I remember the first time I felt betrayed by my hair color. I was in 6th grade, and I was sitting at home watching the MTV Music Video Countdown after school. (Yes, this was when MTV still had music.) I couldn’t tell you what music video it was. I don’t even remember what the song was about, but I do remember one thing: the people. More specifically, the women.
The video was a poolside, party-type scene. The male artist was surrounded by fun, partying, and most abundantly about 50+ beautiful girls in bikinis. I was about halfway through watching this video when I realized something: not one of these girls had red hair.
I then started paying closer attention to the rest of the video. I saw the glorification of the blondes and the brunettes and how perfect each and every one of them looked, the camera panning up and down their exposed and sun-kissed skin to be admired. I thought, “This is what it means to be sexy.” I was fifteen years old, and I was thinking about what is considered sexy. What a world we live in.
The video ended, and I got up from the couch and walked to the bathroom. I remember standing there, staring into the mirror for a very long time. I wasn’t so sure if I liked what I saw anymore. How could someone else think I’m pretty when this video basically focused on pretty girls featured no one that looks like I do?
I didn’t realize it at the time, but that was the very first day out of many that I would let someone else define the standard of beauty for me.
Being a toddler with my short, bright red spiral curls, elderly women would always approach me and say, “Don’t you ever dye that beautiful hair of yours; people pay a lot of money to try to imitate that natural color!” Five-year-old me thought, “Well why in the world would I ever want to do that?”
Flash forward ten years and there I was, begging my mom to take me to the salon and let me change. A strawberry blonde, a brunette, some highlights, something, anything, to make me look like the bikini girls. I would have never guessed that I would thank her infinitely for repeatedly saying no. In fact, she not only would say no, but get quite defensive. She acted like she would disown me if I even considered changing my hair color. I had no idea why.
“Don’t you know how lucky you are?” she would ask.
I didn’t feel lucky. I didn’t feel lucky as I gradually became exposed to more and more media, showing me that the girls like the ones in the music video were the ones on billboards, on magazine covers, in movies. The ones to talk about. I didn’t feel lucky when all of my friends started to become crazed with who got the most tan over the summer as I stared down at my fair complexion. I didn’t feel lucky when immature, adolescent boys would pick on me for not looking cookie-cutter like what they also saw on the TV screen. Why was “redhead” all of the sudden an insult?
I had fleeting moments when I was confident in the color of my hair, but I let the world around me change my mind so frequently. I know they meant no harm, but every time someone would say, “You know, you’re really pretty… for a redhead,” that wasn’t exactly my idea of a compliment.
(And yes, if you’re wondering, that one episode of "South Park" did haunt me from ages 15 to 18 . Ginger this, ginger that, and of course I have no soul, HOW COULD I ANYMORE WITH ALL YOU INSECURE PRETEENS HARASSING ME?! No hard feelings though, "South Park." in just a couple years I’ll find you to be hilarious.)
At the time I knew that I stuck out, but not in the way that I wanted. I wanted to be beautiful, but also normal. How silly I was not to realize sooner that there isn’t such a thing. “Normal beauty” is an oxymoron. The act of being beautiful means to radiate individuality and uniqueness. A certain element about someone that makes her shine. A passion, a fire, an energy that makes people just want to be around someone. That part was inside of me all along, but I had a very hard time linking that to my outer appearance as well.
Sophomore year of high school, I sat next to a girl in class who I found absolutely perfect. Her clothes were beautiful and expensive, her skin was tanned year round and flawless, and I don’t think she even knew what a bad hair day was. I was so jealous of her, how she radiated such perfection. One day when we were talking at our desks, she says to me out of nowhere, “Ugh, I always wish I was you. You have the prettiest red hair and all I have is this brown, boring mess.”
…You’re kidding me, right!? I’ve spent day after day admiring how beautiful you are and you’re jealous of me? That was the moment that I realized how truly backwards we all think. We waste so many thoughts day after day on wishing to be like someone else, when in reality they could be thinking the exact same thing about us. This goes for everyone, not just redheads. We all have wonderful attributes. There are so many different types of beautiful. It's okay to want what others have, as long as you realize how special and how perfectly you were crafted.
When it comes down to it, I'm kind of a weirdo. A free spirit, if you will. I was always a little different. I was never meant to fit in, disposition or look-wise. I talk too much, I sing too loud and dance alone in the car like a crazy person, I always try to be the class clown, I love puns, and so on and so forth. But instead of being myself, I spent so much time trying to fit in because my hair color was already so different enough. I wish I had spent less time trying to create myself to counteract my hair and more time trying to embrace it with my personality. I would have been much happier, much earlier.
I have a quote that hangs on my wall that says, “If you’re lucky enough to be different from everybody else, don’t change to be the same.” As cliché as this may sound, it’s the truth. This article isn’t just for redheads. This article is for everyone who may feel like they have to change to be beautiful. Please don’t. If you’re reading this right now, you are special, you are unique, you are enough. And someone out there looks at you and wishes that they had the qualities that you have, just like you do to others.
And to all my fellow redhead beauties: don’t be afraid to be noticed. To be rare. Be proud to stand out in a crowd. Be proud to be remembered. Embrace the fire and the passion that comes with this color hair. Yes, redheads do have a fire to them, literally and figuratively. Don’t ever let anyone douse that fire. It’s not just hair; it’s who you are. Love it. Let it match your inner spunk, your inner joy, your inner passion. Don’t ever look for happiness in a box kit of hair dye or a salon. Find it in yourself.
You represent 2% of the entire world population, and that’s pretty awesome. Yes, we are technically a genetic mutation, a freak of nature. And we should be damn proud of it.
And if someone doesn’t like it, just remember that non-extraordinary people weren’t meant to appreciate extraordinary things. ☼
-->Special thanks for my dad for giving me the best color hair :)
And shout out to Lucille Ball for being the real MVP: