Cotton candy-colored locks are eye candy. Optical symphonies naturally attract us – think shiny, iridescent surfaces that reflect a spectrum of hues. Show anyone a sheet of holographic foil paper, and you’ll be greeted with, “Ohh! It’s shiny!” or simply, “I love it.” Pink hair is the same way. In The Toys that Made Us, a Netflix show that explores the histories of iconic toys, My Little Pony’s creators described a product test between ponies in realistic shades of brown, grey and white and fantastical ponies in imaginative, pastel hues. Children played with both toys, and they overwhelmingly preferred the pastel ponies . It’s inexplicable but true – we’re visual creatures from day one.
This past decade has exposed our visual nature. Communication has evolved to emojis, memes, and video driven snapchats and stories. With Tumblr, the re-posting of visual assets multiplied and quickly became commonplace. Sharing images solely based on aesthetics and gut instincts became the lay of the land and unknowingly transformed teenagers into young people informed by decades of uncategorized visual culture at their disposal. This lead to an eclectic mash-up of worlds in dress, references and music. Something about this oversaturated online environment evolved into an aesthetic that feels at once nostalgic and futuristic – cue the pink hair.
Early 2000s teenagers often divided themselves between MySpace junkies (clad in skinny jeans and razor-cut jet black hair) and Laguna Beach fans (an essence of “chill,” a blank disposition and streaky blonde highlights). The 2010s Tumblr persona was for everyone. The line between counterculture and the basic bitch blurred and flourished into an aesthetic that signified acceptance and self-direction. Want to know how to contour your face? There’s a Youtube tutorial for that. Think you’re an expert at something? Build a channel to broadcast your thoughts. This access to information is liberating. As trends ebbed and flowed, the social diaspora responded at the speed of the like button. We became accustomed to this changing dynamic and as a result, felt free to experiment with our own image.
Pink hair signifies acceptance and change, but is it always sincere? As internet culture permeated into everyday life, so did the idea of wokeness. Initially an output of #BlackLivesMatter, an international activist movement highlighting the violence and systemic racism towards black people, wokeness became a ubiquitous slang term that indicates an awareness of any current issues. Instagram accounts like @everyoutfitonsatc began using the hashtag “#wokecharlotte,” replacing dialogued moments in Sex and the City with culturally informed commentary. These viral memes reflect our changing values, and they inspired many positive changes in the past decade. As these issues started attracting their well-deserved attention, advertisers jumped on the opportunity to speak to Millennial and Gen-Z audiences by overtly celebrating these causes through sharable clickbait graphics, often stylized in friendly, pink, Memphis-inspired aesthetics. Suddenly everyone became a political activist, and sharing this type of content was enough to establish your solidarity with these movements. Pink hair is an expression of that dynamic. While originally a Tumblr trend which emphasized the spirit of self expression, it became a quick way of indicating that not only are you up to date with beauty trends but that you’re culturally informed and politically engaged, too. While these social changes are incredible, I worry that simply re-sharing a graphic or dying your hair is not enough action and sends a false message of progress.