Thursday, May 19, 2016

Red: A History of the Redhead by Jacky Collis Harvey (2015)

#13 was on every playground teasing that
gay kid in plaid in the back while #21 laughed
and then tried to be the gay kid's friend later.
When I was five or six, my mother took my brother (dark hair, olive skin) and I to someone's house for a play date.  She probably did not call it that, but that's what it was.  I don't remember the name of these kids, only that they were slightly older, and there were at least two boys.  In my mind, they looked like typical 70s boys, with bowl blonde hair and large chomping teeth, and mean looks (see photo above) We were playing basketball (?) in their driveway, and they started teasing me and calling me a "red-headed freckle face hamburger."  I, being a sensitive lad, burst into tears and ran inside. I don't remember how this story ended. I don't ever remember playing with those boys again, but I also don't remember my mother running to my rescue (this never happened; 70s mothers didn't ever rescue their kids; it was a dog eat red-headed freckle-faced hamburger world).  That was probably the first time I realized, or had it brutally pointed out to me, that being "red-head" was a bad thing, something to be ashamed of.

As long as I could remember, people asked me about my hair.  They asked me where I got it. They admired it or made fun of it.  There were a couple of other red-heads around in my small town.  My sister was born when I was 9, and she was as red-headed as me.    I've been called Carrot and Carrot Top; I was told by a girl in my class that my hair was ugly.  "Ginger" is a new term; I only started hearing that a few years ago.

Sometime in my 30s, I realized my hair on my head had gone from red to dishwater blonde (and is turning snow white, slowly but surely).   The hair on the rest of my body has mostly retained the red though, so if I'm at the gym or the beach or pool, I'm still identifiably a "ginger."  (that hair, too, is slowly but surely turning white).

Harvey's book introduced me to quite a few new and unique things I possess as a red head.  I knew about the dental problems (anesthesia has trouble working on red-heads) but did not know about the "scent" problem (our skins are more acidic and don't hold perfume as well).  I loved the chapters on the origins of redheads, and briefly thought I must be mostly neanderthal (a cool thought) before she dashed that in the ground.    There was some long chapters on art (I guess I'm just not an art history fan, at least reading about it; it's much more fun to see art than read about it).  The information tying Parkinson's disease to melanoma and then back to redheads was a bit frightening.

Being a red-head - even a fake red-head - in a sea of brown haired people has been quite a heady experience this last sixteen years.  I haven't felt any embarrassment about being a red-head since at last puberty, but California has made me feel quite good about my freckled complexion and light (often red) hair.

Red: A History of the RedheadRed: A History of the Redhead by Jacky Colliss Harvey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A must read for real redheads, and those who love or live with one. As a true carrot (I never encountered the word "ginger" until a few years ago), I had picked some extra information here and there over the years about the genetic uniqueness of possessing red hair, as experienced the ribbing and attention and occasional malice that comes from other hair colors. Harvey added some extra and fun information to my pool of redhead knowledge, and also made me feel pretty damn special about being among the few and proud that are truly red. Perfectly well written and enjoyable.

View all my reviews


  1. I loved your personal story at the beginning! The ad seems familiar too. Even when your hair turns white, you will always and forever be my Wendy's Girl, and I adore your red hair!!


Blog Archive