Alia Soraya Gontier found her first grey hair when she was just 17 years old. What followed was years of colouring her hair until she realised the damage it was doing. Moving to South Korea was the unlikely motivation she needed to embrace her hair’s natural beauty, a departure from the pressure to keep up appearances in her days as a fashion stylist.
“When I worked in fashion back in the day, there definitely was that emphasis on image, but honestly the definition of Asian beauty has evolved since then,” says the Singapore-based writer, mum of one and global head of content strategy for COMO Hotels and Resorts. “While the fashion industry pushes the forefront of trends, it paradoxically remains steadfastly rigid in other ways. Grey hair still isn’t seen as an acceptable standard of beauty even as women try to hang on to the last vestiges of perceived youth.”
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Moving to South Korea was a chance for this former national equestrian athlete not simply to reinvent herself, but to find herself. “I celebrated with one last hurrah going platinum blonde, then cropped my hair and never touched hair dye ever again,” she says.
“It might seem weird that I chose South Korea as the location of my little experiment, but I felt that since no one knew me, I could grow out my grey without judgement and start over with a new identity as the girl with grey hair. It was a hit! Every ajumma stopped and stared while young women who were paying money to get this colour wanted to know how mine was so consistent and even. I was surprised and emboldened. I learned to love it through other people’s eyes.”