Beauty, Family, Plain Speaking, Womanly Feminism

Growing Up Ginger, Again

Well, we’re well over halfway to 2024’s “Kiss a Ginger Day!”  No sense letting Prince Harry have all the fun, so I think I’ll throw my hat into the ring with a a lightly-edited version of a post originally published on the member feed on Ricochet, more than six years ago, on 2017’s smoochy day, January 12.  Tempus fugit, as they say….(If you’re a proud member of Ricochet, you’ll find the original post–and some spirited conversation which may surprise you–here. )

It’s “Kiss a Ginger” day, so if there’s a redhead in your life, what are you waiting for? If there isn’t, you don’t know what you’re missing! Do your best to remedy the situation, pronto, and make sure you’re first in line next year.

I’ve been ginger from birth. While I haven’t quite reached the point where announcing that I self-identify as follicularly carroty provokes guffaws, eye-rolls and incredulous stares, it’s a lot less apparent than it used to be. I miss it. Still, que sera sera, as they say.

Sometimes, though, I can’t help looking back to the glory days of yesteryear, and pondering just what growing up ginger has meant for me.

First, there are several questions that some people feel it’s perfectly appropriate to ask redheads, even if they’ve only just met them. I’ve heard them all. I think these questions belong in the same category as the “Can I touch your belly?” question that some people feel perfectly comfortable asking very pregnant ladies whom they’ve never met, when they find themselves riding in the close-quarters of an elevator together. They’re just rude.

The answer to all those questions about gingers is, if you’re interested, “Yes.” Or “No.”  Pick one. It doesn’t matter. And you won’t find any other answers to any of them here, so if that’s what you’re interested in, stop reading. And don’t ask.

Second, there are several assumptions about redheads that have been around since time immemorial, including, but certainly not limited to, the following:

  • Redheads are hot-tempered
  • Redheads bring bad luck
  • Redheaded children are difficult to raise
  • Redheads are touched by God
  • Redheads are touched by the devil
  • Redheads turn into vampires when they die
  • Redheads are witches

The list goes on.

As with many assertions of this sort, most are untrue. Or so I think.

There are, however, a few stories about redheads that are receiving quite a bit of attention and scientific study. Among them are the beliefs that redheads are less tolerant of pain, that redheads get stung more often by bees, and that redheads require more anesthesia than others do. The jury still seems to be out on these, although my personal experience is that two out of three of them are true. I have a pretty high pain tolerance, so I’m calling that allegation false. I’m a bee-magnet, and moderately allergic, so I think that one’s true. And I really could have used a bit more anesthesia on the day I felt the doctor tweak out bits of my lung through a tube that went down my nose, during a bronchoscopy exam decades ago (not because it was all that painful, but just because it was so gross), so, true, that one, as well.

Throughout my early childhood, I found that my infernal hair, and what came with it, was constantly affecting my life in small, but annoying ways.  Freckles.  Sunburn.  “Always wear a hat.”  “Cover yourself up.”  Schoolyard taunts.  “Pull her hair!”  Tying the ends of my braids together.  “Carrot-top!” “Hey, Red!” First-world problems all, but occasionally, things would sting a bit.  And probably hurt more when they did (see “redheads may need more anesthesia than others do,” above.)

And a couple of months ago, I was even reminded of what I think was a small life lesson that came about as a direct result of my fiery mane.

In my teens and early twenties, I spent a great deal of time out of doors (some things never change). During my high-school and college years, my family trekked, every Summer, up to Prince Edward Island, settled the 19-foot trailer we towed along with us down at our favorite campground on the North Shore (Cavendish and North Rustico, Anne of Green Gables country), and lived in it for three months. All five of us and a dog. Every year. Eight years straight.

I love life on the ocean waves, and I enjoyed nothing so much as getting up before dawn with my dad, and going out on the boats with the fisherman who had pretty much adopted us, and who were happy for the help. Pulling up the cod lines, hauling in the lobster traps and rounding up the mackerel nets, was work that I, in my innocence, and doing it as I was, volunteering, part time and without economic worries, thought was great fun.

