In 2016, after years of dyeing my hair, I decided to grow out my natural colour. To have a look at what I’ve been covering up for 15 years and see if I liked it. It’s now chin-length, and I do like it. But it’s taken me a while to accept one small fact; I’m not as ginger as I thought I was.
Let me backtrack. I’ve had a complicated relationship with my hair colour since I was aged 13, when a friend and I shared a pack of red hair dye, leaving her brunette strands with a hint of red and turning my fine, silky blonde hair a pleasing ginge, albeit dry and damaged. “What have you done?” and “Your hair was so nice before” were comments I was met with at school. Plus, my mum was furious, despite being a lifelong henna-head herself.
From then on I became focused on getting my blonde hair back, but it never came back; even when the roots grew in they were red-brown, and my hair was no longer silky and straight. The dye damage had made it an unruly, half-wavy half-straight, unmanageable mess. I felt like I’d ruined my hair, and my LIFE (emotional times).
As I’m pretty sure all of us know, UK school kids (and some adults) can be tough on young redheads. I was never overtly bullied – it’s possible I escaped by having a slightly more ambiguous hair colour – but I definitely absorbed the prejudice. I became very self-conscious about my hair. Whenever someone around me insulted red hair I felt myself shrinking, especially as there was usually a moment of panic in their eyes as they checked my roots and assessed whether they had just insulted me.
Cue many years of bleaching, straightening, and blow-drying upside down in an attempt to look like this:
Yes, series 5 Rachel was my hair icon (and everyone else’s), though I never quite emulated her. Here’s what I managed instead:
After five years of bleach I tried black hair, brown hair, a shaved head, more bleach, a blunt fringe, layers, and about 18 different side fringes. Last year I was considering a perm. But finally, it seems, the urge to change my appearance has gone away. This is something akin to magic for someone so enduringly beguiled by ‘self-improvement’.
What brought about this change? Something as simple as accepting my natural hair colour. I had about four inches of roots when I stumbled upon Ginger Parrot for the first time, along with others that are dedicated to celebrating red hair. It was exactly what I needed to see and it changed my entire hair-identity. Now I find red to be the most beautiful of hair colours.
But then guess what happened? My hair suddenly wasn’t red enough! Sure, my dentist referred to me as a redhead (which was great) and it looks warm under most lights, but some people say I have brown hair, others think ash blonde, and others reddy-brown. The only thing that’s become obvious is that I quiz people about my hair too often. When my little cousin comes to visit I ask, “What colour would you say my hair is..?” “Light brown?” “Oh.”
So now, ironically, I’ve had to accept being less redheaded than I thought I was. And not having an easy answer to the question, “What colour is your hair?”