Sunday, July 3, 2011

On Being a Redhead...

When I was a kid, I hated being a redhead. Adults always commented on my hair, and once, when I was at the grocery store with my grandmother, an elderly lady said to me, “Oh, what pretty red hair!” I stamped my foot and said, “It’s not red, it’s purple!” I was four. I don’t remember much teasing about my hair in elementary school, but I didn’t like the way it made me stand out. Puberty was *very* awkward for me. I was overweight, and I wore glasses and braces. My red, curly hair drew so much attention, when all I wanted was to be invisible.

Between the ages of 13 and 15, I finally began to develop what I call “the redhead personality.” My fiery temperament started to show. I became outgoing and passionate about things I believed in. And I began to see that my hair could be a good thing. It made me different. As a young adult, I embraced my hair. I learned how to handle my curls. I discovered an online community for redheads, which also sold t-shirts with fantastic phrases. I’ve owned many of them over the years, and even today, they’re some of my favorite t-shirts.

I imagine that it’s hard for someone who isn’t a redhead to understand how having red hair defines a person – especially a woman. I stand out. It’s nice to go into a store and meet with someone, then call back later and say, “I was in there earlier; I’m the redhead,” and have them instantly remember our conversation. But I also have to be careful. In my wilder days, if I drank too much and made a fool of myself, people *always* remembered.

I noticed my first grey hair when I was 23; at 35, I have a lot more grey than I’d like. I expect that within the next year I’ll begin to color my hair to cover it. That’s the easy part. Once, when J. and I were discussing what would happen if one of us became ill, I told him that I would not undergo chemotherapy if I would lose my hair. He was shocked. He said, “It’s hair, it will grow back!” But I’ve done research: it might not grow back red. And that’s a loss I’m not prepared to face. This may be vanity at its worst, but my feelings of selfishness eased a little when I heard that Farrah Fawcett initially insisted on a form of chemotherapy that would not cause her to lose her hair. She was defined by her hair, too.

Being a redhead is one of my defining characteristics. It’s not just about the hair color, but also the traits that come with it. Natural redheads are rare: less than 4% of the population. There is a great sense of pride that comes with that. I intend to be a redhead until the day I die. I cannot fathom being just one more woman with grey hair.

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