It ain’t easy being a redhead. You’re pale, you’re freckly, your hair is a weird colour and people make fun of it.
So it fills my heart with joy when I see photos of Roodharigendag, a yearly festival in the Netherlands for people with naturally red hair. Held last weekend in Breda, more than 5000 redheads from 80 countries attended, with the latest gathering breaking its own Guinness Book of Records entry for the photo featuring the most redheads in one spot – 1,672 people.
I have no idea why I was so thrilled when my daughter was born with red fuzz on her head. I didn’t think, poor little thing, you’ll blister in the sun, you’ll be called a ranga, you’ll curse your tresses. I was totally besotted with my little mini-me.
(NB If you’re wondering what’s smeared all over her mouth in the photo above, it’s sand. Sand was her favourite food as a baby.)
My eldest’s red hair grew like grass, straight up in the air. It was quite the talking point. When gravity finally took hold, it fell into a perfect, silky bob (with a little help from the hairdresser). It never needed combing, it was streaked with gold and glorious.
She has never mentioned any ranga teasing in the playground. It probably helps that she has honeyed skin, not ghostly white; she’s generally freckle free, aside from a cute little sprinkle on her nose; and she has dark lashes and brows, not invisible ones.
My childhood wasn’t quite so asthetically pleasing. You couldn’t put a pin between my freckles (well, except for the big white spot in the middle of my nose that got so badly burnt once, all the melanin was seared out). Many years were spent in the shadows during my teens, studious fading those bloody freckles. Then I went on a school ski trip and recoiled in horror when I looked in the mirror at lunchtime. Every damn one was back and I wanted to weep. Fortunately, in my 20s, I grew into my hair and out of my freckles. And I discovered there were men who fancy redheads, like my husband.
But being a redhead still presents challenges. I burn in bright sun in 15 minutes flat, even when slathered in 30+ suncream. Going on Asian holidays often feels like I’m the bearded lady in sideshow alley. I remember walking into a suburban park in Bangkok once and a hush falling over the crowd. Everyone stopping what they were doing and turned to stare. In Singapore, they call caucasians “ang-mo”, which means “red-haired” or “red devils”. They’re not the only ones – in the Middle Ages, red hair and green eyes were thought to be signs of a witch. And redheads require higher levels of anaesthetic, which makes the dentist lots of fun at needle time.
Wikipedia includes such cheering facts as: “In November 2008 social networking website Facebook received criticism after a ‘Kick a Ginger’ group, which aimed to establish a “National Kick a Ginger Day” on November 20, acquired almost 5000 members. A 14-year-old boy from Vancouver who ran the Facebook group was subjected to an investigation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police for possible hate crimes.” And “In December 2009 British supermarket chain Tesco was forced to withdraw a Christmas card which had the image of a child with red hair sitting on the lap of Santa Claus, and the words: “Santa loves all kids. Even ginger ones” after customers complained the card was offensive.”