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

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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