Brown Girls and the Politics of Pastel Hair

by Gwen Berumen

Pastel locks are a summer staple. Even people living under a rock know this is true. And recently, one of my favorite writers for Refinery29, Gabrielle Korn, recently wrote a piece entitled “What Pastel Hair Means for Women of Color.” As a Latina, my hair has always been subject to approval by family members, friends, and even strangers. And since I often times pass as white, my hair is sometimes the only attribute capable of signaling that I am not white.

Because of this, I never thought that pastel hair could be a reality for me. I’m a hair dying virgin – never once have I colored my hair. I’ve always wanted to, but there’s been such a stigma. It’s almost as if it’s so “unnatural” for me to do that because it supposedly only looks good on white girls. Especially if it’s pastel – I mean, my mom’s attachment to my hair is probably stronger than my own.

That’s why I started sobbing after reading this article. Korn features two women of color, Everdeen Mason (a black Latina) and Diana Nguyen (an Asian-American). Both tell their respective stories on the matter. Mason said that her hair ended up changing more than just colors. When she bleached it and then dyed it a light purple, her hair actually changed textures. She also comments on how you must wash it as infrequently as possible – for the color fades out extremely quickly. She took more time to admire herself, labeling herself as “a natural purple” after the procedure.

Nguyen mentions how hard it is to go from light to dark at all. She notes that often times, many Asian women dye their hair with “a desire to look more Caucasian.” After dying her hair a bluish-teal color, she “felt more edgy, and as a result, [she] spent more time picking out [her] outfits and perfecting [her] makeup.” She ultimately decided against doing this again, for it is very costly both in monetary terms and in health for your hair.

I think that the fact that these stories were told at all are really important. So many politics surround the hair of women of color. From the “ethnic” hair aisles at the grocery stores, to documentaries about how much time and effort black women put into their hair.

I can’t really speak for other brown girls, but, for me, hair is something that has been ingrained to be as vital to being a woman as actually identifying as one. And I’m pretty hesitant to do anything with my locks.

While I’ve been drooling over and pinning countless pics of pastel hair, I’m not sure if I will ever be ready to endure the painful bleach and then the reactions after my head is complete. I do know that every little step is something, and I will probably be ordering light pink hair chalk off of Etsy tonight.

From hair relaxers, to pixie cuts – I think that the hair on your head is just as important to talk about in feminist circles as the hair on your body. How many times are black women condemned for conforming (or not) to Eurocentric beauty standards? I know that in Afro-Latino communities, as Mason says when interviewed by Korn, pelo bueno (good hair) and pelo malo (bad hair) are things that are often discussed. Thanks to colonization, I’m sure we can guess what that refers to. 

I invite everyone to think about hair; their hair, the hair of others. I want people to ask themselves what it means for them and how that differs for everyone. 


Photos via and Julia Robbs for

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