Still Me Inside This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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“I need a change!”

And so on that single whim, I cut my long black hair, streaked it bright red, and, to top it off, pierced my eyebrow. I had gone from dorky to punky in a week, and as trivial as it seems, this transformation had a great affect on my life.

As long as I can remember, I had always been a good girl. In school, I got decent grades and never was in trouble. At home, I tried not to give my parents too much grief. But more than that, I had the “look” of a good girl. People always stereotyped me as nothing more than a quiet, studious, Asian girl. Friends’ parents often asked if I played the violin or the piano. “No, the flute,” I’d say, and they would nod, not surprised. Walking around with my long black hair over my face, I hid behind my stereotype. I felt somewhat obliged to appease the stereotype imposed on me.

Needless to say, heads turned the day I walked into school sporting a new, short, bright red hairdo. I enjoyed the reaction and attention I received from my friends and teachers. I didn’t listen to my friends’ warnings about people seeing me differently, people who would frown on a “rebellious punkster.” After all, I was still the same person inside, so why should my change matter? I soon found out I was naive.

One day, I was late for school and needed a pass from my vice principal. I was met by a surprisingly stern look. Writing one, his voice and stare were cold and condescending. Mistaking me for “one of those punk delinquents,” he left me with a warning: “Don’t make a habit of it.” Now every time I go to the mall, suspicious eyes follow me; store clerks keep a cautious watch. Had I come late to school a week before, my vice principal would have said nothing. I was not used to this discriminating treatment, and I felt angry, embarrassed, and somewhat defeated. But the worst was yet to come.

It was the night of our music recital for advanced students. For weeks I had prepared my piece, and was excited. The room was packed with parents waiting to hear their children. But, as soon as I walked into the room, all attention was focused on my head. As I sat waiting my turn, I felt the disapproving eyes of the parents.

I performed well, but felt awful. Afterwards, I still felt the disapproving eyes as they walked out with their children. I even overheard a friend being lectured on how she shouldn’t color her hair or pierce her face, and not become “a punk like Mai.” Once again, I was ready to go home feeling angry, embarrassed, and somewhat defeated when my friend’s father stopped me.

“You were very good tonight. At first I didn’t recognize you,” he said, looking at my head.

“Oh, yes, I look very different from last year, don’t I?”

“Well, you still play nicely, even better than last year. Look forward to hearing you again.”

I went home feeling good, as if I had finally won a battle. Now the stern look of the vice principal, the suspicious stares of the store clerks and the disapproving eyes of my friends’ mothers didn’t bother me. I was still the same person inside, punky or not. There was nothing wrong with me; it was the other judgmental people with the problem. I regained my confidence.

I still get looks and the stares, but it doesn’t bother me anymore. In a way, I traded in one stereotype for another, but this time I enjoy proving it wrong. People are surprised to see me getting good grades and applying to good colleges. They’re surprised to hear me play my flute so well. And they are absolutely shocked to see me standing in front of the football field, red hair shining in the sun, conducting the marching band!

As for my red hair, I re-dye it occasionally to keep it bright burning red. It seems to give me the power to fight against stereotypes forced on me, and gives me the confidence that I never had before.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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