Much of that work was over by the time the sun was rising high in the sky, so the consequences of of it on my youthful complexion were negligible. In fact, the fresh, moisture-laden, salt air was probably good for my skin, although the labor was hard on my hands, which often bled and blistered.

Not so much work the rest of the day, though. The North Shore of PEI is blessed with an abundance of beautiful, soft, sandy beaches.

I also love the beach.

Did I mention I’m a redhead?

While I was looking back through some family photos a few weeks ago, trying to find a particular one for my sister, I came across some old beach photos. There they were. Myself, growing up as a teenager, and into young womanhood.

Now, if there is any time in their lives that young women are self-conscious about themselves and their bodies, that’s probably it. Zits, pudginess, bulging tummies, mouth too wide, crooked teeth, big ears, huge thighs, knock-knees, bow legs, large feet, you name it. (And I already had that inescapable “carrot-top” thing going for me, right out of the box.) There was always something to find fault with about the way I looked, and if there was ever a time I didn’t need my body to let me down, that was it.

So, back to the old photos. There I am. On the beach. Slathered all over in Coppertone, or whatever it was back in the day.  In my skimpy little outfits, in what passed for all my glory. Looking as good as I ever did, and certainly much better than I ever have since, LOL:

Not bad, even though I say so myself, who probably shouldn’t.  But in almost every shot, there is my nose, never dainty at the best of times, daubed all over with a thick white layer of zinc oxide ointment, there to ward off the swelling, the peeling skin, and the second or third-degree burn blisters that were the inevitable result of its absence.

I hated it.

Looking back on it now, I realize that I had two logical choices when the necessity for this disfiguring prophylactic became apparent: I could either have become embarrassed, angry and bitter, and stayed inside all day, sulking; or I could have become embarrassed, angry, and bitter, put the stuff on my nose, made the rest of myself ugly to match, and stomped off to the beach, daring anybody to like me, or even speak to me.

I’m eternally grateful to myself that I did neither of those things.

Instead, in what I think was a pretty adult move for that time of my life, I shrugged my shoulders, said que sera sera, “what will be, will be,” plastered the ghastly stuff on my nose, put a smile on my face, and went out to meet my fate.

And here is what I found out: It didn’t really seem to make a difference. I still had a social life (Such as it was.  I’ve never been a glittering social butterfly.  But I’ve never been a hermit, either.).

And I discovered that plenty of boys and young men, some of them quite handsome, and some of them quite nice, didn’t seem to mind being seen with, or going out with, the girl who looked as if she’d just come from an audition for the role of arch-villain in the next Batman movie.

This got me to thinking, perhaps at an earlier age than most, about why women pay so much attention to their appearance, and who, when they get themselves all gussied-up, they should get themselves all gussied-up for.

It seemed to me then, and it seems to me now, to me that most women, when they dress and primp, want to look nice, and would like to think that the results of their efforts are attractive. (Those who don’t think this, or who appear determined to present themselves in as bizarre and ugly-looking a way as possible, are not the subject of this post.)

So, when ordinary women gets themselves dressed, who should they be dressing to please?

My youthful conclusion was that women who have the luxury (and it is a luxury) of deciding how they should dress, and how they want to present themselves, should dress to please themselves. And if they dress in such a way that they make the most of their attributes, and end up feeling poised and confident in themselves, that will shine through, no matter their individual positions on the Bo Derek scale of external feminine pulchritude. Because what’s on the inside matters just as much, if not more, than what’s on the outside. And it shows.

Those who do this won’t spent all that much time stewing about whether or not they are ‘pretty enough’ or ‘trying hard enough,’ or ‘doing the right things,’ to engage the opposite sex. Because members of the opposite sex, (at least, the only ones worth bothering about), will take care of themselves, sooner or later. Or so I believe.

It’s entirely possible that my little insight does not have universal applicability, and perhaps it does not work symmetrically, or in reverse, for boys and men (feel free to weigh in, or tell your own stories). But it worked for me. And I think my “ginger” life has been happier as a result.

My mother was a ginger, too. We sometimes fought like cats. Ginger cats. And yes, I’ve had the awful “OMG, In spite of my absolute certainty that this moment would never come, I seem to be turning into my mother” moment of self-realization that I think afflicts almost all daughters at some point in their lives. But my mother got many things right, in her example and her instruction to her older daughter, and I think I owe my little revelation largely to her. Thanks, Mum.

