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A redhead commercial: rubbing stereotypes and expected behavior in mom's red hair with freckles


How did this happen?

Mothers-to-be may tweek a baby plan for years, but is there a similar process in for incoming babies? Is Birth School a large shopping mall where soon-to-be human beings learn how to navigate the birthing canal, clear one's lungs of fluid and breathing oxygen, and manage inane adults? Is there a Shopping Mall wherein babies choose their parents, their Earth-school subject matter, their appearance?

In other words, did I choose orange hair? I would have thought it beautiful, featured in the window of the Heavenly Hair and Skin Shop - right beside the Add-a-Freckle cream. A little dab will do you? Was I in for a shock.

Orange hair made its first appearance in my nuclear family the day I was born. Mom's Dad had orange whiskers (???) and she had one redheaded sibling, but Auntie Barb's hair was of the auburn variety. And she was fifteen years older. And she lived in another state before cell phones made it cheap and easy to commiserate over long distances.

My mother attempted to leave me on the make up counter in Daytons when I was a newborn. She says it was a mistake, but I think not. I believe she hoped a make over would help soften the red hair, red face, red temper. My dad insisted she retrieve me.

My uncle called toddler me the Devil's child-- a scary claim, once stuck in my brain. If I was the Devil's child, who was the Devil- my Dad or my Mom? They seemed fine to me. It was all very confusing. Perhaps I was a changeling?

My brother resented the attention generated by carrots protruding from my scalp. He nicknamed me Woodie after that cantankerous cartoon, Woody Woodpecker and compounded the insult by pointing at me often, squawking the Woody laugh, "hahahaHAha, hahahaHAha, HA ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah!"

I knew no other redheads much less orange heads in my social environment, therefore I had no tribe in which to blend. Nor did I have the ability to distinguish what was me from what people on the streets and in shopping centers seemed to notice most about me- my orange hair.

Finding an identity within books

So it was that I found refuge in books, shaping my identity around the likes of Pippi Longstocking and Anne of Green Gables. Within these books, I discovered how I was meant to behave as a redhead.

To fit in, I must be eccentric, sensitive, artistic, a writer, and a tomboy. I must make several attempts at removing my freckles via disgusting smelling cream ordered from a catalog or lemon juice, squeezed from a fresh lemon and applied when my mother was not looking. And despite mother describing how she had watched my birth via a revolutionary epidural, I must have been adopted.

All redheaded girls in books were orphans:

  • Cissie in Peachtree Island was an orphan
  • Anne of Green Gables was an orphan.
  • "Little Orphan Annie" was an orphan.
  • Pippi Longstocking was not an orphan, but she lived alone because her father was at sea and her mother was dead.

In fifth grade, I pulled A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle off the library shelf. This book epanded my options. The redheaded protagonist in this story was smart. And she was so compassionate, she had managed to save her father from dark forces by simply loving him. I loved my Daddy. If he were on another planet, stuck in a soundproof chamber where he languished, I knew I could save him with my love. And I would have to be the one to do it, for like Meg, I had red hair.

Watching television, I discovered that whenever a mischievous boy represented a product in a t.v. commercial, he had red hair. I was a bit surprised that Dennis the Menace was a blond, because his behavior was that of a stereotypical redhead. Well, he did have red overalls...

Lutherans loved to study the Bible and with all that Sunday school, teachers quickly unveiled Mary Magdalene's red hair. In this case, I understood that I was to have seven demons. I figured this meant I was to generate more mischief, which I was managing already. When I was older, I was confronted with the adulteress and prostitute label placed on this spiritual woman.

But age expands knowledge; and knowledge challenges stereotypes. My research revealed that seven demons were more likely seven chakra challenges (or lessons) that actually led Mary Magdalene towards enlightenment.

Now that I am really old, I appreciate the beauty of red hair- and even miss it. Some mistake my salt and red pepper hair for blond. I have no desire to be blond; I have not experienced what it means to be stereotyped all things blond.

I do understand what it means to be stereotyped redhead and to try to fit the stereotype. I finally understand that I am more than my hair color, but I recognize the impact having orange hair made on my outlook. And now, there are stereotypes of old age to be managed!

© 2009 Barbara


Barbara (author) from Stepping past clutter on October 12, 2011:

Tough to guess, but my sense is that I was anything but meek. In fact, I honor those who have a sense of reserve and of discernment because I (powerful) betrayed a friend.

