Our hair colour goes far beyond beauty trends – it reflects who we are. From fresh starts to power moves, we often turn to our hair as a way to express what we want to put out to the world. For Reeta Loi (she/they/he), a storyteller, musician, writer and the founder of Gaysians, a movement highlighting South Asian LGBTQ+ voices, colouring their hair pink for the first time four years ago (they wear Schwarzkopf LIVE Colour Shocking Pink) has come to symbolise a time of liberation, healing and artistic freedom.
"People smile at me on the street for no reason. Pink is the friendliest colour and people are really drawn to it," says Reeta as they muse on their cropped, pink hair. They recently took a trip to the barber's and have freshened up their colour with LIVE Shocking Pink. "Colouring my hair pink for the first time four years ago was transformational for me and it’s become such a core part of my identity. It symbolises this stage of my life that is so joyful, where I’m feeling liberated, I’m focused on my healing and my art is really powerful," they add.
For Reeta, embracing a sense of creative liberation with their hair hasn’t always been easy. "I’m Indian and I grew up in the UK in the '80s among a traditionally conservative family. It’s tradition that the women must have long hair and that it’s worn up," they say. As a queer person, Reeta rejected this notion from a young age. "As a teenager, I started wearing my hair down, just to test the waters of self-expression and exploration. I always wore boys’ clothes but around that time I also started dressing more feminine and wearing makeup — I was playing around with my gender expression," they add.
It was at university that Reeta really started playing around with their style and "daring to be a little different". Their hair has always been a way of expressing their liberation. "When I started exploring my sexuality and identifying as bisexual, I cut my hair in a pixie cut, but it wasn’t until I started to identify as a lesbian that I got bolder with my hair choices," says Reeta. Realising that their conservative family wasn’t "that bothered" by their hair, they started playing with colour. "At one point I even had a Mohican with red tips," they beam. "Cutting my hair short at that time was so liberating. I’d never seen an Asian woman with short hair."
Reeta’s biggest and most defining hair transformation took place on a trip to India as they explored their culture without their family for the first time. "I shaved my head while I was there. It was a reset, a rebirth, a ground zero moment. It was after that I coloured my hair pink for the first time too," they say. "Indian culture is very patriarchal. As a queer-presenting woman who was in a country that criminalised people like me, I needed to trust the universe. I was met with so much positivity and love though! I’d never met so many Indian lesbians in my life. I felt at home. I was a queer-presenting Indian woman with a shaved head who wore men’s clothes, wandering around India, getting stared at but also just receiving smiles. I felt embraced by my own people," they add.
Now identifying as gender fluid, Reeta has spent time "playing around" with their pronouns as a queer person. "I don’t feel like I fall into the non-binary or trans bracket but I don’t necessarily define myself as cisgendered either — it’s an exploration for me. As an Indian person, I’m conscious of the history of gender identity within our deities, with our Gods and within the beautiful stories I grew up hearing. My masculinity and femininity exist at the same time and are just energies that I possess — I like playing around with both," they say. "At the moment my hair is pink, which some may view as feminine, but I have shaved elements that are quite masculine. I like exploring gender and my hair really helps me do that."
Having said that, Reeta acknowledges that their queerness transcends gender identity and sexuality, considering it "a state of being" rather than something that is tied up in their gender. "For me, being queer is about having a curiosity that is outside of the norm," they say. Their makeup, fashion and hair are also ways of expressing that. "When we become curious about our own desires, we want to express those in a way that might attract other people that are similarly minded. It’s about attracting people that have a mindset of curiosity. As an artist, I think this is tied into my creativity."
As a poet, singer, DJ and musician, Reeta turns to colour a lot in the way that they present themselves and finds power in this playful expression. "It’s ingrained in Indian culture, from our food to our dresses, saris, lipsticks and jewellery," they say. On top of that, they acknowledge that wearing bright clothes is also very much a part of club culture, which they have been immersed in since the ‘90s as a DJ.
"When I’m developing a body of work like I am now, I’m in a playful space with my hair and my identity. I had a Neopolitan vibe for a while when my hair was shaved and pink with a blonde patch. There was a time when I played with a deity archetype as an expression of my musical character and that character was adorned with lots of gold and bold, colourful makeup," says Reeta. It is through their work that they find an outlet for expression. "As Indian women, we find it hard to express ourselves because we’re so overridden in our culture. Expressing our voice is something we often have to learn, so I feel very grateful [to be able to do that]."
Practising Buddhism also helps Reeta tap into their inner power. "I meditate and write every day. It’s about connecting with myself. As somebody that has been told so much about how they’re supposed to be in the world, I talk to myself a lot every day to make sure it’s me that I’m hearing and not anybody else," they reveal. Through Reeta's queerness, work and spirituality they find answers within themself and use these findings for collective growth with people around them. "My hair contributes to the sense of power I feel in my life. You can’t really leave the house [looking the way I do] unless you feel powerful. It’s the most gentle, loving power there is. We have to remember that we have that loving power in our masculinity and in our femininity — and there’s so much connection that is possible from that place."