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„Going White“ – How to Lose your Red Hair with Dignity

„Going White“ – How to Lose your Red Hair with Dignity

Written by Liv Fleischhacker. An excerpt about red hair from MC1R Print Issue #5


I’ve been a redhead my whole life. The day I was born light, orange fluff decorated my face, blossoming into a darker, auburn red that I grappled with for most of puberty. Finally, I came out the other end and began to accept life as a proud Ginge. Several thousand curl taming and frizz reducing products later, I’m quite happy with my hair color. It’s part of who I am and, to be perfectly honest, I rely on it heavily in my day-to-day life. From be- ing easily recognizable in a crowd to attracting a certain kind of ginger lover, my hair col- or has served me well over the past 28 years.

Several weeks ago I was chatting about physical insecurities with a friend. I confessed to her that I’m really, really scared of going gray. By now my identity is tied up in being a redhead, I’m scared of losing that part of myself. I decided to address this problem by speaking to some redheads, aged 17 to 71. My goal was to find out if this fear was mine alone, or if it’s something we share as a people, we ginges. My friend Madeleine Berg says that if she does go gray one day, she’ll probably consider dyeing it. “It’d be like losing an old friend. I don’t think I’ll ever be ready for that. I saw an old lady on public transport once, she must have been around 70, with extremely vibrant red hair.

I remember thinking that is exactly how I want to look when I’m her age. Granted, she did have a pretty banging style in general, her hair was just the icing on the cake”. She continues “I think red hair is like coriander, you either love it or you hate it. Having a rare hair color can make you a curiosity, which turns you into an ambassador responsible for answer- ing questions. This sort of attention can either turn the redhead into an object of desire or one of ridicule, but what’s certain is that everyone will have an opinion”.

Throughout the interviews I thought of a semi scientic fact that I’d read somewhere: comparatively, redheads are documented as the last to go gray. A cursory Google search tells me that yes, it could be true, but I can’t nd the evidence.In one of my favorite pictures of my father and I, taken shortly after I was born, his beard is half red and half white, but instead of slowly graying from the top down the lower half is white, while the top remains a vibrant red. I never thought of this as bizarre until someone pointed it out to me.

Patrick O’Farrell will turn 79 in March of 2017. Though he’s still fortunate enough to still have a full head of hair, it has now gone completely gray. He remembers “As a former strawberry blonde redhead, I used to receive the odd joking remarks”. Originally from Ireland he left for the UK at 17 and has lived there ever since. He says that he doesn’t feel any loss of identity with age. “It has never really bothered me. I never felt like I was standing out in a crowd. Moving in pro- fessional circles whilst working, it never arose”. Unlike most people I spoke to, Björn Kagel had a bit of a rough time growing up as a redhead. Because, let’s be honest, “kids and teenagers can be really awful. Every now and then I still get a smartass comment from grown ups, but then I just remember that, given their remarks, they can’t have too much going on upstairs”.

I want give him a high five for this insight. Even after everything, Björn would never dye his hair. “Every time I go visit my grandmother I think how wonderful she looks with her gray hair and freck- les. What scares me more is the thought of going bald.” Hair loss isn’t something I ever thought of, seeing as it tends to a ect more men than women. But the root of this angst is the same. Losing a part of yourself that makes you unequivocally you, and dealing with the changes it brings. His thoughts on his grandmother remind me of how wonderful it is to watch someone age gracefully. Those of us lucky enough should embrace it with grace and humility.

Marlene Eckard, a beautiful and vivacious 60-something from South Africa, tells me “Now that I think about, yes, I do feel a sense of loss. Luckily my hair is turning to gold and blond and I still have my freckles! I’ve put in copper streaks for about two years but now I’m growing it out because it costs too much and it’s not good for my hair”. She continues, “Whatever the future holds, it’ll be interesting. Turning golden or blond will be ne. After all, age can not be held back. Embracing age with an open heart it seems.”

Sandra Jean McClean tells me that her coloring has always been “a thing” for guys. In her experience, “men generally tend to comment on the combination of my hair color, skin tone, and freckles. Once I tell them that I am Irish, I can almost hear them whim per (via dating app! Ha!).

I have to admit, it’s a bit bizarre to be “a thing”, I’m obviously fulling some fantasy/desire, and having that vocalized, is unusual. I find it funny how there are myths about gingers, and I have to admit, I do trade on them sometimes. I’m just quite a fiery person, it’s the red hair, I’m just quite a sexual person, it’s the red hair… Her favorite thing about being a redhead? The fact that we can make our own Vitamin D and that we have a higher pain threshold. “We’re basically super beings!”

