I am not sure if me writing about the actual state of being a redhead is tiresome to my readers, so if you are bored by the topic of a rare hair color, this post probably isn’t for you. (Though, frankly, you shouldn’t be surprised when a blog titled “SassyGinger” goes there!)
If, however, you have red hair…or love someone with red hair (be they a partner or family member) or just wonder what the heck is up with those freaky gingers, this might be amusing. I especially think those who are not redheads themselves, but have redheaded children, might enjoy hearing about what it’s like to see yourself in a mirror every day and know that you are quite different than almost everyone you know. And, if you do have someone with a carrot top in your life (or their life), send them this link!
The Not-So-Secret Club
I think people can get sick of redheads talking about being a redhead, but really, it is such a weird (and obvious) thing that you can’t help but talk about it. It is like being a member of a special club. I don’t think I’m going to give any secrets away here when I assert that every time I walk by another redhead, we acknowledge each other’s presence; even if we don’t say anything, we’ll give one another a smile or purposefully catch one another’s eye. And most conversation starters between us will touch on pointing out (as obvious as it is) that we noticed that we both have red hair. As evidence, check out this clip of Julianne Moore on Conan O’Brien. I can assure you the first 30 seconds is pretty much the way these things go. Another example of a typical exchange went down for me at SxSW:
– Me (going up to panelist who happened to have red hair): I just wanted to let you know that I loved this talk and really appreciated how honest you were. It was so refreshing.
– Her: I’m so glad! Nice hair, by the way. (We both chuckle and go on our way. Then she turns to the lady next to her and says, “A fellow redhead!”)
I’m sure that this seems completely goofy, but if you were in the same boat as us, you would do the same. In the U.S., redheads make up 2% of the population. Trust me when I say if you went through your days without seeing anyone who had your hair/skin/freckle mix, you would definitely pay attention when you did.
Growing Up Like a Redheaded Stepchild
Here’s some background on me to “place” my redheaded experience. I was born the only redheaded child in a family of three kids, with two non-ginger parents. Though people seemed constantly amazed at how I was born into a family that looked very different than me (and it provided ample daydream wiggle room when I was sent to my room for being a jerk, “waiting for my REAL family to come get me”), it’s actually incredibly common among redheads, given the complex genetics at play.
One of the funniest stories that my family liked to tell was that when my dad called my Grandma Louise to tell her I had been born, and that I had red hair, she responded, “Now son, you know that all babies have blood on their heads when they are born.” I guess it was a surprise to the whole family, though her husband, Mustang, had red hair when he was young. We don’t really know who on my Mom’s side had red hair, since it’s such a complex gene; there were certainly many blonds, so it’s quite possible that there were some strawberry blonds who may not have been considered “full on red.”
I was born and spent a lot of my childhood in Georgia; with the state’s history as a “drop off” point for debtors and convicts of Britain (three guesses how many of those people were Irish), it’s no surprise that there are a lot of redheads there. As a young girl, older men and women would routinely come up to me and give me money, complimenting my hair. This sounds really odd now (and never ceased to amaze my mother), but I have to confess it didn’t seem weird to me at the time. It was most often quarters, but occasionally I’d get a dollar or two and a pat on the head, most often by someone who would confide in me with a wink that they had red hair when they were younger and that it was special.
One thing about having something bright orange on your head is that you are going to get noticed. People tend to either love or hate the way redheads look (fair skin, typically a fair amount of freckles) but it’s undeniable that they do not “blend.” I have heard countless descriptions of people on the run from the police over my lifetime, but never once heard anyone describe the person as having red hair. Though it’s tempting for me to assume that’s because redheads are too wily to be caught, the truth is that you don’t have to set up a statewide dragnet for them. You can ask any random person which way the redhead went and get a quick answer.
When you are singled out every time your family goes out of doors by strangers (whether for flattery or rudeness), you do develop a a bit of a complex. You can either go with considering yourself “special” (which most redheads do, contributing to the idea that redheads are “hard to handle” or “overly self-confident”) or you can consider the people singling you out as jerks (which many redheads also do, esp. if you tease them in a way that seems out of line, which contributes to the story about redheads being fiery or crazy-tempered). It’s kind of like asking a woman who is angry with you if it’s that time of the month. Perhaps it is, perhaps it isn’t…but you aren’t going to get the best out of her by attributing her anger to something besides yourself, buster.
