When political disagreements play out on the internet, it doesn’t take long for the name-calling to start. And in a war of words with a stranger you only know by their profile picture, roasting their look can feel like the fastest way to win. But some insulting replies are so knee-jerk they feel curiously devoid of bite. Why, for example, is it an “own” to notice someone’s blue hair?
Having preferred pronouns in your bio is, of course, seen as an embarrassment by those who hold gender to be a rigid binary, the sure sign of a hopelessly woke social justice warrior. But how blue hair came to be associated with such an identity is rather more difficult to explain.
A probable inflection point came around 2015-2016, when 4chan users spawned a number of threads about women with brightly colored hair. “Why do millennial women dye their hair with stupid colors? Do men actually think it’s hot?” asked one critic, drawing answers like “To show how unique they are. I want this society to die,” and “It’s a form of self mutilation.” A meme linking the trend to aposematism — whereby some animals and plants advertise their toxicity with loud, vibrant colors — popped up repeatedly.
Another discussion on the topic prompted a similar analogy: “It signifies that you want to stand out and to stay away, subconsciously or not. Why do you think many warning, traffic, caution signs are bright?” One guy admitted, “I can’t really give you any reasons or facts,” but went on to add, “I’m 32 years old and I believe this is a huge red flag. Avoid blue hair girls like the plague.” Some found it altogether un-feminine.
However, elsewhere on 4chan in this same era, others curated pornographic images of blue-haired women — as well as collections of highly feminized anime characters with blue hair. Interestingly, when someone complained that the depicting of Rei Ayanami in Neon Genesis Evangelion is not “realistic” due to her blue-tinted hair, the rest of the thread was a pile-on of people calling him a dumbass in various ways. There existed, then, a tension between the fantasy of an ideal blue-haired woman, perhaps only realized in art, and the allegedly fallen women who actually dye their hair that way. The mismatch was probably down to a whimsical 2010s Tumblr fashion palette that dominated that platform at the peak of its popularity.
Tumblr is, in many ways, the exact opposite of 4chan and the alt-right ideology that grew out of its edgelord dynamics. That its liberal user base, encompassing a wide range of queer, trans, ethnic, disabled and neurodivergent identities, would adopt a rainbow aesthetic to match their community must have rankled the racist, misogynist anime purists, who had a much different idea of how a bright-haired woman should look and act. These were not girlish, obedient waifus with implausible bodily proportions; they were outspoken feminists with strong opinions.
Blue seems to have become the stand-in color for any eye-catching hue because it has a direct connection to gender, the subject on which these factions most strongly differ. Being associated with boys and masculinity, blue on a woman may also be construed as a subversion of the strict cultural codes that reactionary conservatism insists upon. Now, particularly as anti-gay, anti-trans panic unfolds in schools and right-wing echo chambers, it’s a dead giveaway.
In the end, the pejorative “blue hair” is just a convoluted way of summarizing contempt for women and the LGBTQ community — one that has the added benefits of policing their appearance and suggesting that this effort to stand out is merely another kind of conformism. It’s beyond played out, and a pathetic appeal to “trad” tastes, but hey, it’s hard to be funny when you’re mad about literally everything.
Maybe the blue hair haters need a makeover of their own.