Most of you know that I have red hair. Bright red but not quite clown-like and now a bit more white than I’d care to admit. In spite of my dear parents’ best efforts, I grew up hating my hair because everyone else seemed to hate it to. But I couldn’t figure out why.
If you don’t have red hair or if you grew up in a time after the passing of the Hair Equality Protection Act (HEPA), maybe this won’t make sense, but my hair was a constant source of pain to me. I dreamed of being a brunette because I wanted hair that would blend in. I dreamed of being tan, instead of pasty white with freckles. Someday I’ll probably have skin cancer as a result of the dozens of times I tried to lay out, thinking that all I had to do was get the freckles to fill in and I’d have normal skin. (Early signs of genius, I think.) All I ended up with was second degree burns for skipping the Uval.
When I was an adult my father finally admitted that my own paternal grandmother didn’t like me because she didn’t like red hair. I was relieved to finally know that it wasn’t all in my head.
From the time I started school I was incessantly mocked for my hair and freckles. I guess being only 2% of the population was enough to be some odd kind of minority worthy of scorn. I was called “carrot top” and “fireball” and whatever else people could think of. As a young adult I was told “you’re really pretty…for a redhead” and “I never pictured myself with a redhead” and equally unanswerable “compliments.”
I used to compete in the Miss American pageant system. Two different times I was told by judges (who are not supposed to talk to contestants) that I was only considered for a runner-up position because redheads had no chance at nationals. I was first runner-up to Miss Orem in 1985. The first runner-up to Miss Provo was also a redhead. We were both in the top 10 at Miss BYU that year and both told by a judge that “redheads are more attendant material.” By that time it was almost laughable. At least we had each other to roll our eyes at.
If you’ve ever read/watched Anne of Green Gables you can get a little bit of the feel for the general distaste people seemed to have for “us.”
When my parents filled out the adoption forms before I was born (in 1964) on featured the following questions:
- Would you be willing to adopt a child who is handicapped?
- Would you be willing to adopt a child of a different race?
- Would you be willing to adopt a child with red hair?
With all the Obama fever and racial talk going on today, I want to be sure you understand that I’m not saying the treatment I got for being in the hair minotiry was as bad as being part of a racial minority. I have no idea how bad it was compared to things I didn’t live through. I just know that it was, to me, this utterly baffling thing. Why would the color of my hair make me unacceptable to so many? What did I have to do with my hair color anyway?
If nothing else, that experience made me aware of something at a fundamental level. It helped me understand that while we do (and must) judge, that there are some very definite areas that should always be utterly outside the realm of judgment.
Spread the word!