Today in Genetic Defects? Red Hair!
Posted on July 24, 2014
I am so (SO!) thrilled to introduce you to The Girl with the Purple Cane’s very first Correspondent. My Best Friend (Red) has been elected by my unanimous and nepotist vote as TGwtPC’s Happiness Correspondent! Her job? To report on all things happy. To get her started, I asked her something sad:
“I have previously written about some genetic testing I received. I just learned that your red hair is not just a genetic trait, but a genetic defect. According to science (and Google), when someone has red hair, their MC1R protein fails to convert red pigment into brown pigment.
So… Do you feel defective?”
Defective? No. I don’t think there is something wrong with me. But, different? Yes. Absolutely so. Ever since I was a child, and a fairly oblivious one at that, I had a feeling that there was something not quite the same as my cohorts in my appearance. I didn’t particularly care though, outside of the fact that it sometimes left me feeling awkward and off to the side. I knew I wasn’t, or ever would be, the standard definition of the cute/popular/cool kid at school, but I was okay with that. Because as unaware as I was about my physical being, I knew being different made me interesting, and being interesting was at least something. Maybe I was an ugly duckling who would turn into not a beautiful swan, but hopefully at least a pretty enough pheasant, able to fly with the rest of flock for short distances.
One of my most vivid memories as a small child is being accosted by a white haired and powdery grandmotherly type at the local Stop-N-Shop. She came toddling over to me while I was trying to convince my mother to let me ride on the front of the grocery cart like the aspiring sanitation worker I was at the time, this woman’s wrinkly and bare arms outstretched before her like a zombie (this being a time long before zombie chases were in vogue), her talons clawing their way to my long, and admittedly, unkempt tresses. “Oh my, your hair color is so pretty, dear; what a lucky child you are!” she said, as I was plotting an escape route to the nearest deep freezer.
My mother taught me from a young age to be polite to strangers, but this kind of “special” attention only served to embarrass the freckles off my ever-reddening face. At this time I was a shy child in many other respects and it was difficult not to gasp in horror at not only the unwanted commentary, but also the touching part. The opportunity for accidental hair yanking and face-brushing was bonus torture and almost too much to bear for 7-year-old me.
These types of interactions continued as I grew older, reaching an apex of tragedy in what is also known as middle school, where the addition of redheaded nicknames from friends and foes alike began. Big Red. Fireball. Flamehead. Carrot Top. Firecrotch. Burning Bush. Coppertop. Clifford. Rustylocks. Garfield. Flamer. And (points for creativity here) Bloody Sphincter, which was a lazy play off my last name, Fichter, in tandem with reference to my hair color. Then there was the endlessly looping taunt: does the rug match the curtains? A: just shut up.
As my peers and I grew older, these types of sentiments waned, but even now they can still sneak up on and irritate me when I’ve let my guard down. Whether it’s a catcall from a construction worker while walking outside my office or the fanboy at the conference I’m working who makes sure I know he digs redheads because they remind him of the Black Widow, I can’t help but feeling a little bit helpless like I did as a child. A reciprocating death stare and curled upper lip is my standard adult response.
As a person embarking on her third decade on this planet, I have embraced this distinction now more than ever. Redheads are cool. I know that now. I hold it to my advantage that I will always have a better Halloween costume than you because the wig you need to procure comes free for me. I’ll be the best Wilma, Pippy, Poison Ivy, Ariel, Pebbles, Anne, Daphne, or Joan at your party. Redheads are so hip they don’t even require surnames.
And I’ve come to accept that standing out visually is something that probably will always be a part of my life. It’s not just my red hair. With a towering height of just under 6 feet, it’s likely you will notice me when I walk into a room anyway, and you’ll definitely notice me when I mostly likely will trip over my giant feet and flail my 6’1 wingspan while trying to catch my graceless fall. It’s who I am: a redheaded, green eyed, left handed, freckled, clumsy giant. Being this way feels good. It makes me happy to be me.
The Purple Cane Happiness Correspondent, Red
PS: Because who doesn’t love listicles: some redhead facts can be found here and here.