I've just finished listening to Lily Cole on 'The Poet Laurette has gone to his shed' podcast, and it got me thinking about my childhood and some of the trials and tribulations of growing up ginger.
Some of my earliest memories are going to school events with kids asking me why my hair was on fire. One of the more harmless taunts as far as ginger jibes go, but as a shy 6 year old girl it's enough to make you aware that you're different (or 'weird' as I was frequently told), and enough to stain your memories into your 30's. Here's the funny thing, when people look at you differently and treat you differently, you start to act differently.
At junior school being weird made me a fun, inventive playmate, at secondary school - a freak who was best avoided or bullied (the onset of pretty intense acne really didn’t help my cause), and during university (acne thankfully subsided) a source of intrigue. My weirdness has come off as shy, rude, anti-social or of having an air of ‘cool’ aloofness. I am however none of those things, I was just trying desperately to act like all the other normal people in the world.
From having a water bottle thrown at my head out the window of a speeding car accompanied by ginger slurs to being spat at in the street by kids from my school. I've had it all and there's no denying the impact my hair colour has had on my personality development. As an adult I struggle with social anxiety (as well as anxiety and depression) which if it's not a direct result of the ridicule, it definitely can't have helped.
At best, growing up ginger has been described as 'character building' and at worst it's been likened to racist abuse. And although I don't agree that it's akin to racism, I think the fact that it is 'just a hair colour' has been a source of dismissal historically. How could something so menial be worth addressing politically or even socially? It doesn't warrant mentioning and is just expected to be taken on the chin by those facing the abuse and filed under 'kids can be cruel'. I think in 2020, whichever way you look at it, more needs to be done to remove to stigma around ginger hair.
From what I've written above, you may think that I'm resentful or bitter about being ginger, but that's not completely true. I'm extremely proud and deeply fond of my hair and the person it has made me. It's become more than just a hair colour, it's a huge part of who I am and I'm now able to wear it as a badge of honor. That being said, I can't stop myself wondering, could I have achieved more without my crippling social anxiety? Could I have avoided my mental breakdown in 2016 if I hadn't turned to binge drinking as a coping mechanism? Would I be more academic if I carried on at sixth form instead of leaving my bullies at the first chance I could and going to college instead? I’m not so sure, but if there’s something we can do to avoid this for the next generation, we must try.