2022: the journey of my hair

Hola babies, here’s the mad last-minute rush to write my year-in-review on Dec. 31 (I swear some things never change), but honestly this has always been one of my favorite things to write. These past few months I’ve been thinking about how blogging fits into my new adult life, especially when I already write so much at work.

I started this blog in 2017, months before heading off to college. The first-ever post was a short story taking place in a Macau casino, and later that year I wrote a post on whether to take up the PSC scholarship. The blog, in essence, is a place for me to make sense of life decisions as they come hurtling in my face and to experiment with my writing (a.k.a. storifying my life). Fast-forward five years (holy crap!) and everything’s changed, but not really. I’ve graduated, become a full-fledged independent adult, and I’m still struggling as ever to make sense of how I live and who I am. If you know me, you know this is true: I’m perpetually in a state of existential crisis. Always was throughout college — still am today.

2022 in tldr is pretty straightforward, though that’s not what I want to write about today: I did senior spring with lots of firsts, submitted my thesis on Sinofuturism, went on Israel Trek for spring break, graduated in May, moved to NYC, started my first-ever job at Bloomberg, had a whirlwind few months, relocated to Singapore (still at Bloomberg) to write about China, ended the year in Japan.

2022 in long form though is all about small details. Little things that I hope I can still remember years down the road that often escape broad-arc, milestone-esque, big-sweep autobiography. So first I want to talk about my hair. (I’m serious.)

My Hair

I started this year by randomly deciding to shear off a few locks of my hair (Jan 1, McKinlock 2nd floor bathroom, reason: too lazy to dry my hair), and I ended this year by chopping off my hair to ear-length on a whim. Good way to bracket 2022.

So much of my childhood was intertwined with my hair: for much of primary school it defined me. It was wild and untamed, one of a kind, on good days resembled Cleopatra’s headpiece, on bad days resembled Einstein; it earned me nicknames like “Bush” or “Chihuahua” (what???), boys’ sketches on the whiteboard, constant remarks from taxi drivers about my race or where I was really from; and chafed again conventional standards of beauty in straight-hair Asia. It made a statement, one that I wasn’t sure I could live up to as a 12-year-old. Remember when you were 12? And struggling to understand how people saw you? Yeah.

So at 14, and partially at the urging of one teacher (who thought my hair was too messy), I got it straightened, which was in one word a DISASTER. The hairstylist thinned my hair by so much, it stuck to my scalp and I went from looking like Hagrid (or Hermione, if you’re feeling charitable) to looking like Severus Snape.

And around the time my hair started growing curly again on top but remained straight at the bottom (a half triangular, half rectangular shape), I was anchoring our school’s TV show, which meant my bobbing talking head of straw and frizz was blasted to the entire school (population: 1200 students) every other Friday.

At 16, my hair grew long and I was traveling for the first time by myself on a trip to Guatemala. On the trip, surrounded by strangers and feeling anonymous, I tied it up — and I remember that instance as the first goddamn moment in my entire adolescence when I suddenly knew without a doubt I was pretty. Before that, I’d been confident (though often oscillating between narcissism and insecurity because that’s what happens when you’re a Gemini), or so I thought. I loved myself, or so I thought. But in some random hostel in Guatemala surrounded by people of heterogenous body shapes, facial features, ethnicities and nationalities, when the switch flipped — and I felt good about my hair — did I realize just how much I’d used to hate it. In primary school I’d hated how much attention it drew, how different it made me look, how un-Singaporean, un-Chinese it felt. In secondary school, after that disastrous hair rebonding episode, I’d then come to begrudgingly accept my unruly short hair as what it was. Then, at 16, when I tied it up and went back home with that less conspicuous hairstyle, people didn’t stare as much anymore. Suddenly I fit in. And that was the year I started wearing contact lenses. So I began associating my newfound attractiveness with my brand-new hairdo.

That tied-up hairstyle (small bun/bunny tail) stuck for nearly 8 years — so comfortable I was with it that I could hardly consider ever experimenting with something different. This was the hair that I was gonna live with till I die. I would occasionally amble around the dorm with my hair down, do two pigtails when I felt cute. One time my roommate asked, “Why don’t you just keep your hair down?” And I recoiled at that suggestion. “Never!” I told her, “It puffs up like a cloud.”

I’m not sure what changed my mind. Was it the weather? My newfound sense of independence? Or my realization of little I can change of the world, so I decided to channel my agency into remaking myself? Or that I just don’t give a fuck about what people think anymore at age 24?

Maybe none of the above. I just felt it one day, like a shift in the air and a realignment of my neurons. Out of nowhere I thought of the short unruly hair of my youth, and then came a surge of fond affection instead of repulsion. It was as easy as that. On the same day the thought arose, I got it cut. Chop. Chop. And after the act was irreversibly done, I looked at my reflection and felt three things: (1) What the hell was all that childhood trauma for? The hair was cute. (2) I felt weirdly young. (3) Is it possible for a new hairdo to sharpen into relief who you want to be?

