In sixth grade, I broke into my parents' bathroom and raided their cabinets for a bottle of hydrogen peroxide. Disgusted with my stringy red hair, which you can imagine made me so popular at school, I wanted to become a blond as quickly as possible, and I'd heard that hydrogen peroxide could do the trick. Standing over their bathtub, I poured the toxic liquid onto the back of my head, hoping the color would transform instantly.
Thankfully, my mother barged in moments later and put a stop to my reckless behavior, which "could have made [my] hair fall out," she claimed.
"I'm sorry, mom, but I want blond hair like you and Kevin," I said of her and my older brother. "Megan and Mikey have brown hair and you two are blonde. Why am I the only freak in our family with red hair?"
"Your dad has red hair."
"But I want to look like you."
"You should be grateful you're a redhead," she went on. "Older women pay tons of money to have your shade of red, and yours is free."
I heard this all the time but refused to believe I was the lucky one. Not many people can say their mom used to compete in beauty pageants, but mine did. Tan, blond, and 5'10", my mom is one of the most beautiful individuals I've ever met, and I got none of these attributes. I'm pasty, redheaded, freckled, and just a little over 5'10", and for much of my life, this infuriated me. Why should I have to own being a ginger merely because we make up less than 2% of the population? Why are we constantly expected to cherish our fiery stripes and kiss our genetic blessings?
All of this came to mind on Tuesday, when the internet flipped out about redhead Julianne Moore going blond for a role. Here's how she looks now:
I think she's gorgeous as always, but a writer at Glamour is "not handling it well," and the folks at Refinery 29 seem despondent too, stating, "Look, we know that celebs change their hair up all the time, and we really have to stop having so many feelings about it (Oh, Emma Stone, how you torture us) — but we didn't realize how attached we were to Moore's glossy red locks until we saw her in a different shade. Now we just don't know how to feel. We're going to hope that this look was the result of extremely skilled wig application, and that underneath all of that blonde, her flaming locks may still exist."
Of course they still exist. You can't escape your true colors, but even if she wants to, so what? Why is it OK for figures like Rachel McAdams to switch from blond to brunette while natural gingers such as Julianne Moore, Nicole Kidman, and even Lindsay Lohan get criticized or questioned for taking a break from the ginger club?
Perez Hilton, who seems to have an opinion on everything, weighed in on the change as well: "Sure, the actress's stunning beauty makes her look good with any hair hue, but her natural fiery tresses are so MAGICAL! They should never be diluted with peroxide! The good news is, the brassy dye job is just for the flick and therefore temporary. Well, we hope so anyway!"
Perhaps my least favorite reaction comes from Glamour's brunette Beth Shapouri, who makes it seem like Julianne Moore should have asked our permission first:
"Julianne Moore was snapped on set of her new movie Maps to the Stars with her hair blond. And it's making me hyperventilate ... I just hope she's able to go back to that gorgeous fiery red soon. Like tomorrow."
You know what I've spent years hyperventilating about, Beth? Being called "fire crotch," "leprechaun," and "freckle face" by moronic boys. It's not very fun to be reduced to my hair color either, and I'm sure Julianne Moore understands this all too well. At the end of third grade, my teacher bought books for all of her students, selecting titles that reminded her of each of our personalities. She gave one guy a copy of From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, one lucky girl got a paperback Matilda, and I received Judy Blume's Freckle Juice, which sent my classmates into uncontrollable laughter. To them and apparently my instructor, I was defined by my hair color and appearance. After nine months in the classroom, nothing else about me stood out to her, and that's quite an unsettling realization for an 8-year-old to have.
(Side-by-side photo courtesy of Alex Marin, I channeled Peppermint Patty as a kid):
Though I'll admit it's special to have red hair in a sea of brunettes and blondes, certain associations are impossible to get away from. In pop culture, redheads are often portrayed as villains, crazy, sex objects, or idiots. Ron Weasley is a doofus in Harry Potter, Joan Harris is a beautiful but sometimes vicious queen bee figure in Mad Men, Drew Barrymore takes on sort of a bimbo role in Charlie's Angels, Isla Fisher is a clingy spaz in Wedding Crashers, Monet Mazur sabotages sweet blondie Anna Faris in The House Bunny, and the dorky ginger boy in Diary of a Wimpy Kid creeps out even the geeks of the geeks:
We're painted as the fools and the freaks, and we're also soulless, according to the deep thinkers behind South Park. There's a day dedicated to kicking us, and we're viewed as the misfit stepchildren no one likes or considers equal. Don't even get me started on the gross questions thrown at us by sophomoric dudes who aren't mature enough to say the word "vagina" without giggling. We were once thought to have ties to the devil and witchcraft, so there's that.
With all this in mind, it's admirable and even brave to want to fake red hair, especially if you wear it well like Christina Hendricks or Emma Stone, so why do redheads have to embrace their unusual hair color simply because many others have trouble pulling it off?
I spent much of my life asking this question, and though he disliked being a ginger, my dad refused to let me color my hair, as he said I needed to wait until I was 16 to douse my scalp in chemicals. It wasn't until I was bullied relentlessly in junior high that my parents agreed to let me get blond highlights, which of course didn't halt the harassment but at least I finally had some control over my own locks.
Things changed in high school, though. I went back to red and enjoyed the attention it drew. My mom was correct that I'd eventually learn to appreciate it, and so did lots of young men. When I finished college, though, I started getting full highlights every six weeks, and now people assume I'm a blonde the second they meet me. Some folks don't even believe me when I say I'm a natural ginger, but as you can see from the photo below, I've been at war with my roots since birth:
Me now, with highlights:
Because I'm looking for a clean slate as the summer reaches a halfway point, I've decided to revamp my style and return to red, not because everyone who has seen old pictures prefers me as a flame-haired lass, but because I want to see what works best for my adult self.
What matters is how I feel and carry myself. The choice to remain blond or not is mine, and I wouldn't want anyone to shame me for my decision the way red-haired celebrities are singled out for theirs.
Let me know what you think about gingers on Twitter: @LauraDonovanUA