When I was young, my friends and I spent hours on my bed building elaborate worlds for our Barbie dolls. They all had their own personality. Barbie, with her blonde hair, was always the leader. Her brunette buddy was the prankster. And their island friend with the jet-black locks? She possessed an air of mystery no one could quite figure out.
But I always wondered, “Where’s the redhead?”
Sure, there were some dolls with strawberry blonde or auburn hair, but the color of my hair, a screaming red like a fire truck rushing to the scene of a blazing red fire, never seemed to be represented in the rows and rows of pink doll boxes in the toy aisle.
It wasn’t easy growing up with hair the color of a five-alarm fire. I’d heard all the names: Carrot Top, Copperhead, Ronald McDonald. Even Strawberry Shortcake – I’m a bit on the short side, so the name fit.
Oh, and don’t even get me started on those freckles. Little specks of red dotted my arms from shoulder to finger tip. I walked around with what looked like a map of the solar system plastered all over my body.
All through school, I was the only redhead in my class. On class-picture day, you’d see heads of blonde, blonde, blonde, brunette Š and then my blazing red head.
“I hate my red hair,” I’d complain to my mother.
She was blessed with long, flowing Swedish blonde hair, something she passed on to my little sister, so I don’t think she quite understood my plight.
Then, while my family was on vacation one summer, I nearly took to the bottle. I saw my mom and sister one morning in my grandparents’ garage, heads bent down over the little sink in the corner. I later found out that they were frosting their hair.
When I brought up the frosting fun with my mom that night, she made it clear that, “Oh, honey. Redheads can’t frost their hair! Don’t you know people pay money to get their hair that color?”
Great. Wasn’t there a way to pay to get rid of this color, I thought?
It looked like I was stuck with my copper top. It felt like a curse, not something people pay for.
I thought life would be so much better – even easier – as a blonde. As a redhead, I couldn’t go out in the summer without lathering on sunblock; I knew zero sunblock meant that I’d wake up the next morning with red, scaly arms and legs. As a blonde, I could bask in the sun’s yellow glow until my skin turned a light shade of brown – the perfect tan. As a redhead, my shy personality didn’t exactly let me blend with the crowd. As a blonde, I could walk around virtually unnoticed. I’d be just one of the girls instead of that girl.
It wasn’t a few years later that everything suddenly started to click.
“Where did you get your gorgeous red hair?” people – even strangers – would ask.
“Oh, I got it from my dad,” I’d reply sheepishly.
I’d never thought of my hair like that, but for the first time, it made sense. The declaration seemed so much more important – like a family legacy he passed down especially for me, as if he was a part of every strand of hair and every spot of freckle.
When you’re young, all you want to do is fit in and be accepted.
I wanted so desperately to fit in that I was willing to sacrifice everything that made me stand out.
So I finally just let go – my hair included. My hair and my freckles make me who I am, not what I am. They give me my spunk. My pizzazz. My uniqueness.
I now love to let my hair flow and blow in the wind. I’ve also come to love watching it sparkle against the sun.
And now, every time I look in the mirror, I see my dad. He’s in every strand of red hair and in every dot of freckles. And I see myself. Finally.
[Photos via ffffound]