On Being a Redhead or Simply Being With One

I just found out that January 10 is Kiss a Ginger Day. In case you don’t know, a “ginger” is someone with red hair. I have two reasons for being interested: I’m working on a short story about my neighborhood, which has an inordinate percentage of redheaded children, and I have two gorgeous ginger grandsons.

Contrary to the old perception of redheads, which was that they had fiery tempers, bad teeth, and were generally less attractive, I always liked red hair of every shade, from strawberry blonde to deep flaming tresses. My first boyfriend in the sixth grade had red hair, the smartest boy in the class. He also had the traditional less-desirable traits: glasses, lots of freckles, and already a nerd at the age of eleven. I imagine he went on to discover a cure for some dreadful disease or head a space research lab.

The prejudice against redheads is in rapid decline. Where once paintings of shifty, evil Judas Iscariot frequently portrayed him with red hair, now we know redheads have higher pain thresholds (although some websites say the opposite) and can manufacture more of their needed Vitamin D. Where once they were thought to be sneaky, now they’re believed to have stronger sex drives (I guess this wasn’t desirable in days gone by), There used to be a Kick a Ginger Day. No more. If you’re cautious with your kisses, in addition to the January 12 kiss-fest, there’s a separate Hug a Ginger Day on February 22. England, France, Sicily, and Italy have national festivals to celebrate their collections.

If you’re a redhead, or you like redheads, you’re in good company. Julianna Moore, Prince Harry, Jessica Chastain, Michael Fassbender, Reba McEntire, Sean White, Christina Hendricks, Damian Lewis. My very favorite is actor Colin Firth, who once was rejected for a major role because he was “too ginger.” Since that time he usually has dark hair in his films, edging toward gray nowadays. Speaking of gray, redheads tend to skip that stage, retain their red coloring until they turn white. If you wish you were redheaded, a dye job is easy to come by.

When people see my two redheads, I’ve been congratulated, then told stories about their positive traits—individualism, intelligence. So let’s hear it for the gingers. As a tiny percentage of the world’s population they’ve fascinated and frustrated us, tempted and taunted us. As for me, I’ll give my two gingers a big smacking kiss and hug for being the bright, wonderful people they are.


Do Clothes Make the Man (Woman)?

Tee shirt webI used to think that clothes weren’t important. Labels meant nothing to me, and I prided myself on this attitude. I was superior to physical distinctions of wealth or status.

I’ve changed my mind gradually over the years. Clothes provide cues and clues to their wearer’s interests, education level, age, and social groups. This is important to writers because we have to be able to evoke all kinds of messages through people’s dress in our work. It’s also important to humans in general because it can be used, for better or worse, to categorize people and give us advance warning about how to respond to them.

But I still figured I was exempt from bias based on attire. Until I went to the doctor’s a few days ago. I was finishing up my appointment when a woman stepped into the exam room. My doc had mentioned consulting with another physician. But when I saw the newcomer, I was flabbergasted. Leaving aside the question of what a “flabber” is and how you “gast” it, I was taken aback because she wore jeans, tennis shoes, and a casual t-shirt.

Immediately I became uncomfortable. I couldn’t tell if she was a health care provider (Nurse? Doctor? Physician’s assistant?), or someone who’d wandered into the facility from the very urban streets nearby. Should I greet her? Duck behind the door? Scream for help? No clues about her job or level of responsibility. Did she report to my doctor or vice versa?

After my doctor asked the woman to locate some equipment, I realized she must be some sort of assistant. But I still was uneasy. I began to realize that how others dress has a major impact on me, and her lack of any professional signals established an initial level of distrust that she’d have to work hard to overcome. Her appearance obfuscated* her role.

I’m trying to take this knowledge as an insight into human behavior. I want to guard against, compensate for, this instantaneous prejudice when I meet strangers. But mostly what I want to do is alert my doctor and the assistant that she should dress in a manner to make patients comfortable, not ill at ease.

*obfuscate: render incomprehensible