Only just over a week left until the big day! I thought I would write about my life as a redhead.
Not long after my daughter was born, my hair started to go grey at the crown. At first it was only the odd hair or two, but then eventually it really picked up speed and by the time that I was forty-five, I was pretty much grey all over my head. I found this devastating and yet for so long I had hated having red hair. I’d always wanted to have blonde, straight hair. So, I decided that I would have blonde streaks put in and for once become the blonde that I had always wanted to be. I tried it for all of a few months, but it just didn’t feel or look right. Like it or not, I am a born redhead and I only feel comfortable with red hair.
No one can really understand what it is like to be a redhead unless they have been born that way. My red hair didn’t start to grow until I was three. For several years I had no hair and my Mum worried about it endlessly at night. I was hyper-sensitive to most things and I had large red marks instead on my head, where hair should have been. My Dad told my Mum not to worry, as he believed that when I did have hair, it would be worth the wait.
When I finally grew hair, my parents were so relieved that they often told me that I was blessed because of the colour of my hair. It wasn’t bright ginger but more a Pre-Raphaelite shade of red. I had very pale eyebrows and eyelashes and of course the ubiquitous freckles all over my skin. My parents always told me that my hair was beautiful, and my Mother would frequently tell me that women paid thousands of pounds to have hair the same colour as mine. She didn’t realise how prophetic that comment would become when I went grey prematurely.
When we visited Italy in the early Seventies, the Italians were unaccustomed to seeing my hair colour and would ask my parents if they could touch it, as it was so beautiful. My parents obliged but I find all that rather creepy. Once when I was about eight and my Dad was studying at University, we visited him in his halls of residence. He had made friends with some overseas students from Egypt and one of them offered my Dad a rather large amount of money, if he could marry me when I was old enough. This was all down to my hair. Thankfully my father declined their generous offer.
In my ballet years, I always stood out because I was very gifted and had red hair. whereas everyone else was dark or blonde. I was always referred to as that ‘lovely redhead girl’. I myself, never found it attractive. I hated it. Most of the time I looked as though I had no eyes because I was so pale. To me the greatest inventions of modern times have been straighteners and fake tan! My Dad in particular, used to tell me that my hair was beautiful, and he would often show me the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites and say that if Rossetti were alive in my day, then he would have painted me with my hair.
My hair would also change colour and I know that sounds bizarre, but it did. If I was very run-down it would go dull and pale and yet if I was feeling well, it would go dark and shiny. Everyone always associates redheads with having a bad temper. I’m not sure about that as I hate confrontation.
Of course, being a ‘ginge’ meant that I was the target for bullies at secondary school. It didn’t help that my last name was Straw. I always felt though, that my red-hair was more a problem for other people than me. I was frequently called ‘Duracell’ for my ‘copper coloured top’, as the advert went. In a bid to halt the bullies, I saved up tokens and bought a Duracell bag that I used for school; almost like an act of self-deprecation. I hated being called ‘Ginge’ – mostly by bus drivers. I remember foolishly mentioning this once when I had a student job at the Civil Servant. From then on, I was called affectionately, ’Ginge.’ I was also frequently asked if my collar and cuffs matched; something that I found hugely vulgar and embarrassing.
The prophetic words of my Mother have come back to haunt me. I now have my hair dyed to match my original colour. My hairdresser did suggest that grey mixed with red looks quite nice, but I prefer to go all the way and dye every single grey hair. My hairdresser managed to find a mix of colours that is as close to my original colour as possible, but it does cost quite a lot of money to remain this way every month. My daughter has dark brown hair and she frequently tells me that she wishes she had had red hair instead. I suppose that we are never happy with what we are given.
I may hate the fact I have freckles and pale skin but over the years, I have learned to like my hair and there’s always make-up. Being a redhead is like being in a special club. You connect far easier with other redheads because they understand what it is like. Whilst I didn’t enjoy it at first, over the years I’ve learned to accept it. Admittedly you frequently get compared to Simply Red and as my brother used to say, ‘All of you look the same’. But I don’t mind really, because being a redhead is an intrinsic part of who I am.