When I was fourteen and was yet to discover bleach, I was trying to negotiate secondary school by flying under the radar as much as I possibly could. I had ginger hair, freckles, skin so pale I was essentially a kind of blue see-through colour, big teeth and was freakishly small. School is difficult for everyone, but being ginger means you are susceptible to being called a lot of names, having your hair pulled and you have a big red circle on your calendar to remember to bunk ‘Kick a Ginger Day’. Thus far, I had kept my red head low enough to only have endured the odd insult shouted at me across the halls, and had made a solid base of friends that had managed to see beyond the copper top and were happy to take the social beating for having a ginger mate.
I found myself surrounded by these friends on a really hot day, sitting under a tree (no direct sunlight for this guy), during our lunch break. We were all laughing and chatting until one of my best girl friends decided that now was the time to ask the question that was on everyone’s minds. The question I had been dreading to answer ever since they’d first appeared. She looked at me dead in the eye and in front of everyone asked, “So, do you have ginger pubes?” I should also mention here, my skin has a tendency to burn a deep shade of neon crimson when faced with embarrassing situations, no matter whether I feel embarrassed or not. All eyes were on me; everyone was already laughing. I knew it would be ridiculous to suggest I had your dark undergrowth of regular people pubes, but I also knew it would be social suicide to admit the truth. I looked to the ground and muttered something about them being a shade of ‘light brown’, whatever that means. “But your eyebrows are ginger.” She looked at me with a smirk on her face. The bell rang and I got up as fast as I could and rushed to my next class, sweaty and as red as a baboons butt hole.
I found myself in Boots after school in the hair dye section. No one had had the glorious opportunity of seeing my pubes yet, but as I was 14 and the prospect of sexual activity was looming over me, I was terrified of being found out. Something had to change. I grabbed a box of some sort of ‘light brown’ Garnier dye and rushed home. The moment I got in I locked myself in the bathroom, got in the nude, put the oversized plastic gloves on and started mixing up the dye. I sat on the toilet and for the first time in what would eventually be a recurring theme in my life, took a long hard look at myself. The smell of ammonia burnt my nostrils and I began to think on a very basic health and safety level if this was actually a good idea or not.
I would love to be able to say that it was in this moment I learnt to accept myself and love my hair colour, but that would not come for another 7 years or so. What actually happened was I became too afraid of burning off my vagina to be able to go through with it. I chucked away the hair dye, got dressed and went downstairs to see my mum, too awkward and too ginger to tell her what I had just nearly done. A year or so later I discovered that our current societal norm was not to have pubes at all, which even though it can be a laborious process, was music to my ears and I bought a razor as quickly as I could. I bleached the absolute shit out of my hair till I was about 19, only stopping as it had started snapping off at an alarming rate. It is since then that I have finally been forced to become comfortable with my authentic ginger self. I love my hair colour now, and the only good thing about having insults thrown at you on a daily basis about something you can do fuck all about is that you grow some thick skin. Very pale, very thick skin. Adversity creates personality & identity, and I thank 14 year old me every day for having the common sense not to mutilate my vagina and it’s pubes for the sake of trying to fit in.
(Yes Annie - like that other adorable red headed rascal)