Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Let's hear it for the redheads

Life after the chrysalis ... a redhead's greatest friend is green.

I can pinpoint the day when I realised that I was a redhead. I was ten years old and my school mates started chanting delightedly: "You've got red hair!! You've got red hair!!!" - as only spawn of Satan ten-year-olds can when they find a suitable target. I went and had a look as soon as I got home - and saw a definite lightish ginger colour. It was totally traumatic to be even more different than I already was, so I burst into tears and wept inconsolably for days. It didn't help that my face was one huge freckle. I was a monster, the ugliest girl in creation. There was no hope for me. Why couldn't I be like all the other pretty little girls?

Why this reaction, you ask? Aren't redheads a special breed, set apart from the common blonde herd? Don't we all have an ethereal Julianne Moore quality, all alabaster skin, soulfulness and sun-kissed freckles? In truth the metamorphosis to becoming a butterfly is the same for all: egg, larva, pupa, adult. Many a redhead, even Julianne Moore, will tell you that they were perfectly hideous as a child and in their early teens (the larva and pupa stages). Which was probably not true but perception is nine tenths of reality when you are young and sensitive.

Yeah, you try being a ginger, a "rooikop" or any of the other names dreamt up by your mean schoolmates and you'll see it's much better to blend into the herd. The worst name I got called at my co-ed school was "Red Rat" because pale-eyelashed and gooseberry-green-eyed me was friends with a girl who had white blonde hair and no eyebrows. Naturally she was "White Rat".

You see, I was born blonde. To be precise I was born with one ginger curl, teeny little eyes and very sticky-out ears but developed butter blonde curls. Much more socially acceptable. Little did I know that the ginger gene was ready to make its big comeback. While my family and I travelled through France as a child my hair began to resemble the ripening wheat fields which greeted us on the cyprus-lined roads down to the fortified medieval city of Carcassonne. And still no one spoke out ... except for my granny, who drew my mother aside and told her never to dress me in pink as I had red in my hair. And it just got redder and redder and wouldn't go back to being blonde.

Here are a few things you probably didn't know about redheads:

1. Red hair is a recessive gene and is usually a sign of ancient Celtic influence. Many people carry the redheaded gene and then are very surprised when their babies turn out to be, well, redheads.
2. The sun is a redhead's enemy. Sunblock was invented with redheads in mind. All redheads need to vigorously avoid the sun. The red pigment is an inadequate filter of sunlight and their skin is more susceptible to sunburn, skin cancer and wrinkling with age.
3. Being a redhead is not just a physical manifestation. It is also an attitude.
4. Redheads bleed like stuck pigs. Doctors know this when they deliver the babies of a redhead. You wouldn't think that white skin contained so much pigment underneath. This is due to slightly different clotting factors in the blood.
5. Red hair does not turn grey, the colour just fades away from blonde to white. As my father once told me, my hair would turn the colour of "tom cat mange".
6. Redheads are very sexy and sensual but they are also spiritual.
7. Red headed women are seldom attracted to red headed men.
8. Red heads are said to have one layer of skin less so they feel everything more, including pain. When your hair is the colour of molten lava you also have a helluva temper!
9. Redheads have very thick hair but have less hair on their head then anyone else.
10. Redheads have a secret bond with all other redheads. Kinda like a secret society.

At around fifteen and three quarters my ginger locks, which had been in a pudding bowl style but were now long, became what my admiring art teacher liked to call "strawberry blonde". Everyone started to rabbit on about pre-Raphaelites, bank managers stared at me and strange men tried to chat me up in the street. The mean kids told me my hair was now "orange". I realise now that they were probably very jealous.

Growing up in Africa as a redhead wasn't exactly a picnic. There were very few of us around and the lascivious rays of the burning African sun is not condusive to being outside, playing sport or cultivating a golden tan, which is what most sixteen years of my acquaintance were doing. So sitting on the beach swaddled up to the eyeballs with sunscreen, long sleeved shirts, hats and umbrellas I was an anomaly, a freak, an oddity of nature. I hated the beach and still do. In Turkey they took one look at my passport's place of birth, then looked at me, and said in tones of disbelief: Kitwe? Zambia?

Oh how I yearned to be a brunette, preferably Elizabeth Taylor in her heyday. So nice to wake up in the morning with healthy whites of the eyes, eyebrows, eyelashes and deep brunette hair. Oh and I wanted violet-coloured eyes. I didn't listen to anything that anyone told me, like my mother who said I had "apple blossom skin". Human beings always want the exact opposite of what they have.

It was only when I went to Ireland that I finally accepted myself as a gorgeous redhead. Ireland was truly the Kingdom of the Redhead, from palest red to deepest auburn. It was my spiritual home and I LOOKED LIKE EVERYONE ELSE. They all had puckish faces, pointy chins, gummy smiles, pixie ears. It was heaven. Irish men turned around 360 degrees in the street when I walked past them; this had never happened to me in my life before. It was an epiphany. Turned out the red hair had come down to me from my mother's side. There had been several redheads on the distaff side, some with deep auburn hair. It was all DNA after all, not cosmic torture. My relatives loved my red-gold hair and said they couldn't get over how Irish I looked. I even met a cousin years later who also had red hair. She and I were so alike it was uncanny.

My cousin Siobhan and I ... when she takes out of its plait her hair is like a river of fire!

By writing this blog I aimed to exorcise the mean names I was called growing up. Because it is only when a redhead embraces her crowning glory that she can be truly beautiful in her own skin. My red-gold hair is tribute to my Celtic heritage, along with many other aspects of my personality, and I celebrate it every day. Red hair is currently the hottest thing around but unless you are born with it no bottled colour can ever recreate it. Hairdressers should say in awe: "Is this your natural colour?" as they pull it through their brush, shake their heads and add: "You can't get colour like this out of a bottle". What possessed Nicole Kidman to lose her strawberry Celt-fro and turn to icy blonde I will never know. I found a website on the Net called www.redheadandproud.com which might convince her to change back! The author Dale Dassel talks about "Celtic women, with all of their fire-tressed, wraith-like glory".

OK, OK, I ain't no wraith, but the hair is all mine!


Kittie Howard said...

Thank you, thank you for writing about redheads! I can soooo totally relate. Growing up in South Louisiana among Cajuns with their dark good looks I stood out like a freckled but skinny fireplug. Nobody around me had freckles...I hated them and cried and tried to wash them away. Years later I got really sick with a high fever and the freckles disappeared. I missed them so much I cried myself to sleep. My hair's faded now, kinda blah against my fair skin, so I touch it up now and then. Anyway, without redheads the world would really be boring!! :))))

And you look great!

Kittie Howard said...

When you have a chance, I've a little something for you over at my place.

Joan said...

Wonderful..and you are gorgeous you celtic goddess you! i am not redhaired but spent time in Morocco with Peter Mathias who is a red haired wonderful woman (actually her red is chosen not born) and I would love to be a red haired wild woman too! Yes!