Shaving the left side of my head was a complex decision... but it was also incredibly easy to make. Simply put, I wanted a big change and decided to just go for it. However, that's not to say that as a South Indian woman I was able to completely avoid how my hair is undeniably tied to my femininity.
When it comes to Indian beauty standards, women are expected to have long, shiny, thick black hair. You don’t cut your hair short, you don’t dye your hair (unless it’s with henna), and you certainly don’t shave half of it off. That is, outside of tonsuring, a Hindu religious practice of sacrificing your hair.
I can’t remember a single South Asian woman, aside from children and older women, who ever deviated from that standard. Plus, there were next to no South Asians in American media while I was in my formative years and most women in Bollywood had curtains of silky, long black hair. I never even entertained the idea of cutting my hair short because I never saw anyone that looked like me with a short cut — ever.
But then I got to college and started becoming more comfortable with myself, so I started experimenting with how I looked, starting with bold makeup. I was also inspired by more women of color, especially queer women of color, who rejected mainstream beauty standards, like Binx Walton and Janelle Monáe. Beauty became something I could play around with instead of a mold I had to fit into.
When I was 21 years old I decided to get an undercut. I liked how my hair looked when it was asymmetric, but I was so nervous that first time, worrying what my friends and family would say and think about me. In the end, it wasn’t that big a deal. After the initial shock, it just became a part of my look — and the subtle undercut was hardly even noticeable. This time around, I decided to go bigger.
Sometimes people tell me they prefer my hair the old way, so I have to tell them that feeling like myself doesn’t always align with what other people prefer.
This look isn’t for everyone, but that’s kind of what I love about it. I can be bold and show off this unconventional look, or flip my hair over and hide the shaved part. Sometimes people tell me they prefer my hair the old way, so I have to tell them that feeling like myself doesn’t always align with what other people prefer. How I choose to express myself isn’t about whether or not I am perceived as beautiful — it’s about being able to feel like myself.
Most people, however, tell me they love it. One of the best parts of shaving my hair is the experience of having other South Asian women come up and tell me they are itching to cut their hair now. I just wanted to try a new style — hair grows back, after all — but I hope that letting people see my true self continues to inspire others to represent how diverse South Asian women truly are.
In our new series #NotYourTokenAsian, R29's Asian & Pacific Islander staffers take on the pop products, stereotypes, and culture wars that surround Asian American identity. Stay tuned as we celebrate our multiplicity during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.