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Saturday, December 20, 2008

red enough

Last week I posted about how people smile and gush when they see my little, beaming Zoë. What I failed to mention is that after some of them have exclaimed about her hair and her smile, they turn to me and say, “Where does she get the red hair?” or “Does she get the hair from her daddy?”

I try to keep the irritation out of my voice when I say, “She gets it from me.”

Then they look at me in a confused way, as if I had just told them that the red is actually from my grandmother, who happened to come from Mars, and all Martians have red hair, didn’t you know?

Sometimes they smile slightly, and say, as if they were humoring me, “Oh, I guess I can see that.” As if they had just conceded something. As if they were agreeing simply in order to placate me.

Now, I’m the first to admit that my hair has darkened and dulled over the years, but it’s still what I would call red. It’s still more red than blonde. It’s still more red than brown. It still put a check mark in the “red” box when I get a new driver’s license.

But many people seem to think you are only a redhead if you have flaming, crayon-red hair. I don’t know anyone with hair that color, do you? I know people with carroty red hair, with dark, auburn hair, with rust hair. And then there is copper. That’s what Zoë has, and what I had as a child: hair the color of a flashy new penny.

Okay, so I’m sensitive about my hair. When I was in high school it annoyed me when someone told me I was strawberry blonde. I felt as if they were trying to push me into another category, a whole different set of people. They were trying to make me a blonde. “My hair is not blonde,” I would insist. “It’s red.” And sometimes I would even clarify: “It’s actually copper.”

I have always identified as a redhead. It’s part of who I am. My grandmother was a redhead. One of my sisters is a redhead. My father was a redhead before he turned gray. And as a child when people called him red, he shook his head emphatically and declared his hair golden. (Personally, I wouldn’t have chosen that word; I would have called it auburn. Regardless, it’s obvious where I get my hair sensitivity.)

I put up with years of comments about how I must be Irish and how I must have a temper. (All redheads must be the alike, you see. We must come from the same stock. We must have the same temperament.) Invariably, I would become irritated and, if the commenter persisted, angry. I remember when my junior-high Spanish teacher insisted I was both Irish and hot-tempered. I said no, but he wouldn’t let it go. Finally I yelled, “I’m not Irish!”

He smirked. “But you certainly do have a have a temper.”

I was shopping with Zoë and Stella at the mall the other day and a salesclerk, an older man, began asking about the origin of Zoë’s hair color, and when I said it was from me, I thought he was going to have an apoplexy. “You can always tell,” he said loudly, “who is really a redhead.”

Hrrrrmuph. Oh please I was going say, giving him my most withering look. But he went on: “Hopefully you daughter will keep hers.”

He then expounded on the fact that Zoë was such a happy baby because I stayed home with her. (I had admitted, after being questioned, that I worked from home, but all he cared about was that I was at home, fulfilling my motherly duties.) I have all sorts of things I wish I had said to the blowhard, but I rushed out of the store, dragging Stella by the hand before I could think of them.

Now I am wondering: What is red enough? How much red do you need in your hair to be considered a redhead? I also wonder why this is such a big deal to people. Why do they feel they need to draw a line, put me in my place? Are they are worried that if they didn’t, all sorts of people (impostors!) would go around calling themselves redheads when they really weren’t?

Just imagine: thousands and thousands brunettes and blondes laying claim to something to which they had no right. The world might shift off its axis. The sun might fail to shine. Armageddon, people. It could happen.

18 comments:

K said...

I continue to be amazed at the need of people to have absolutely pointless opinions and the entitlement they feel to their prejudices.

American_in_Cairo said...

I always think of you as a redhead. I have the same issues when people don't note my reddishness. ;)

Suze said...

Ah, Kate--

A few weeks ago, I sent my Dad a link to your blog, when you posted a poem which he had recently emailed to me. It was more than 10 years ago that he met you, briefly, when you were here in the Adirondacks.
His response: "Oh, she's the fun redhead, right?"
Happy Holidays, you saucy Irish tart. xxoo Suze

Brittany said...

If you look at John's hair from the right, it is decidedly copper. But from the left, it looks strawberry blond. Since I am a rightie, I insist his hair is red. My husband is a leftie and he insists that John's hair is blond.

I on the other hand have dark ashy blond hair, was a sight strawberry blond for about 30 seconds as a baby, but my hair is more yellow than red. I can't tell you the number of times I've been called a redhead in my life. I argue with people, but am always flattered.