I leave you with what is probably the first song I ever learned at her knee:

I’m well known as the most camera-shy member of my family.  But some time ago a friend sent me a photo she’d come across of the late Mr. Right and me at his retirement dinner.  It occurred to me, when I looked at it (after my immediate reaction which was along the lines of “Wow, I really was a ginger, once upon a time”), that I must have been fifty when the photo was taken.

Not young.  Not classically beautiful.  Not chemically or artificially “assisted” (h/t the great Dorothy Parker).  But sweet of disposition.  And happy.

Those are feelings I hope all good women share when they look at themselves:**

Next month, I’ll  be sixty-nine.  And here–in June of 2023–I still am.  Almost all of the ginger is gone.  But the face remains:

No makeup.  No dye.  No Botox or any other cosmetic enhancements or scrapings.  No lumps, bumps or other unwelcome excrescences.  Very few wrinkles. Not even all that much turkey neck.  No “marionette lines.” Good British skin (can’t take any credit for that; thank you, ancestors!) And a healthy outdoorsy glow.  It’s the face of a woman who’s comfortable with herself and who is content with her lot, a face I deserve, and one I can live with as I get ready to enter my eighth decade on this earth.

Regarding “marionette lines,” for those who aren’t familiar with the concept: Those are the deep, ingrained lines which look like the ones on a stringed puppet (think Disney’s Pinocchio) and which appear at the corners of the mouth to drag the face, and the character, down with them.  Mum–who was quite intuitive in many ways–could spot a female poseur a mile off.  “She’s got a mouth,” she would say about a woman she thought was pretending goodwill when that wasn’t really on offer.  In modern terms, Congresswoman Maxine Waters is probably the most notable and clear exemplar of the phenomenon:

Somehow, the words “joy” and “liveliness” just don’t spring to mind when you look at this person.  (“Resting Bitch Face” is the other, more vulgar, modern expression to describe such an appearance.  My mother–who greatly enjoyed the vulgar–would have appreciated it.)

“Marionette lines” are often viewed as inevitable with age, and certainly the unyielding effects of gravity on one’s body do play a role (as they do with much else).

There’s a lucrative industry to repair such things for those who recognize it might be wise to do so, from relatively mild interventions with Botox and fillers, up through much more aggressive, repeated, and transfiguring surgical means.

Me: I don’t think severe marionette lines are so much a dermatological challenge as they are the outgrowth of decades of a naturally unpleasant personality reflected in one’s face. And so I think that a lifetime of charm, smiling,  and contentment pretty much prevents them from developing to the point where they become a disfiguring problem.  And frankly, think what you will about me, that’s why I believe I don’t have much of an issue here.

I hope Ingrid Bergman, purveyor of one of my mother’s favorite quotes (“a woman of forty gets the face that she deserves”), would approve.

P.S.  I so wish I could have enjoyed a meal–or a drink–with Ingrid Bergman.  I’ve felt that we must have been sisters under the skin ever since the time I read her daughter’s memoir in which she describes their time in a villa somewhere (France?  Italy?) during her own youth with a couple of dogs who regularly lifted their legs and peed on the floor-to-ceiling curtains.  Rather than get rid of the dogs, or try to train them to do otherwise, Ingrid simply got a pair of scissors and cut the curtains off at higher than the dog-leg height.

OMG!  I am speechless with admiration! Isn’t that just so me!!

Que Sera, Sera.

**I’ve never been much for sharing photos of myself (although it’s sometimes necessary to make a point) nor for staring at myself in the mirror, and it was a real effort for me to select one for each of my two bathrooms during a recent major home remodeling, because there hadn’t been any in either of them since Mr. Right and I built the house together in 1986.  But I did it!  I’ve come to quite like the feature, as–every time I look into the mirror and I can see that someone is looking back at me–I see that I’m not a vampire, nor a predator, nor a zombie, and I can go out into the world with a glad and beating heart to face the day. Another feeling I hope all women share when they do the same sort of thing.

Here’s to all us ladies; may we always find ourselves happy with our looks and our lives!

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