Being a redhead has definitely shaped my life. It honestly baffles me whenever I sit down and think about it that a colour, and more specifically, a colour of hair, can divide so many people and generates so many varied opinions. On a more broad spectrum, I’m sure we can all come to the conclusion that bullying is wrong, despite the fact that many of us accept it as a characteristic of childhood and growing up. I was lucky enough to not be bullied in life but taunting has been prevalent since I can remember. This is an aspect that I have felt privileged to not be the victim of. But, generally, I stand alone. I can recite a number of news articles I have seen where people have committed suicide due to bullying surrounding their hair colour. In my opinion, it is not addressed enough and it leaves this small 2% of the population subject to such hate with little support systems available.
I distinctly remember a circumstance where I was in my local city and I ended up being followed and had slurs shouted at me by total strangers. Admittedly, this has been a one-off type situation in my life but that doesn’t make it any less shocking. Scaling it down, I have experienced comments my whole teenage life where people thought they were complimenting me through the line “you’re fit.. for a ginger” or other similar points. If you place yourself in the mind of a 15-year-old girl, being told that, in someone’s view, one of the things holding you back from being attractive is the totally arbitrary hair colour you were assigned at birth – you are undoubtedly wired to hate your appearance. I’m not insinuating that this hurts any more or less than people being told that glasses, or braces, or that fetching bowl cut your mum gave you, are hindering you being “attractive” but hey – I had most of these and was lumbered with being a redhead too.
Let us not forget the jokes that you have to accept because “it is just a joke”. I can assure you that hearing a comment about my fiery temper will probably result in exactly what you have asked for… which probably doesn’t help in playing up to stereotypes but oh well, eh? Another personal favourite of mine is the quip, “we wouldn’t lose you in a crowd”, sometimes the originality is baffling, I must confess.
I dyed my hair several times in my teenage years to avoid comments and used being a brunette as a platform for a new, reformed and confident me. However, I swore to my dad that semi-permanent would always be the way and this often left me out of pocket and eventually accepting my ginger roots and eventual horrific grow out. This is something I must thank my dad for. By never going permanent, I learnt to love and accept my hair colour as much as possible and without this inevitable shove into self-love, I feel like I would have significantly struggled later on in life.
Another comment that I thought was worth mentioning is the concept that ginger hair will only suit women. I know that I am definitely not the victim of this as I identify as a female but for guys who have grown up with being a redhead, I can only begin to imagine how hard it is to be essentially named and shamed as “unattractive” off the bat. I have seen this more than enough times and it infuriates me. Have you seen Ed Sheeran? Prince Harry maybe? Let us not be too rash here.
This process of altering my appearance to suit the constraints of beauty imposed by others around me and the wider society ultimately fell to fake tan. You can imagine a very young and confused Ella attempting to fake tan and completely messing it up. I know that most girls went through this stage but being quite pale (although I do tan!) and predominately freckly, any attempt to cover them up was welcomed. Imagine lots of orange streaks and stained hands and you essentially have pictured what my attempts were to construct an image of myself that suited this ideal of “attractive” that I was told my whole life I didn’t fit in to.
I know that some people will read this and be like “Hey, I love you hair! The colour is so unique” or “She’s just saying she had it hard” but I did, I truly did. Weirdly enough, what made it harder was compliments. In the space of a day, I could receive a hateful comment about my hair and by the end of the evening, it would be completely juxtaposed by a stranger stopping me in a shop or restaurant to say how much they loved it. This type of confliction has made it extremely hard to accept me, strangely. I think it is such a natural part of human nature to look at yourself and only focus and reflect on the negative and completely disregard the positive.
I will admit, hairdressers do seem to really like me. That is one thing I will totally take and own it. Whenever I need a confidence boost, I have learnt over time that getting my hair done is probably the best thing to do. However, this doesn’t stop unwarranted comments even then about colours I should “avoid” and how I “can’t wear” certain items. There is only a number of times in 21 years where I can hear that I will suit green and have to act surprised.
Although I have been light hearted at points, I thought it necessary to be really honest at this given moment. Being a redhead has been a series of conflicting emotions that have shaped my life and how confident I feel in my appearance. These neverending thoughts have led to me researching the “ginger gene” and the likelihood of ginger children. Part of me feels resolute in standing up to people who for some reason feel obliged to attack people for being different. Another part is terrified to bring someone into the world to have the same experiences as me both through interactions with people and internal torment. This is quite a daunting and troubling thought process to have at times and it is saddening that from just being a redhead it is something I have felt that I have to consider.
I wanted to end on the note that inspired this discussion and is something I have always said whenever asked about being a redhead. Nobody looks like me. Magazines, films, bloggers, anything. I know that redheads don’t make up a large proportion of the population and therefore even a smaller percentage of celebrities and other icons but it has been a struggle from a young age to not have many people in the public sphere that I can identify with – appearance wise. What Disney princess was I? Always Ariel and her hair is red… to be pedantic. Hell, there isn’t even an emoji that looks like me but don’t worry… there are 3 different cutlery ones. I frequently search for redhead YouTubers or bloggers because I never feel like I am exposed to much inspiration when it comes to hair, makeup and fashion as there is such a limited number of us. (If you know any good ones, please let me know!)
I am slowly learning to love my hair and I am frequently informed that it is something I will grow to love in time and for once, I actually agree with people’s comments. Being different at a young age is difficult, no matter what it is that sets you apart. It will inevitably shape how you perceive yourself and others but I assure you, you will love your hair in time. I cannot express how much adoration I have for children with gorgeous flame hair and how I always feel the need to compliment them on it. I see people my age that I obsess over due to the shade of red hair that they have. Every shade is different and to me, that makes it pretty amazing. Nobody looks like you, yes, but why the hell do you want to look like everybody else? Embrace individuality, embrace your colour and embrace yourself.