Recently I have talked with a handful of people about redheads finding an identity in their red hair. I have talked with people of various hair colors and it seems that red hair is the only hair color around which an identity is formed. (I am not touching hair texture, curls, or straightness.) Renee, a friend and fellow redhead, has a parallel post to this one. We hope you enjoy these and we would love to know your thoughts on the subject.
The other day an office mate asked, “You have red hair?” Ouch. You see, my hair changes color with time and location, but I have red hair. Back in middle school, I was like everyone else in the practice dive pool wearing a neon, multi-colored wetsuit. Only difference between me and everyone else was that I was told that the brightest thing in the pool was my hair. An outside pool, the natural copper strands in my hair reflected sunlight coming down from above and bouncing off the water to shine like a new copper penny. That, or I simply had bright red hair.
Red hair is this odd beast. As a child, I remember thinking that my hair was not what was called red when describing colors–fire engine red, apple red, or blood red. It was more like a fire–a changing, melding mix of colors–than the one-tone colors of my crayons, colored pencils, or finger paints. To me, it seemed the color of a shinny new penny. And yet, the world called it red. Mentally I reconciled this by deciding it was easier for the masses to have four simple categories by which to classify hair color: black, brown, blonde, and red. Kind of like how people’s skin tones in this country are called black or white, and yet I rarely see someone who is truly black (though in the winter there are a lot of truly white people). And so, by the world’s standards, I am a redhead.
When you have red hair, you have to own it.
“Is that natural?” “You have such beautiful hair.” “So unique.” “It’s bright.” “You will never dye that–will you?” Yes, it is mine, 100% natural, and no I have not yet dyed it. (Yet–but I’ll get to that later.) I’m glad you like it. Thank you.
Then came the assumptions. “Redheads are fiery.” “Redheads have tumultuous tempers.” “Redheads are wild in bed.” All said in a weird tone that is a mix of humor, admiration, and desire. If fiery can be described by laugh loudly and loving life, I guess that’s right. I have a temper that you don’t want to step in front of, though it has cooled immensely over the years. I simply will not touch that last statement here. And I doubt any of this has to do with my hair color.
Then came the questions. “Do your parents have red hair?” “Do your siblings have red hair?” and (my favorite–only asked once though I wonder how many others have wondered), “Is your pubic hair also red?” My dad’s mother had red hair (which she dyed red when it went grey). There is not an ounce of red hair on my father’s or brothers’ heads, but their beards are full of it (ok…dad’s was red, but has recently turned white). As the gene for red hair is definitely turned on in this body, yes, my pubic hair is red. Now you don;t have to be embarrassed by asking or die of curiosity.
See what I mean? You have to own being a redhead. It is not like getting a tattoo on your neck or wearing unique clothing — you are an enigma, you had no choice about it, and so you embrace it. Fully.
I loved that my hair toned down when inside buildings to just a hint of red, and became bright when it reflected sunlight. A few tried to tell me that my hair was not really red, but rather this ambiguous thing called auburn. I don’t think so. I got over the fact that red hair did not mean fire engine red a long time ago, so you should too. You don’t give a girl an identity and then take it away.
Only problem is that as I have gotten older, my hair has slowly become darker. This is accentuated by the fact that I now spend very little time under the equatorial sun or on the ocean thus preventing it from being bleached to bright red. What am I supposed to do with this piece of my identity (which I did not choose) that seems to be fading (not by my choosing)?
I have been told that it is just hair. I’m reminded that the color is still beautiful and complex, and it continues to be complemented every time I go to a hairstylist. But, you’re wrong–it’s not just hair. Red hair is literally written into my DNA. A while back the New York Times published an article on how research shows that redheads might have a higher pain tolerance because of our DNA. A doctor also told me that how redheads metabolize medicine, anesthesia in particular, is not predictable–though it is for people of all other hair colors. So even if I dye my hair black, my DNA says I am a redhead.
Maybe you think I’m crazy. Just a redhead obsessed with her hair or in the midst of a late-20’s identity crisis. I promise you that it’s not just me. Go ahead–ask your redheaded friends about this. I’ve asked all of mine. They agree. So what do I do now?
I’ve schemed of ways to lighten my hair to bring out the red–the best, or most imaginative, of which it is to become a mate on a sailing boat in the South Pacific. I’ve also thought that maybe, just maybe, someday, I will dye my hair. I’m not there yet, but maybe. Someday. Today I stand strong in the knowledge that my DNA dictates that I am a redhead. And I hope that no-one asks me what color my hair is because I don’t want to listen to them say I am wrong when I say it is red. I am not a brunette.
I am a redhead.