on this Earth. I also know that if I reset my hair to dark brown, or even bleach it again, the comments will cease. I will return to being an unremarkable guy on the street.
I also know that the hair changes people’s perceptions of me. Demographically, people are saying “hi” to me who usually would not give me the time of day. My hair signals some element of counter-culturism to them – shared membership in a club. Similarly, I cut a peculiar figure on the train reading my comics or wrapped around a laptop.We all know appearances can be deceiving, but I don’t suspect people assume I’m off to direct a multi-million dollar book of accounts!
All this makes me wonder how must it feel to be a woman, whose mere existence seems to invite both kinds of comments – the violent catcalls and the appraising mentions, and the assumptions of your facility or lack thereof. As a feminist and someone who tries to be a good ally, I have read countless articles and followed movements like Hollaback, but it’s one of those things you don’t appreciate until it happens to you.
Actually, this is on my mind not because of it happening to me, but because of EV.
She is a striking little girl. All of our friends tell us she’s the perfect blend of E and, the classic curly-haired Italian toddler with hints of E’s Chinese heritage across her features. Everyone we know has seen her before, and they know us, so they’re not making a lot of comments about her appearance past the normal “oos” of cuteness. However, if we bring her to a store or to a place with people we haven’t met, here are the two comments we get most frequently: “Her hair is amazing!” and “She’s beautiful!”
Clearly I don’t mind the hair comment (it’s really quite incredible), and I’ll take “beautiful” over anything related to “princess” (and, yes, I’m still responding, “Oh, is that some level of Engineering degree? Princess in Engineering?”). Yet, this past week it’s struck me that I had to wait over three decades and dye my hair blue to get strangers to comment on my appearance, but it’s the first thing they do when they see EV. I’m not certain what parents of toddler boys get, but I don’t feel like I go around telling them “He’s so handsome!” as one of the first remarks out of my mouth.
My invariable response to the “beautiful” comment is “and she’s very clever.” People have surprised me in how much they get the hint and ask what she enjoys or if she likes books. Every so often we get someone who doesn’t take the hint. “What a heartbreaker,” they’ll reply, “just wait until she’s a teenager,” or some other such sexualizing nonsense about my two year old.
Which they think they have the right to say because she is a girl. Mostly we just shuffle away but someone eventually will catch my wrath. It will be words smooth and slick as the sharpest blade and I will slip it across their neck so fast EV will never realize what happened until they are crumpled behind us without a response.
We’re both happy to hear about you liking our hair, but we both already know we’re beautiful – you don’t have to tell us, and it doesn’t matter all that much anyway.