Growing Up Ginger

3-year-old Frances (1995)
3-year-old Frances (1995)

I used to want blond hair.

Me, with the absolutely beautiful and gorgeous red hair. Blonde. Can you picture it?

In the safety of my room, my red hair was amazing. I was the reincarnation of Ariel or Elizabeth I. But outside of my room was a different story.

I was sick of grocery store clerks and old women telling me, “I wish I had your hair color!” Uh, no. You don’t. Why would you want a hair color that no one in your class had?

Having red hair guaranteed you’d stand out in photos, in class — hell, you stood out in general no matter the situation. There were barely five gingers, including me, in my high school graduating class. One girl added so many highlights that her hair wasn’t even red any more.

Red hair meant pasty, pale skin that sunburns in less than 30 minutes outside without sunscreen (true story). It meant that every time (EVERY TIME) you felt uncomfortable in a situation, your face turned a bright pink. Then people would point out how pink your face was. Thanks, person I’m conversing with. I didn’t know my face was turning pink. Really.

It also meant that you were automatically paired off with the only other ginger in your class, whether you asked for it or not. In first grade, there was a boy in my class who had dark red hair. So who did I hang out with during recess? This boy. Then he started writing me love notes. End of friendship. For the longest time, I thought no non-gingers would date me because of my hair color (I laugh hysterically about that now).

Just when I was getting more comfortable with having red hair, South Park aired its “Ginger Kids” episode. So not only did I have to worry about standing out in any crowd, getting sunburned at the drop of a hat and blushing like crazy, I didn’t have a soul? Great. Wonderful way to begin junior high.

I became more conscious of my freckles. There was a time when I enjoyed getting freckles; it meant I was outside repeatedly for extended periods of time without getting terribly sunburnt. Point for Frances. But now, I saw it as a blemish. Some sort of defect.

I can’t count how many times I’ve argued with people about how my hair isn’t orange. Trust me, I’ve seen orange hair and my hair is not it. I’ve corrected people on the “Carrot Top” nickname. Thank god I’ve never been called anything worse than “Red” or “Carrot Top,” at least to my face.

Another argument … ahem, discussion … I’ve gotten into is which hair color has the worst stereotypes — gingers or blondes? Nearly everyone I’ve talked to about which is worse says being called a “dumb blonde” is way worse than, for example, being called a “soulless ginger.”

Then, when I accepted my hair color, I still wasn’t happy with it. It wasn’t red enough, for goodness sakes. So I dyed it a darker red, hoping to achieve some sort of Ariel look. There are still days, few and far between, when I think my hair color isn’t ginger enough.

Where am I going with this?

Young girls (and boys) shouldn’t grow up hating their hair color. At least, because of harmful stereotypes or stigmas. I, at four years old, should not have been wishing for blond hair solely so I could fit in with my peers. I should have wished for blond hair because I loved the color and thought I could rock it.

If I felt this way just because of my hair color, I cannot imagine what people with more noticeable, unchangeable features feel like when they are singled out and made to feel different.

No one should feel ashamed of what they look like. Period. Especially at four or five years old.

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