So the other day, a customer at work told me that my hair was too short, especially as I am a Chinese woman.
He is a regular customer, familiar enough to walk behind the bar and grab his own beer out of the fridge. Familiar enough with the family of staff for them to be comfortable swearing around each other. I’ve seen him numerous times over the past months at this job, but after my haircut (waist length to a grown-out pixie/bob hybrid) he doesn’t seem to recognise me when I bring him his beer. That’s not unusual.
Later, in between his entree and main, he beckons me over. “How can I help you?” I ask, expecting a drink order or some such.
“Why did you cut your hair?”
He says it like I am a toddler caught sticking my fingers in an electricity powerpoint; he sounds so exasperated and reprimanding that it sounds as though there is no question mark, but rather a full stop. I can still remember his exact intonations. I say I wanted to try a shorter hairstyle.
“Don’t get me wrong,” he reassures me, “You look good with the short hair too, but women look better with long hair. Especially Chinese women.” He asks if I have seen his Chinese girlfriend before, to which I reply no. “She used to have hair about this long” – he gestures vaguely around his waist – “but then she cut it short.” He gestures around his shoulders this time, and looks affronted. (It’s about this point at which I remember that I have seen her come to the restaurant with him. Him, an old white man in his sixties, she a Chinese woman at least two decades younger.) He tells me about how she sent him a photo of her new haircut, obtained while she was still in China for the Lunar New Year, and he demonstrates his reaction, a look of disgust and horror.
“I think Chinese women are beautiful, and long hair makes them look even more beautiful. How long will it take for your hair to grow three or four inches, about twelve months?” Yes, I say, about that long, and you know what, hair does grow, I say, deliberately omitting any agreement to change my look. I am probably still smiling, smiling throughout the whole encounter like I automatically do with every customer. He throws me a bone, “The short hair must be practical for work,” but finishes off with the same line, “It looks alright now, but it looks better long.” Seemingly satisfied that he has done his civic duty, I take it as my cue to walk away from his table and work on my follicles.
There was just so much wrong with this man, I couldn’t figure out how to start. The fact that he had such a blatant fetish for Chinese women, and then felt compelled to tell me about it was disgusting. I, as well as every Chinese person out there, are more than just our race. As a woman and Chinese person, I do not exist purely for your aesthetic or sexual pleasure.
The sheer gall of calling over a waitress, not for a food or drink order or some other dining-related issue, but to offer your opinion on her appearance, was shocking. I am paid to attend to diners’ needs, and obviously cannot ignore someone when they gesture for my attention. I was basically held hostage to listen to his lecture on how I should keep my hair to his preferences. I could not listen to his offensive comments and tell him to shut the fuck up and go cry into a handful of his girlfriend’s hair because I couldn’t care less about his boner, because it’s a hospitality job and I have to be professional. I could not tell my boss that he was being a racist and sexist customer, because she probably wouldn’t see the same degree of offense as I would. He was clearly happy to exploit my position as a young female waitress, and no doubt had I been older and/or male I would not have been subjected to his idiocy.
You know, I do get comments from my hair, but really only when acquaintances and friends see it for the first time. The only other time someone didn’t give a neutral or positive response was my friend’s mum, who looked disappointed while asking me why I cut it. I like it, and guess what – it’s hair, people. As Mr. Asian Fetish so kindly reminded me, it does grow back, and whether or not I let it do so is none of your business. If you have any manners, shut your mouth and keep your disapproval to yourself.