I’m sure many of you will have read Amber’s post this week about Nicole Nagington, the 12 year old girl who has received death threats for being ginger. It beggars belief that this sort of behaviour can still go on in schools – as Amber often points out, gingerism is really the only prejudice that is still acceptable to society, and had there been a question of death threats over skin colour the reaction would have been entirely different. It devastates me that a pretty girl like Nicole with such STUNNING hair could be made to feel so small and unattractive, particularly when her hair and colouring is probably the thing that will make her stand out as beautiful when she is older. Red hair is, after all rare and special – and truthfully an endangered species!
I didn’t always love my hair. As a strawberry blond I was teased at school for being ginger, as well as for being fat and for wearing unusual clothes. The bullying didn’t get physical or even near bad enough for me to consider dying my hair (or sticking to a diet!), but it was bad enough that I would stick the thermometer in a cup of tea to convince my Mum to keep me off school, and I developed an ongoing stomach ache over several months which culminated in hospitalisation for suspected appendicitis… to this day I wonder whether part of this was psychosomatic, or actually the onset of stress-induced IBS due to the unbearable school situation.
For a long time I wanted to dye my hair, and, in fact, dye it was the first thing I did when I finally moved into halls at university. Because, being a strawberry blond, having siblings and cousins decidedly more red-haired than I was, I felt my hair was holding me back, stopping me from fitting in. Bullying aside, I was neither a redhead nor a blond, neither fiery nor dumb – stuck in no-man’s land. I wanted true auburn hair like my Gran’s or wild red curls like the heroine Mariella in my beloved Sadlers Wells novels. So, in fresher’s week I spent a proportion of the shiny student loan pennies in my pocket on a semi-permanent “burnt copper” hair dye. It came out very similar to my true hair colour, but sort of dirtier looking, and led to an embarrassing moment when my colour-blind father asked my step-mum whether my hair was really greasy on a reading week visit…
In fact, throughout university I dyed my hair various shades of copper with various degrees of success failure. I also went through a relationship break-up which resulted in pink stripes mid-second year, and a creative moment in which I dip-dyed the bottom 3 inches of my hair pillar-box red at the start of the third. It was certainly an interesting look!
After university I continued to experiment with my hair colour. During my masters I was highlighted to within an inch of my life and favoured surfer-style waves. A chance encounter with a rockerbilly chick on a bar terrace in the Toon led me to the only hairdresser in Newcastle (or anywhere, in fact) who seemed willing to dye and cut my hair without bemoaning its loss, resulting in a short, dark red bob with blunt fringe. In truth, it was only when I got enagaged that I decided to grown my hair – I decided I wanted to be entirely natural and as princess-like as possible for the big day. And it was at least a year before my hair regained its natural state and colour, not to mention its current colouring-free condition. It was the first chance since my teenage years I had given it the opportunity to truly shine.
Personally, I think redheads are making a come back. The likes of Christina Hendricks, blond but undeniably designed to be a redhead, are making the colour hot again. Similarly, porcelain skin is becoming de riguer – I’ve even seen parasols for sale this spring (and I fully intend to invest in one!). The most fashionable look is always the most unattainable – historically, pale and rounded were fashionable in Britain because those who were thin and tanned were so from endless hours working the fields, or could not afford good food and a covered box to travel out of the sun. The tanned, bleached blond look only became popular last century as a symbol of the type of wealth that could afford foreign holidays, cruises and a second property abroad. And now that the high street is awash with yellow-blond extensions and tanning shops it can only be a matter of time before the balance once again tips, and natural takes over in the beauty stakes.
Perhaps this time we’ll get it right, and hit the balance square central. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this century’s key beauty terms were “natural” and “healthy”; if we could stop chasing the excesses of pale or tanned, blond, brunette or redhead, and settle for well-conditioned natural hair and the healthiest shade of your personal skin tone? If we just stopped focussing on the unattainable and looked instead for that simple healthy glow?
Sadly, as long as there is envy in the world there will be girls like Nicole’s bullies to attack those they perceive as a threat. And while it is true that jealousy is at the heart of their actions, that fact doesn’t make it any easier for the one under attack. We can only hope that Nicole will rise above their actions, with the support of her family, and come out relatively unscathed. As many of us did.