When I went to work the next day, people stared as I stepped onto the train, and some of the old self-consciousness crept back. When the wind blew, I kept wanting to check how my hair looked. The shape of it hovered on my mind — it was distracting. The bunny tail updo was safe and needed no extra thought. This new short bob had a life of its own — it altered its size and silhouette based on humidity and weather. How temperamental.

By the stairs in the office, the cleaning lady was sweeping. Surprised, she asked, “You cut your hair?”

I nodded.

“You, natural curl?”

I nodded again.

“You can straighten it, you know?” She wasn’t being unkind. My instinct was to agree with the underlying sensibility driving her words: the ingrained idea to not deviate.

Instead I said, “I know, but I like it this way.”

By the time I got home, the day felt like a journey. A journey of hair. The journey brackets the 24 hours, this year of 2022 — but also my childhood to adulthood. I am now an adult with the very same hairstyle I had at age 10.

When I was a kid, all I wanted to do was to fit in. Now, as an adult, all I want is to be different, to stay special the way kids know they are. It took me a decade to grow into my hair, to ride the waves, embrace the frizz. So, of all the momentous things that happened in 2022, I say this first, Bless my curls.

2022 Highlight Reel

Started the year in the throes of winter, waking up to see blankets of snow outside my Leverett room window. January was spent in a blur of hermitdom (daily movie marathons), spliced with impromptu trips to Boston.

I single-handedly lugged two semesters’ worth of library books back to Lamont. Post-thesis cartharsis.

As my grandmother says, wear a pretty dress to go see that special someone.

This autograph by Homi Bhabha (one of my thesis advisors) is for my 18-year-old self, who cited him in my KI independent study and told my college interviewer I wanted to go to Harvard to take his courses.

Our weekly Boston Symphony Orchestra adventures!

They’re why I consider myself Class of 2021, not ’22. (Missing Emily.)

Mommy hopped on a flight out of Shanghai, escaped a two-month lockdown, got her Pfizer shot in Singapore, flew over twenty hours via Frankfurt in order to show up at my Commencement.

If you know, you know. #taekook
That’s also when I started going to Michelin restaurants on my own, dining in solitude. The food is the language of the chef. We dance a silent tango, without the need for words.

Playbills sum up my love affair with NYC. They’re how I remember bright lights in the big city. They live long beyond the curtain call and colonize my Spotify playlists.

You can dance
You can jive
Digging the dancing queen.

I sobbed throughout the entire concert, tears soaking my mask. Studio Ghibli film snippets unfolded onscreen as Joe Hisaishi’s wand danced and the orchestra played. Music can transport you and open up worlds within you that had long been abandoned and forgotten. Hisaishi’s music was cinematic, it pulled me into Hayao Miyazaki’s land of imagination. I had no idea why I was crying. The moment felt tenuous, the worlds so close, so intimate, they vibrated in the notes. It moved me so much, the tear ducts couldn’t close.

Sometimes I still dream about this meal at Kochi. Pure perfection.

After Mayday’s concert, I went home, crawled into bed, and wept into my pillow. Had I become the sort of jaded adult I once detested? What does it mean to stay true to your ideals? Had I compromised mine? I wanted to be young and hungry and foolish forever, like these rockstars in their late forties. Then I fell into a dreamless slumber, woke up, and went to work.

Ended the year with a three-hour-long phone call with Yiting and Celine, across time zones. Because I just watched Fight Club, I tried to make us give each other fake homework assignments. The goal is to live the best loudest crazy beautiful life we can. That’s what I want to do in 2023.

Thank you, God, for filling my year with your love, blessings and teachings; thank you for bringing all these people (and many many more) into my life; thank you for each twist of fate, every high and low. May I continue doing you proud. And to each of you, my dear reader, may 2023 be a year of dreams coming true. ❤️

Lots of love,
Sel xoxo

14 thoughts on “2022: the journey of my hair

  1. Hilma says:

    Hey Selina, this is Hilma! We were in the same WSC team together in 2013 haha not sure if you still remember. Just wanted to say that I’m alone in Madrid the New Year’s and your 2022 sum-up of a blog post (and that about your hair) put a smile on my face tonight for some reason! Would also have bawled after a Mayday concert not gonna lie. Cheers to 2023 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Anxian says:

    Hi Selina! I’m a fresh JC grad, and I randomly discovered your blog a few months ago. Your posts are so inspiring! This particular post was so relatable, because I have hair exactly like yours and went through the whole crisis you described (including the Snape era after straightening HAHA) Just wanted to say your reflections made me introspect, and you seem like a really sweet person. Hope you have an awesome 2023!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sel says:

      thank you anxian! this makes me so happy SENDING U A HUG on your own journey of hair – it’s a blessing that we learn to love ❤️ have an awesome 2023 too!


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