It’s always horrified me that people could continually question my paternity throughout my life (always in front of me, else they would not know to ask) and think nothing of it. As a child, it definitely was something that made me upset, though I learned not to show my anger to people, lest they think my anger was because I was a redhead, not because they were being inconceivably rude. If you are a parent who does not have red hair but
has a child with red hair, in my opinion, it’s a good idea to educate people (in a nice way) about how rude this question is. Not only are they making your child uncomfortable (I promise it IS uncomfortable for a child, esp. the 7,000th time), they are being rude about your entire family and your child “belonging” in it. Even if it changes nothing, it helps your child feel like you are standing up for your family and their place in it. People who say these things are “only a joke” have not had them brought up to them most days of their life. Even the best joke gets old if told every day for years.
Of course, kids tease other kids about anything they can. Whatever is different is considered fair game, whether it’s being skinny or fat, having curly hair or red hair or glasses, or being tall or short. Though teasing can be hard on anyone, redhead teasing typically stems from things that no one will grow out of or be able to change, and that’s where some of the bitterness comes from. In first grade, I was one of the few white kids at my school and my hair wasn’t really a big focus of teasing, but my freckled skin sure was. I remember clearly being told a few classmates that I looked like I had a disease and that I had a “poo poo face.” Clearly, it didn’t affect me that much in the grand scheme of things (calling somebody a poo-poo face is undeniably comical once you get past first grade), but I do remember it so it must have been hurtful at the time. I also remember, though, being chased for several weeks by a second grade boy who wanted to kiss me because of my red hair (I didn’t let him catch me but enjoyed him thinking I was pretty enough to spend his recesses begging me for a smooch).
Redheads as Brazen Temptresses and Witches
When you get older, the teasing tends to get more sexual in nature; lots of, “Does the rug match the curtains?” and whatnot, or comments about the urban lore surrounding how redheads “act” in bed. I found this began to happen to me when the boys I knew were old enough to be interested in porn mags and made certain connections. As any of you who went to high school with me in the age of grunge knows, I was in no way actually sexy, especially when draped in layers of Kurt-Cobain-wannabe whatever, not that it stopped certain guys from giving me a hard time and making up inappropriate nicknames for me. While I can’t say that I don’t enjoy it to a certain degree (depending on the guy), I am certain there are many other redheaded people who don’t.
What I do know, for sure, is there is definitely a small segment of the male population who prefer the look of redheads to most any other look, and they are particularly devoted. You might chalk this up to being along the lines of men who prefer Asian women, etc. only it’s a little bit nuttier than that because there are so few redheaded women to begin with, so there is definitely a bit of fanaticism about it. If I dated a guy in college and he was into redheads, you can bet any other redheaded girl on campus already knew all about him, as well.
The history of redheads (particularly redheaded women) as instantly recognizable stand-ins for anything forbidden is rich. Take most well-known paintings of uppity women (Lilith, Eve, Mary Magdalene, Lady Godiva) or those of flexible moral fiber (staring at the artist hungrily in various stages of disrobing) and you can accurately guess what color their hair is going to be depicted as. Strangely, this over-representation of red-headed females in art doesn’t seem to be true for redheaded men. Shakespeare, King Henry VIII, Mark Twain, Thomas Jefferson, Winston Churchill…these are men that we definitely have heard of. In paintings, however, rather than play up their red hair, it is almost always painted to be more of a brown with red highlights.
History has only been kind to redheads in the last hundred years. Redheads were burned at the stake during the Spanish Inquisition (the red hair apparently proving they were in league with the Devil). 400 years ago, the fat of a red-headed man was a key ingredient in deadly poisons (especially deadly for the redheaded man, apparently). Still, the presence of redheads on every continent, even found as ancient Celtic mummies in China, shows that what we lack in visible numbers at any given time we make up for in prodigious genetic material that can go recessive for several generations before popping up again.
Red Hair Going Extinct?
Especially now that I am married to a fellow ginger and have a redheaded son of my own, I have “RedheadMomDar” for spotting redheaded kids anywhere we are. I am continually nudging Nick at Target stores to point out my latest “redhead kid” find and if their parents do/don’t have red hair. There aren’t a ton of us, sure, but there are enough to keep me looking. So, I’m not really worried about red hair disappearing any more than I’m worried about, say, water disappearing. Sure, both could happen. But let’s look at the bright side, it’s likely human beings will do something horribly stupid to annihilate themselves long before that day, anyhow.
St. Patrick’s Day, Redheadday and Other Coppertop Holidays
If you have red hair, St. Patrick’s Day is bound to be a day you either relish or detest (there is not much in between). But did you know there is a special day, September 1, that is celebrated as Redheadday in The Netherlands? Martha Stewart even celebrated a day for red hair on her show (which I can’t EVEN believe I missed…if anyone has a copy of the episode, I would pay top dollar!)
There’s so much more I could add, but I think it’s time to turn it over. What have I left out, fellow gingers (or those-who-love them)?