Joanna McKenna from Central Oklahoma on October 11, 2011:

It's all in one's perspective. You with the Orange Hair would've preferred NOT to be noticed, and I with the Plain Brown Ash would've preferred not to be overlooked in a crowd! In both cases, I suspect the key is in a former life (or two)..i.e. perhaps you were too meek and I wasn't meek enough. ;D

Barbara (author) from Stepping past clutter on October 11, 2011:

JamaGenee, I think ash hair can be quite striking! It seems like such a sophisticated color to me. Not brash, but subtle, which is always admirable. Perhaps because I could never be subtle with orange hair. There was a choir concert in town last night and a young girl walked on stage with flaming red hair- dyed. I was stunned at how the light caught that hair and my attention. I must have issues with this, still, because I could not imagine why this girl would want to garner such attention. When people pay attention, you can't even rub your nose without someone commenting later- did you forget your kleenex? Ugh.

Anyway, yes. There are extroverted redheads! Lots of Irish, for sure. BTW, You were very clever with your grandson. I am sure your analysis was exactly right, haha.

Joanna McKenna from Central Oklahoma on October 08, 2011:

Unfortunately, I can attest that there is such a thing as "straight" brown hair, but hair color totally devoid of any red or gold highlights whatsoever is more commonly called "ash".

Yes, Grandson got LOTS of attention when he screamed, but only for a little while. We mostly ignored it until we discovered, quite by accident, the "sunglasses effect" (which we think confused him because he couldn't determine from our eyes whether we were pleased or displeased with this behavior).

I've known several flaming redheads who were introverts and hated the attention, but Maureen O'Hara turned her red hair into an asset! ;D

Barbara (author) from Stepping past clutter on October 07, 2011:

JamaGenee, wow, I did not know there was such a thing as straight brown. My daughter had the most lovely golden highlights. Hmm. I had orange strands mixed with blond and brown, but dominantly orange. Now I have pure white strands mixed with orange and brown. Strange!

Your youngest grandson sounds like me. Perhaps he is screaming because he gets so much attention from the entire world, who seem to believe leering over a redheaded baby is their perogative, lol. I was such an introvert, I hated all the attention and developed coping mechanisms that I use to this day. People are fascinated by redhair- I suppose unless they are Scottish or Irish and have it in abundance?! I still remember being envious of the anonyminity of family members in Cheaper by the Dozen.

Joanna McKenna from Central Oklahoma on October 06, 2011:

Story, be glad to got the red - okay, ORANGE - hair with the freckles. I didn't. Freckles everywhere topped by flat-brown hair with absolutely NO highlights, red or otherwise, made some think I dyed my hair. I was only SEVEN or EIGHT then. Puhleaze... Later, I did color me hair: blond in summer and red in winter. Between the freckles I was too pale to remain blond in the winter months. Sunbathing was no help. The freckles only got darker and the skin in between turned bright red for a day or two before it blistered and peeled.

To add insult to injury, all of my daughters have just a smattering of freckles across each cheek and nowhere else. Also hair with a distinctly reddish cast. Traitors!

Months before he was born, my youngest grandson was given a name that means "little fiery one". Hence, we weren't the least surprised his light-colored hair was more red than blond. But he was such a calm, generally happy baby that we decided "fiery" must be a misnomer. That is until he was 11 months old and began screaming for what seemed like 24/7 for 3 months straight. He wasn't in any physical distress, he simply discovered one day that he *could* scream for no reason and delighted in doing so at every opportunity! (The cure, btw, was donning sunglasses before looking at him. Go figure.) ;D

Barbara (author) from Stepping past clutter on September 07, 2011:

NOPE!!! Nice thought, though!

ahorseback on September 05, 2011:

Story ,Didn't anyone ever tell you rehaeds are the most beautiful women on earth!....:-}

Barbara (author) from Stepping past clutter on August 02, 2011:

Well, i beg to differ now that i have felt your RAGE, Bucko! LOL

ahorseback on August 02, 2011:

I too come from a red headed father and auburn haired mom, red in my beard and stash. I did not inherit the firey temper that you have though!!! .LOL....:-}

Barbara (author) from Stepping past clutter on July 19, 2011:

sherrylou, I missed this comment somehow- I am so sorry! Thank you, though you are probably long gone.