On going gray she says, “The thought of not having my personal hair color really upsets me. I think that I would have real is- sue with that. It is really hard to fake red hair, I think that’s what makes it such a spe- cial color, you can almost always tell when it’s fake. Which is I am currently growing my hair to donate it to the Little Princess Trust so that a little kid can have a real ginger wig”. Her approach to dying her hair is similar to mine.

“I’ve always secretly envied people who dye their hair, I would like to be able to be more of a chameleon with my image, however, the reason I don’t dye my hair is that I’m afraid that I’ll ruin it, and to be honest I re- ally love the color it is. Once I get older, and the color leaves it I may then start to exper- iment. I want be an old grandma with some trendy rinse going on. I have toyed with the idea of wearing wigs to satisfy the desire to mix it up a little, however my gingerness is such a de ning part of my image, that it would just feel weird to not be ginger. I am very proud to be ginger, and feel that it has helped me, physically, mentally, and socially. It is quite a big part of who I am, I hope that it remains with me for a long time, and I grow to be golden”. Peter Ramsay might not have much ginger left in his hair, but he still very much considers himself a redhead. Unlike many of the women I spoke to, who received positive attention for their hair color, Peter had a more di icult experience “If you call them bene ts of being red and standing out. I will not miss that. Most of my life it was like having a beacon attached to my head and if anything happened, good or bad, the rst thing anyone saw was the red beacon, so I tended to get the blame for nearly everything. That I will not miss”. In spite of such experiences, Peter is still a proud ginger. “Even if I lose my red altogether I will still be a redhead, as it has been with me all my life. I am ginger and proud to be so.”

I visit Bettina for advice on how to age gracefully. She believes that as a redhead, you do get a little bit of special treatment, “though it’s hard to say because I’ve been a redhead my entire life, so I can’t objectively compare my experience to that of a blonde or brunette”. When Bettina was 30 she had a boyfriend who was a big admirer of her red hair. She began dying it around that time, to enhance its natural vibrancy and coloring, and she hasn’t stopped since. “I’m not vain when it come to make-up but my hair color is important to me. Most likely that’s because of the compliments I’ve received over the years. My hair belongs to me, it’s a part of me.

But remember, hair isn’t everything: if you’ve reached the age of 70 and don’t have any kind of personality or charisma, then you have far bigger problems!” I take heed of Bettina’s advice. Others still can’t shake the angst of going gray one day, but I’ve decide to meet it head on. One of the most joyful experiences of this project has been the fact that I was free to speak to other redheads about things that I’ve never discussed with anyone. Some of our singularly shared experiences might seem trivial to those outside our experience, which is why I never thought to broach the issue. However, listening to Sandra Jean, Peter, Patrick, and Bettina describe their experience was an incredible comfort. Their stories left me with a reassuring feeling (and I apologize for the cheese): we are all in this together. When I start going gray I’ll nally have the courage to go peroxide blonde. Which is notoriously the hardest color for redheads to dye, because you need to rid yourself of every single red tone. After that? I’ll most likely jump straight back to my auburn locks. I’ll let you know how it goes in 30–40 years time.


Jun 06, 2018 • Posted by Northern Sue

I’m 55 and have and a natural redhead, who began to go grey in her thirties. I have hennaed my hair successfully for many years now. It takes around half an hour. initially I was put off by dire warnings about it being irreversible and how you can’t predict the colour result, and how you cant dye greying red hair, all of which I’ve found to be personally untrue. Yes, it can be messy until you get the hang of it – took me about half a dozen attempts to become proficient. Yes, some folk find the slightly hay-like smell unappealing (not me, I’ve grown to like it). The end colour will depend on your own hair tones, but the results are very natural. My grey hairs come up a sort of titian red, whilst the remainder of my hair is a blend of auburn and copper. I find the overall look very natural, and hardly anyone but my closest friends realise that I’ve been hennaing my natural colour for years now. The one stipulation I would make for safety’s sake, is that you must, must, must use skin quality grade henna powder from a reliable resource. It is way cheaper than getting your hair coloured at the hairdresser, I’ve never had difficulty with it “taking” on the greys and it’s nice to have near enough to my natural colouring restored. I suspect I’ll continue henna-ing until I can’t open the packets anymore! Oh – and one more thing – it’s definitely permanent!

