What’s in a Color?

Stereotypes exist for just about everything. From gender to race to religion to native country to age – all those categories and countless more fall subject to stereotypes. Some, like those regarding race, have been heard more frequently than those centered on, for example, age. Anything that breaks our perception of normalcy is subject to stereotyping, though stereotypes tend to manifest subconsciously, meaning that people pass judgment without even realizing.

The stereotyping that I have had the most experience with is regarding hair color. I’ve been dying my hair since I was twelve years old and decided to add red streaks into my naturally blonde hair. From there, I soon went full red and spiraled into other colors including multiple shades of blue, green, silver, and purple. Through my colorful journey, I’ve learned how much people judge others based on something as simple as hair color.

A previous teacher of mine, who got to know me as a serious student over two years, recently revealed that he had judged me at first sight based on my hair color, which at the time was a vibrant shade of navy blue. At that moment, I began thinking back to the differing reactions I’ve received over the years.
Being born with blonde hair is not a trait I am particularly pleased about. To be honest, I hate my natural hair color, on me anyway. “Dumb blonde” jokes and stereotypes followed me around, to the point of being heavily bullied when I was the only blonde kid in a Hispanic elementary school. I have had countless negative experiences as a blonde and that has led to insecurities and a general hatred for my natural appearance, to the point where I haven’t gone outside with blonde hair (even when I bleached it between colors) in the past six years.

Red fit in the most amongst all the colors. Nobody particularly cared that I dyed my hair. In fact, the only comments I received focused on my age (12) at the time and how cool it was that my parents let me. Most teachers seemed to accept it without giving the artificial change a second glance.

Dark blue, my go-to color until recently, received the most criticism. People often regarded me as a punk or a rebel. Some thought that was cool, while others, like my aforementioned teacher, thought “Uh-oh” (his words, not mine). They thought I’d cause nothing but trouble when in fact I’m an obedient student and a generally passive person. The pastel shade of blue, on the other hand, was regarded as much more feminine, so people expected me to accentuate the femininity of the shade with jewelry and makeup. That shade was much more acceptable for a teenage girl.

In my short phase with green, I noticed people seemed almost a little friendlier, more relaxed, towards me. The color itself has calming properties, so I suppose people felt soothed by it. Or something like that. It only lasted a few weeks so I really didn’t experience noticeable changes in people’s reactions.

Silver was always attached to blue (I only dyed the tips of my hair silver) but it usually received more praise than anything else. I suppose a reason for this is that silver is a semi-natural color. Walking down the street, people see elderly men and women with grey or “silver” hair and that appears perfectly natural. Since it’s a color that can occur naturally (though usually not on someone my age), most people didn’t seem to care. I didn’t receive any strange looks or anything.

The most acceptable color, and my current color, seems to be a purple-to-pink gradient. Perhaps it’s the femininity of the color that once again makes it more “appropriate” or perhaps the general acceptance of it is caused by the amount of makeup and jewelry I put on every day. I honestly can’t pinpoint an exact reason, but people seem more open around me, as though they view me as a friendly, outgoing girl. While I can’t deny that I am, I can assert that I haven’t changed much over the years.

I’ve always been a very friendly and extroverted person, regardless of my hair color. It took me a while to come to terms with the stereotypes I faced for expressing myself, but I’ve come to accept that people can’t help but judge.

And it doesn’t matter if they do. My teacher also taught me that. He revealed in the same note that he learned “not to judge a book by its cover” because of me, and that’s what matters. We’re human, and humans automatically make assumptions based on sight. It’s an evolutionary trait that I don’t believe we should override through socialization. We merely have to question our judgments and decide for ourselves whether or not they’re correct. I hope that, like my teacher, that’s something that I and the people around me can learn to do.

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Ileana Lallain, also known by the pseudonym Celeste Stranburk, is an English major currently studying at El Camino College. Ileana has been writing anything and everything since she could pick up a pencil. What were pretend words and squiggly scribbles at that time have now become essays, articles, short stories, and the occasional novel attempt. She hopes to make a living from writing someday but, in the meantime, she will be content publishing articles in See Beyond Magazine and some short stories on her blog, ramblesandstories.wordpress.com.

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