THE- oh, that's cool- I am surprised the girls did not have one freckle. I wonder how she managed this? LOL. She probably now wishes she did, considering it is fun to reflect back on the stress of freckles and realize I survived. What doesn't kill us makes us stronger?!!!

Truth Has Enemies on July 19, 2011:

This reminded me of a school girl I knew who had the redest hair I had ever seen. She would tie it up in a pony tail. Funny thing is she was irish and didn't have one freckle anywhere. When I studied in the barber school we colored hair often, red seemed to be last on the list for most women wanting color. I think red works good for fair skined women, it always looked nice on me when I colored it back in the 1990's. Thanks, I liked reading this.

sherrylou57 from Riverside on December 06, 2010:

Pretty good on the woody wood pecker!!LOL

Barbara (author) from Stepping past clutter on September 06, 2010:

RunAbstract, thank you for your observations. I appreciate them very much :).

Eileen, yes that is the way of the women I know, haha. I have wondered about all the redheaded women/girls in novels as well. But they are nearly the only role models I had, so for whatever reason, I am glad for them!

Eileen Hughes from Northam Western Australia on September 04, 2010:

great memories but isn't is funny how we are never really satisfied with the way we look if straight hair we want it curly or visa versa.

Freckles are great (no I only had a few)And its amazing how many red heads are in novels, stories and the like. great hub thanks for sharing

RunAbstract from USA on September 03, 2010:

Very entertaining look inside the life and experiences of an orange haired girl/woman! Red, orange, and auburn are such lovely colors of hair. We don't see those hues everyday... Nice read.

Gypsy Willow from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand on December 12, 2009:

I was a redhead with lots of freckles and endured the usual childhood taunts. One day a kind person told me it is a sign of beauty and there after I loved my hair and freckles. My hair has faded so that now I look strawberry blond and no body calls me Ginger any more!

Barbara (author) from Stepping past clutter on October 21, 2009:

Me too, MB! I hope to have one redheaded grandchild, haha.

I made the mistake once of asking for highlights. I meant highlights that enhanced MY hair color. Of course the beautician assumed I wanted to be blond and destroyed my hair. What was that?! Sadly, I got the highlights right before my mom and dad's 60th birthday party in Minneapolis. This was the last look my dad had of his once orange haired daughter :(. Haunts me to this day! Thanks for commiserating.

Kathleen from Fort Worth, Texas on October 21, 2009:

I had to laugh, when you said you didn't appreciate being a redhead until it started turning gray! Same here. When it started to go, I found a great hairdresser and told him to get my color formula into his database NOW so I could keep my natural color forever. And that's what I'm doing. I'm so pale I don't even get freckles, so I can't relate to that, but I love my red hair, and I hope my blonde daughter has some redheaded children someday.

Barbara (author) from Stepping past clutter on July 18, 2009:

Brenda, lots of women have dyed their hair red and it always bugs me because I think, hey, they didn't EARN the right to have red hair by suffering, lol. (Hope your day improved after that last hub. Thinking of you.)

K@ri, you made ME laugh! Thanks.

Kari Poulsen from Ohio on July 18, 2009:

LOL, I never realized there were so many stereotypes to live up to as a redhead. I really enjoyed this! :D

\Brenda Scully on July 18, 2009:

red hair is lovely.... we are never really satisfied with what we have til it's gone are we

Barbara (author) from Stepping past clutter on July 18, 2009:

Feline, yes, I did try lemon juice, lol. There was something else that was popular when I was small. I think it was rubbing the freckles with baking soda? I guess maybe the thought was they might dissolve, haha.

Jaspal you are so funny. Full of IT more likely. Thanks for your support and enthusiasm.

Jaspal from New Delhi, India on July 18, 2009:

Bravo! Bully for you Storytellersrus. I've never personally known any redheaded man or woman, but they do carry carry the reputation of being action oriented and always full of verve and vitality.

Feline Prophet on July 17, 2009:

Ahh, the travails of the orange headed! I remember Anne of Green Gables trying all sorts of impossible remedies to get rid of her freckles! Did yours ever go? :)

Barbara (author) from Stepping past clutter on July 17, 2009:

You are too funny! I will have to have you write a recommendation should I ever publish a legitimate book, haha. You are very succinct.

Tom rubenoff from United States on July 17, 2009:

Fascinating tale of persecution, triumph, and red-headed angst! Thank you

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