Combating unwarranted stares
My friends and family have always told me that my hair is massive and fiery red. People would look in the US, but nothing could have prepared me for Beijing. I stepped off the plane at Beijing international airport, and as soon as I was in the immigration line, the stares were apparent. They weren’t quick glances either. They were full-on staring with no shame. I remembered my time in Beijing when I studied abroad two years ago, but maybe my hair got bigger because I had toddlers, teenagers, adults and the elderly breaking their necks just to continue staring.
For Spring Festival, I went to Ditan Park with my roommate and a coworker. At the time, I had long dark red twists in, and my coworker has locks, so we were a sight to see. Of course, people stared as we walked by, not only because of our hair but because we also had Monkey King antennas on. One brave soul asked us for a picture, and then a mob of people started waiting in line for their turn for a photo with us.
Many of them asked if my hair was real or extensions and were even more shocked when I could answer them in Chinese. Most days, the staring gets to be annoying, but that day, the stares were filled with wonder, curiosity and pure joy.
I started working at a new school after Spring Festival. Most of the kids stared and gasped whenever I walked by. I decided to face the stares head on in the classroom right from the beginning. I put a slide on my introductory PowerPoint titled Big Hair, Don’t Care which showed me in the many hairstyles that my students will see me wearing throughout my time at the school. I told them that it was okay to ask me questions about my hair and say what they thought about it. However, I made it very clear that you can look, but you cannot touch, which was normally followed by the class laughing because they all wanted to touch my hair.
I still get a lot of stares and comments from my students, but I am quick to ask them why they are so shocked. Some days it is really frustrating to have everyone staring at you. But a student once told me that their bewildered looks are not because they think my hair is weird but that many of them have never seen hair like mine and wish they could get their hair as big as mine. My student’s response was cute, but how can I normalize my student’s reactions when everywhere I go I am met with the same reaction.
I know I cannot get angry every time someone tries to take a photo of me or stares at me for long periods of time. So now, I act like I am taking a picture of them and begin a staring competition with those who stare at me for more than five seconds. It’s now a game for me, and I always win.