There are certain truths all redheads must face. Men you have never met will inquire about the color of your pubic hair. Come summer, your presence will eventually become synonymous with sunscreen. Regardless of your ethnicity, it will always be assumed you are Irish. Total strangers will stop you in the street to wax poetically about your hair color… and dole out unwarranted advice.
It always begins the same way: “Is that your natural hair color?” After twenty-six years of being on the receiving end of these exchanges, I can proudly blush on command and answer, “Yes,” as if this is the first person who has ever approached me about my hair color (method actresses/fellow redheads, take note).
The majority of the time these interactions follow a formula: said stranger compliments me, tells me they are SO JEALOUS, compares my hair to their cousin/neighbor/dog walker/gynecologist/shoe guy with the SAME (!!!) color and advises me to never dye it. Behind my chorus of “thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyouthankyouuuuu” is a fantasy where I rip open a button down (a la Superman) to expose a t-shirt that reads, “Keep Your Opinions Off My Hair,” dump a bottle of peroxide over my head, and storm off cackling with my newly dyed mane.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been dealing with this strange sort of attention. When I attended kindergarten in the South Bronx school where my brunette mother taught, the first question out of my classmates’ mouths was, “Are you adopted?” By the time I made it to the sixth grade, I was confronted with a new theory: redheads were actually messengers of Satan. “Didn’t you know? They work for the devil. That’s why their hair is red!” an eager peer told me while we waited on the lunch line.
If puberty wasn’t enough to deal with, there were the boys who couldn’t catch their breath fast enough to ask if the “carpet matched the curtains.” It didn’t take me too long to figure out what they were referring to (prompting me to wonder if I was absent the day everyone become obsessed with interior design?) and that “fuck off” was the most appropriate answer. When I made my confirmation at 14, the deacon presiding over the ceremony bent down and whispered in my ear, “Never dye your hair.” Now God was monitoring my hair, too. Great.
All the teasing, unwarranted advice and awkward interactions aside, I love being a redhead. The way my hair color changes after a few hours spent out in the sun or glistens when I catch its reflection in a mirror is something only 1-2% of humans can relate to. I’m in a club with some of the most fabulous women ever: Julianne Moore, Bryce Dallas Howard, Carol Burnett, Maureen O’Hara, Molly Ringwald… and even Christina Hendricks gets a pass (she’s a bottle redhead, but when you’re that gorgeous, natural redheads are more than happy to claim you). It’s who I am. Being teased for having red hair made me tougher, cleverer, and smarter. If you dared say something about my hair in the late 90s, I relied on an arsenal of tried and true comebacks; most stemming from the fact I didn’t see you put on deodorant before gym class (zing!). I’ve carried that sass with me all the way from middle school to my adult life. Thank you genetics for giving me my chutzpah.
With summer on the horizon, I can’t ignore my fascination with ombre locks, rose gold highlights and pops of blonde painted onto sleek tresses. My days of envying jars of Manic Panic colors are far behind me, but these virgin strands are ready for a change. Will a pop of color compromise my identity as a fiery redhead? Or do I owe it to myself to see what life as a non-redhead is like? Would I even be able to find a hairstylist who will actually do it? Andrew, my pint-sized stylist, told me to count him out, he wouldn’t be the one responsible for tinkering with my natural color. As he clipped away at the mop atop my head, he chimed in, “Besides, even if you added a little blonde, people might doubt you’re a real redhead.”