Warning: Spoilers for the first season of Killing Eve, below.
I hadn’t planned to binge-watch the entire first season of Killing Eve in a single night, but I did. It happened. And then I watched it all again.
Killing Eve boasted all the makings of really, really great TV: There was the gripping, sit-at-the-edge-of-your-seat storyline, made even more addicting by the high-intensity action scenes, cliffhangers, and plot twists. There were the female characters: The whip-smart, former MI5 agent Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh), the indelibly charming assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer), and the highly intimidating Carolyn Martens (Fiona Shaw)—who all made the men on the show look spineless. The pacing was excellent. The banter was terrific. The fashion was spectacular.
But the two biggest draws for me, the reasons I watched more than eight hours of Killing Eve in a row, twice, were 1. Sandra Oh (seeing representation of an Asian American woman in a principal role onscreen meant so much to me) and 2. Sandra Oh’s hair.
It’s the first thing you notice about her in the pilot. She’s screaming in pain because her arm fell asleep and there’s her hair: It’s gloriously wild, it’s unkempt, it’s curly, it’s voluminous, it’s big.
In other words, it’s my hair.
Traditional beauty ideals define Asian hair as raven black, silky smooth, long, and pin-straight—not this thick, coarse, dense, frizzy thing I had to beat into submission all my life. Having grown up in Hong Kong surrounded by beautiful “Asian” hair, I felt like mine was judged as ugly. I felt like an outcast.
As a child, my mom would sit me down every morning and painfully comb my hair into a ponytail so excruciatingly tight it would bring tears to my eyes. In high school, sick of always tying it up, I did Japanese hair straightening just so I could wear my hair down. It would only last for so long: My usual curls would grow in, resulting in a weird, confusing half curly, half straight mess. To fix it, I would perm the whole thing to match my natural curls. Then a few months later, I’d miss having straight hair again, so the whole vicious cycle would start all over.
By college, my tresses were severely, irreparably damaged. The summer after my freshman year, it was so long and heavy, I became disgusted with it. I was sick of washing it, of combing it, of having it break, of it clogging the drain.
So, I shaved it all off. My mom cried when she saw what I did. She said the fact that I didn’t love what she gave me broke her heart.
My thinking was that if I started fresh, my hair would miraculously grow back perfect, frizz-free, and manageable. It didn’t. The growing-out process was erratic—strands grew every which way and I no longer had length to weigh it down. When it hit my chin, I ended up relaxing it just so I’d look okay. And, much to my chagrin, I had it permed once my curly roots started showing.
That wound up being the last time I put my hair through damaging heat and chemical processing. I swore off heating tools and resigned myself to a life of ponytails and top knots, and the casualties to go with it, like elastic ties snapping mid-day simply from the strain of holding in my hair, stretching out cloth ties to a comical degree, and breaking too many clips to count.
That’s why when Oh and her wonderfully natural hair took over my screen, I was transfixed. Evidently, so was Villanelle. When Oh’s character releases her cascade of curls toward the end of the first episode, the only thing Villanelle says to her during their first encounter is, “Wear it down.” It’s the beginning of their strange, almost love affair—Villanelle becomes just as obsessed with Eve as Eve is with tracking the sociopathic killer down.
Later on, it seems like the texture of Eve’s hair could even be the key to Villanelle’s secrets; at a session with a therapist, Villanelle is given a drawing of a woman with no other discernible features except for a head of curls and is asked if she still has dreams about someone called “Anna.”
And as Eve’s chase progresses, Villanelle becomes even more interested in her. In episode six, in an attempt at self-preservation, Villanelle’s former girlfriend Nadia says to her, “She’s going to help me, she wants to help you, too. She was asking about you.” Villanelle replies, “Was it an Asian woman with amazing hair?”
Oh’s hair is truly amazing, and it made me think: Since my hair is similar to Oh’s, did that make mine amazing, too? A week after I watched the season, I did the unimaginable: I wore my hair down at the office—and left it down. I fielded compliments left and right the entire day. “I love your hair,” one passerby said. “Why don’t you ever wear it down?” a friend asked. “I really envy your hair—mine is too thin,” said another. For the first time in my life, thanks to Oh, I’ve begun to embrace my hair in all of its wild, unruly glory.