In case you don’t know, my hair isn’t really red.
Every six weeks or so I go to the salon where a real redhead wearing 5inch heels and not much else applies copious amounts of peculiar smelling goop to my head. She sets a timer and I move to another chair where I have 35 minutes to thumb through a glossy magazine, pretending I care about whoever the hell Kim Kardashian is and secretly listening to the other women at the salon spill their deepest secrets. I like knowing the secrets of strangers – their affairs, their fears, and how they think their sons are marrying the wrong girl. Then my turn comes in the chair again. First a good scrubdown to remove the residual goop and as she trims my bangs and ends I take my turn sharing secrets. A few minutes of aggressive blowdrying later and Voila! I am yours truly, Rachel the Redhead.
It’s funny to think that many of my closest acquaintances don’t know of me as anything but a redhead. Save the few who remember me in my pre-pubescent bowl cut days or those so-close-to-blonde-it’s-not-even-funny-years, most everyone now knows me as Red Rachel. The people who have met me traveling in New York, London, Paris, or Rome have no reason to suspect I have ever been anything but a redhead, everyone in my last three places of employment knows me as one – and I’m fairly certain that most of them think it’s natural. Believe it or not, it’s actually been a beneficial professional decision (which I remind myself every time I sign the check to pay for it). People remember that sharp redheaded intern or that cute little redhead who was so helpful. Bosses ask my bosses about “their redhead” and and it’s a great mnemonic way to remember my name (I liked that girl we spoke with – the redhead – what was her name? Rachel – that’s right – redheaded Rachel). I even introduce myself as such for the ease of others (it’s easy: just remember Redhaired Rachel).
Being Red has become a tremendous part of my identity. I actually had to go through the photo files on my hard drive to figure out when it happened – it was the fall of sophomore year. (appropriately) Sometime in the four months between my birthday and Christmas I dyed my hair, sat in smokey rooms and articulated the color of my soul, and began to become the woman I am today. Once I left LBN the reactionary self was removed and what was left was the Red.
It got me to wondering… have I always been Red? In theory I would think the color of one’s soul is not something that should change, and listening to the stories of my childhood intensity (beginning with the 36 hours my mother spent in labor with me), I suspect there has always been a Red part of me. How is it then that dying my hair to match me did not happen until a mere three years ago? Secondly, how honest is it to consider myself Red? I feel reasonably confident in seeing myself Red in a spiritual sense, but what about my hair? I supposed I dyed it, and keep it, as a way of painting my outside with my inside – baring my soul to the world in a way I never used to have the confidence to do. So many things I own and wear or carry or use now are red, and I love being able to apply my personality in a paste.
But something that happened the other day thew me off. People stop me periodically, usually middle-aged women, and compliment me on my beautiful red hair. Some are bold enough to ask if it is natural while others are too shy, and still others simply assume it is natural. I have no qualms telling people my hair is not naturally red if they ask, and in fact I am more uncomfortable with people assuming it is. At work the other day a customer – middle-aged, female, blonde and wealthy – stopped dead in her tracks looking me in the face. She exclaimed something about the beauty of my hair and continued to comment on the matter for six minutes (a co-worker counted). She asked me to turn so she could look at the layering, she complimented the cut and texture of my hair, and she asked me to write down the name of my hair dresser. All of which I did, cheerfully recieving the attention until she told me how lucky I was to be a redhead. She said so many girls don’t want their red hair while others pay lots of money to get it (she laughed like she thought I must laugh at those silly women). Many women say things like this and I shrug and smile, usually all the response they need. But she continued. She began expounding on what rare a genetic feat natural red hair is and how people like me are coming close to extinction. You’re a pretty special lady she told me, and I thanked her politely, handing her her receipt and telling her to have a wonderful day.
It made me feel guilty. I never fibbed – never said “yes of course it’s real” or “All the kids used to tease me when I was little but now I love it.” I never told a lie, but by standing there in front of her I had committed one. I had hoped wearing red on my head was a sign of progress, the modern girl’s way to wear her heart on her sleeve, but in fact it may be yet another one of my perfectly painted masks.
“The one red leaf, the last of its clan,
That dances as often as dance it can,
Hanging so light, and hanging so high,
On the topmost twig that looks up at the sky.”
-Samuel Taylor Coleridge