Wednesday, 9 September 2009
Sadly I missed Redheadday this year, partly because I didn't know it existed and partly because popping off to the Netherlands isn't that handy...but everyday is Red Head Day for me.
I have had a love/hate relationship with my natural hair colour over the years. As a child at primary school, red hair was a one way ticket to merciless teasing. This was most likely because anything that makes you different tends to bring out the worst in children and also because red hair traditionally isn't considered conventionally attractive in the UK. The common associations with witches in bygone days made sure of that.
Blondes are admired and imitiated. Brunettes are sultry and sophisticated. Redheads are seen as fiery and angry. Combine red hair with the usual pale skin and almost inevitable freckles and the picture does not improve. Growing up with all three of these characteristics and the various cruel comments made me internalise that I was not attractive and made me ashamed of being a redhead, no matter how many times I reminded myself that Nancy Drew had 'titian' hair and was the coolest girl ever.
As soon as I could afford it, I started spending money on hair dye. To start with I experimented with obviously dyed red hair to see how looking like I had chosen my look would work. I thought people might admire the confidence required, but generally it just led to endless questions about whether "the curtains matched the carpet?" which did nothing for the self possession of a 14 year old. Unsurprisingly I began to embrace every other hue of hair possible. By only 17 I was quite the connaisseur of every brand of hair colour possible from Manic Panic to salon only shades. With the amount of money I spent I could probably have travelled the world nicely on a gap year.
Imminent bankruptcy wasn't enough to deter me and I kept up my one woman colour chart crusade throughout my 20s, trying every shade from ash blonde to aubergine. The freckles had faded due to religiously staying out of the sun and the pale skin occasionally saw fake tan. Even my temper didn't give my secret away...
Then something changed. I'd love to tell you it was a self affirming epiphany where I embraced my true self, but I have a feeling it was more to do with boredom. Blonde had become too high maintenance and brunette seemed bland; red seemed fresh and interesting. I bought a box of Natural Warm Auburn and something really did change...my eyes looked brighter, my skin looked clear instead of cadverous. Turns out I wasn't so unattractive the way Nature made me.
It might be that I have grown up (or that those who teased have done the same) or that there is some truth in Quentin Crisp's assertion that "you can never be proud of red hair unless you dyed it yourself", but 2 years later I haven't tired of being a redhead. It feels natural and as much a part of me that something enhanced from a box can be!
Interestingly the responses have generally been positive from other women while men tend to be indifferent. I rarely hear smutty comments these day, but I also rarely get second looks either. Obviously I don't choose my hair colour to please the masses, but that invisibility reminds me how more prejudice about redheads remains here in the UK, aided and abetted by things like South Park's 'Ginger Kids" episode that suggested redheads had 'no soul'.
Obviously many other people face very real institutionalized prejudice on a daily basis for things they really can't change and in comparison 'ginger' jokes seem minor. It might be naive to hope for comedians to drop the cliches and the general public to stop the comments, but I think things are starting to change with supermodels like Karen Elson and popular characters like Ron Weasley taking some of the sting out of the sandy stigma.
In the meantime I'll be doing my part with my Nice n' Easy and hoping that all the little redheaded kids I see won't be made to feel freakish or be bullied in the same way...or if they do, unlike me they will have the wit not to reply with "it's not ginger. It's strawberry blonde" unless they never want it to stop!