Blessing and curse

Do you remember DD giving me a book called “Red: A History of the Redhead”?

Well, I finally finished it. Verdict: it was fascinating, discomforting and a little unsatisfying all at the same time.

Here are some of the fascinating bits:

  1. Redheads have a higher tolerance for spicy food
  2. Redheads need 20% more anesthesia than people with other hair colour
  3. Redheads don’t like cold weather
  4. Redheads feel pain more acutely
  5. Redheads have 90,000 fewer hairs on their heads than blondes and brunettes, although each individual hair is thicker
  6. Redheads are more likely to be stung by bees and wasps
  7. Perfume smells different on them, thanks to their acidic skin; they also smell different generally, at a pheromone level
  8. The gene for red hair is connected to the gene responsible for adrenaline production, so there may actually be some truth in their reputation for being swift to get angry
  9. Redheads produce vitamin D far more effectively than other hair variants, resulting in stronger bones and teeth. They’re also more likely to survive pregnancy and childbirth, and have a stronger immune system
  10. The colour was seen as a stigma throughout history and associated with witchcraft, unbridled passions, danger, betrayal and a host of other sins

Reading all that got me thinking about fun facts from my own history of being a redhead:

  1. As Jaclyn Colliss Harvey, the author “RED: A History of the Redhead” notes, people feel licenced to tell you what you should and shouldn’t do with your hair – don’t you dare cut or colour it, as they take it as a personal affront
  2. Being called House on Fire may have been amusing for my primary school classmates, but it annoyed the crap out of younger me
  3. Being the only kid at school who had to wear a hat – in the days before sun sense – and getting hassled for it constantly – wasn’t much fun either
  4. Aussie redheads have an even tougher time of it than their European counterparts – being constantly slathered in sunscreen yet still burning is pretty crap
  5. None of the boys in my year at school had the slightest interest in dating the weird redhead … actually maybe it was just the weird part that put them off
  6. I was fascinated by my hair as a teen and how the strands shimmered in the light, but I HATED the freckles that went with it.
  7. Skin that hasn’t been exposed to the Aussie sun for 50 years is softer and more youthful looking
  8. Red hair means you’re not suitable for laser hair removal and fake tans look totally weird on you
  9. I thought I was ugly as a child … but I now find redheads quite mesmerising to look at … particularly Karen Gillan (above, main) and my eldest child
  10. I got my first skin cancer cut out during my teens. Bummer

The discomforting bit in the book is all its talk about sex and redheads’ reputations for being good in the sack. Not necessarily because they are but because their colouring makes people think – consciously and unconsciously – that they will be. I thought the author went on … and on … about it a bit too much.

She writes: “Redheads are different, so redheaded women, perhaps the thinking goes, might do things other women won’t” in bed.


I’ve never come across a bloke with a fetish for red hair in my 50 years on this earth. So I remain skeptical about the slant that seems to take up half the book.

This video clip filled with mean ginger jokes is more what I’d expect men to think …

The unsatisfying part about the book is that after I finished the final chapter, I wasn’t totally buzzed.

The experience was a bit fragmented and a little too intent on painting the redhead as dangerous and “other”, not to mention laboriously documenting every single instance of red hair occurring throughout history from Neanderthal times.

If I heard the word “Thracian” one more time …

My experience of red hair has been pretty unremarkable. A bit of teasing is about the extent of it.

Neither blessing nor curse.

Although, a funny thing happened once I hit my 30s. I became fiercely proud of my locks. I was so thrilled when my first child was born with red hair.

When I started going grey I could have dyed my hair any colour I liked, but I told the colourist I wanted her to replicate my natural colour as closely as possible.

Like my unusual name, which I’ve also kept despite hating it as a kid, my hair – and being left-handed (another blessing/curse) – is part of what makes me me. And I wouldn’t change it for the world.


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