When people say my hair is brown, that's another story. :-P

Kara said...

As mom to a copper haired daughter and an auburn red daughter I loved this post, and then loved it more because I know you and could see you *telling* this story. People always ask me too where they get the red (but for good reason, because I'm clearly not and I've tried to be red with disastrous results). It is funny why people ask. But after getting asked about my twins: "Are they real twins? Natural twins? Did you have infertility treatment," I don't flinch quite as much. People are just weird. I see your red and it's lovely and so is your red-hot personality:-)

kate hopper said...

Thanks, guys. I needed a little affirmation. It IS amazing what kinds of questions perfect strangers will ask. (I'm thinking of Kara's twins here rather than Zoe's hair color.)

Suze, I love that your dad not only remembered me as a redhead, but also as *fun*! I'm not sure how fun I am anymore, but maybe I'll work on that.

Brittany, I love that John's hair is both copper and strawberry blond, depending on how you look at him!

Ines said...

I loved your post. As a Mexican I had no idea this was an issue...thank you....

kate hopper said...

Ines, that cracked me up.

Gwen said...

I thought I was the only one with this issue about my red hair. It's auburn, and it's not as bright as it was when I was a kid, but I definitely identify as a redhead. My mom's hair has faded from red to the point that people consider her a blonde, and it still shocks me when someone refers to her that way. About 10 years after I met my father in law, I had twin daughters with reddish hair, and my father in law asked where it came from. I looked at him like he was nuts..."Me." He was confused, said.."But your hair is brown." It kind of amazed me how angry it made me. Good to know I'm not the only one. :)

Catholic Mom x 4 said...

I have a darling (feisty) 3 year old with beautiful red hair. Not a day goes by that someone doesn't comment on the origin of her hair. On a positive note, it's made me more social since I always reply, but not always fully. Sometimes it's... "from my husband's father's mother from Tennessee who died a long time ago but whom she strongly resembles" and sometimes I say "it runs in both sides of the family" and if I really don't want to talk, I just say, "I don't know..." and smile. I have no personal claim to red hair, but it's very beautiful and the world seems to notice.

Lisbeth said...

Kate, I love your website. My writer-friend and daughter-in-law, Kara, introduced me to it. It's great as is your writing. Loved the red-hair piece. I enjoy having red in my hair. I envision you with wonderful red hair and a grand personality to match. By the way do you have a blog to recommend? Mothers who write doesn't seem to be the right spot for me,a mom of 3 and Grandma of 8 - almost 9. I have a website: lisbeththom.com, but need to get going on a blog. My almost finished 2nd novel is about two sisters, so I want to start a blog to promote that. Any suggestions? Thanks. Lisbeth in Savannah

Lisbeth said...

Kate I left you a message earlier but gave you the wrong contact e-mail - just giving you an update for my google account. Lisbeth

cath c said...

redheaded as redhead says! claim it, it's yours! i insist on mentioning my baby's minimally present coppery and gold tones in her brown hair. pushing for auburn someday....

happy new year, too.

Eireann said...

It's funny, but here in England, I've found people call haircolors 'ginger' that I would call brown for sure, or dark blond. It's been really interesting to relearn what 'box' haircolors can go in--everything from bright orangey-red to auburn to copper to golden-red to brownish with coppery hints to dark blond here seems to be 'ginger'.

Betsy said...

Love this post. I too had copper penny hair as a kid and have always aspired to true red. Maybe it glows redder when my pissed off irish side comes out - at least THAT I still have in natural abundance.

kate hopper said...

I love to know I'm not alone in this! Cling to your red, you know who you are!

Eireann, I actually really like "ginger" as a descriptor for redheads. Maybe that's what I am?

Andria said...

Hi Kate,
This post made me so %&**$## mad. WHO would NOT think you are a redhead??? I'd like to meet the people who've thought of you as anything else, and then blow them all up.

Oh, wait! That was just my temper getting away from me. Because I'm a redhead, you see. Except that no one thinks of me as one....So maybe I'm just...a sociopath?

This post was so great. I almost NEVER have anyone recognize me as a redhead when I am out with Nora. People ALWAYS ask "where she got the red hair from." That's when I say, I'm sorry. Is that your head, or did your neck blow a bubble?

kate hopper said...

Andria, this is hilarious. I can't believe that people don't recognize you, of all people, as a redhead. I have even thought, "if my hair were still as red as Andria's I wouldn't have this problem." But I guess I would. Those bubbleheads.