On Being a Redhead

It’s been said that blondes have more fun. I disagree. I know. I’ve been one. And though the real color of my hair has often been debated, “California girl” golden tones are far from my reality.

In truth, an up-close look at individual strands on my head (during days long forgotten!) revealed various shades of dirty blonde to copper to bronze to iron. The collection of the multihued tints cast an overall brownish effect; not a surprise given the composite make up of the color brown. So, I was lumped with categories of brunettes…the most common and widespread color.

But hair color, as we all know, changes over time. From a “natural” perspective, it sometimes darkens with age; sometimes lightens; and, more often than not, eventually turns gray. Trauma can totally strip the pigment from one’s locks, seemingly overnight, turning them white. Excessive sunlight or chlorine can bleach one’s mane to a flat or dull appearance.

From an “unnatural” perspective, the process of dyeing hair to augment or change color is an ancient art that extends back to the use of henna by the Egyptians (around 1500 B.C.E. ) for adornment purposes. Later, hair color often was used to categorize or stereotype people. For example, in Roman society (around 300 B.C.E), red hair identified women of nobility; blonde hair grouped women of the middle class; while poor women dyed their hair black.

Many years ago, I chose to find the one remaining red highlight in my hair and exploit it. So I’ve been a redhead for well over a decade. The color suits my skin tone, personality, and general disposition. And though the color now comes from a custom blended formula, it’s all mine. I’ve rationalized that my decision is completely legitimate, since we actually have a couple of real redheads in the family, and have assumed the color as part of my individual identity.

On a recent trip to Israel, an exhibit of photos of redheads that I heard about intrigued me. Displayed in a gallery at the Dizengoff Center, Photographer Nurit Benchetrit shares images of the various shades, shapes, and sizes of redheads. She photographed people around the world, and others sent her their own snapshots. The exhibit tries to promote understanding and tolerance, and is a tribute to a group that is often ostracized, persecuted, and misunderstood by others…solely because of the color of their hair.  (In the Dark Ages, for example, since red hair was thought to be a sign of the devil or witchcraft, these people were burned at the stake!)

Natural red hair is caused by a genetic mutation. It occurs in people who have two copies of a recessive gene on chromosome 16; a mutation in the MC1R protein. While forty percent of us may carry the gene, only about two percent of the human population hits the red-haired lottery. (Interestingly, there’s an unsubstantiated claim that by the year 2060 the carrot-topped population will become extinct due to its low numbers.)

We live in a world that likes to label things and people. Blondes are sexy and flirty; women with black hair are exotic and sensual; brunettes are matter-of-fact; redheads are unpredictable, fiery, and even dangerous. Right?

As for me, I’m holding on to the Abrahamic tradition that maintains that the Messiah will be the descendent of a redhead…

2 thoughts on “On Being a Redhead

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