Jun 06, 2018 • Posted by Kim

I am graying and only in my late 30’s so i believe the late graying thing is just genetics for some. I use henna in my hair every few months and it matches my red perfectly, while covering every gray! So there’s a good alternative to hair dye.

Jun 06, 2018 • Posted by Marina

I luv my red hair…. in my opinion its red or dead! :-) lol x

Jun 06, 2018 • Posted by Jean

Great article; I could have written the opening section as I too grappled with being a redhead through my teens, and it’s only recently I’ve learned how to live with frizz, not to battle it (it always wins!) but only brush it before washing, only do that once a week, and use a viscous oil afterwards. Anyway, at 55 I have very little grey, and have always believed that we MC1R carriers go grey much more slowly than all others. What I did find was that when I hit my 40s my vibrant red lost its vibrancy – it’s still red, but just paler and with much less depth of colour.

Jun 06, 2018 • Posted by Lynne

I totally relate to this although I was not a fan of my red hair growing up, I am now and not sure how I will cope when I lose it. I am 42 and have the odd white hair but not a fan of dying it and hate the fake looking reds. Think I will just have to embrace the white!!!

Jun 06, 2018 • Posted by Jen

I love this blog. I’m 40 and my titian locks are fading. I’ve always been a redhead but new people I meet describe me as blonde (strawberry-blonde at best). A friend bought me a badge that bears the slogan “ginger and proud”; I wear it on my lanyard for work and repeatedly get asked why. I also have a before and after pic on my phone to prove my ginger roots (pun intended 😜).

Jun 06, 2018 • Posted by Kirsten

I have been a few shades of red during childhood and adolescence. It went from blonde to strawberry blonde then a light red that had an orangish hue. I identify with being a redhead and it is a big part of who I am. I was the only redhead out of 4 siblings. Though I have dyed my hair everything from blonde to black in a rebellious phase.

Years ago I started using a light blonde and dark red henna mixed together. It looks like my natural red but more viberant. Once I started going grey and hadn’t dyed it in a while I was called blonde and that did not feel right so I continued to dye it.

My best friend passed away last year and I have few traditions regarding death so I again stopped dying my hair. First out of not caring about my appearance and then out of not being ready to take the next step out of grief. My hair is growing in silver with streaks of gold which is beautiful but I have not decided yet if I will just let it grow out compleatly as I am attached to being a redhead.

Jun 06, 2018 • Posted by April

So glad I came across this article! I was born strawberry blonde, turned a dark Auburn. I never liked my hair, but got many compliments or mocked , “carrot top” I’d come back with “carrot tops are green fool!” And that stopped lol my hair started lightening around my late 20s. My ex-mother-in-law gave me a gift of getting my hair died because I was fading…i should never have started because my “bangs” started turning white, but only a small section. It’s either the hair dye that killed it or stress?! So I tried to let it go, but I couldn’t stand being washed out…i was losing my sparkle. I finally loved me hair color and was losing it. So I started going to the salon. Tried matching my original color…has been difficult. It’s been 5 months since I last had it touched up & I have more white than before. I don’t know if I can let this go or if I’ll go color again…ill be 39 in April…its a struggle because being a Ginger is a huge part of who I am. And although I’m wiser, I’m not quite ready to be “old” I don’t want to fade away…but I do want to be able to embrace it. Thank you for sharing these perspectives.

Jun 06, 2018 • Posted by Sheri

I really enjoyed the article. Very relatable. I was teased for the first half of my life because of my hair then after I was out of my school years suddenly my hair was a marvelous thing to be proud of with almost daily complaints. I’ve come to love the unique color but now at 40 it’s growing in white:( I don’t like it! I’ve tried to dye it red but non are my red. I’m thinking of just going rose gold. I will miss my unique color I almost feel like that’s what makes me who I am although I know I’m so much more. Anyways thanks for the wonderful article!

Jun 06, 2018 • Posted by Sheri

Greetings !!
I’m now 55 years old and until my late 30’s all I ever wanted (hair color wise) was to be a nice mousy brown like the rest of the world… Haha!!
So of course deciding to finally embrace all the beauty of being a red-head my hair color started to change …….
Well I’m going to tell you (cause I know you’re dying to know!!)
Up until 2 years ago I colored it sometimes results were fabulous sometimes not so much… NOW it comes in a beautiful blend of different shades of white which actually looks blondish…. took a bit of time to adjust to being a BLONDE….but I now actually LOVE IT !!
However no one believes me when I divulge that I used to be a TRUE RED-HEAD !!

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