“Hey, does the carpet match the…”

In a discussion over at Sugarbutch about femme hair, the topic of redheads came up. Someone else commented, in a way that I thought was very weird, that she thinks of her hair as “communally owned”–a phrase that, although explained later, seriously tweaked me out.

Because I know exactly what she means. I have this very curly, very thick, very red hair which attracts an almost ridiculous amount of attention. Colleen suggested that it may just be a quality of being female–the way that other people think they own your appearance, and take it upon themselves to comment in inappropriate or unnecessary ways. I still think there’s something more in the way people treat redheads, because we are a novelty. No matter how many people try to emulate with chemicals, by most estimates less than 5% of the American population are natural redheads. And like any novelty (pregnant women, people of unusual shape, people who are differently abled) people seem to think it’s okay to eschew commonly-accepted social boundaries in our presence.

Ever since I was a very small child, people have stared, told me how I should get my hair cut or styled, and often gone so far as to touch me without permission. I can remember being a very small girl walking with my parents, or sitting in a shopping cart, and strangers would reach out and touch my hair–even if they asked, which was rare, it made me feel violated, hurt, angry.

Like Colleen, it’s made me very uncomfortable being touched. Action Girl used to describe me as a “porcupine,” bristling, defensive. People who weren’t willing to keep their hands off were likely to get hit. I’ve relaxed some since then, but I’m still very sensitive to other people wanting to touch my hair and I truly dislike the “compliments.” I’m not talking about catcalls and rude comments [see subject line], I’m talking about normal people making conversation that I feel is inappropriate. No, I don’t want to be a model. No, I never have been one. No, I am not going to wear my hair down just because you think I should. No, I am not going to wear my hair up just because you think I should. Really, people, would you ask these things of a person with straight brown hair? Some of the compliments are genuine, but that doesn’t stop them from feeling intrusive.

At this point in my life I’ve managed to tune it out enough so that it doesn’t make me livid, just a little tired. But I still hate to go the hairdresser, which is unfortunate because I have difficult hair to cut and I believe that getting your hair cut is an important act of self-maintenance, and I don’t want to be one of those people who never cuts their hair because they think they’ll lose their identity if they do. Maybe because I have this feeling other people think it should be my identity– people who can’t remember my name or how they met me will at least remember my hair.

3 Responses to “Hey, does the carpet match the…”

  1. D says:

    “Really, people, would you ask these things of a person with straight brown hair?”

    Well.. wavy brown hair, yes.

    … well, less strangers, and more people who know me – but still. I’ve spent my life listening to how other people would style my hair if it were theirs. How lucky I am to have my hair. Oh the things they would do with my brown, wavy/naturally kind of curly hair. Maybe it’s their reaction to the fact that I insist on tying it back into a low ponytail 99% of the time because it’s the most masculine and low-maintenance thing I can do with my hair next to getting it cut short, which would no doubt prompt death threats from immediate family and friends.

    I don’t mind the way it looks so much when it’s down – I just don’t like its lack of functionality. I don’t want keep having to tuck it behind my ears, or flip it out of my face, or brush it to one side. It’s a ponytail of efficiency, not style.

    And, as M (backlist) likes to point out, if I had my hair down all of the time I would KILL PEOPLE WITH MY BEAUTY.

    Regardless, I hear you on this. Hair is a sensitive subject. People should recognize.

  2. linaria says:

    Hey, D! :)

    I know what you mean about the maintenance/functionality factor. I do try to “do something” with my hair because I also find it attractive and know how nice it looks when I bother…but bothering is difficult sometimes, since it is so heavy, hard to style, and freezes in the winter when wet (I am not even kidding). Have you thought about getting it cut? Sometimes that helps, sometimes it doesn’t. But at least it’s not a permanent option.

    And can I just say, M. has the best way of putting things. That particular comment is very dooce, too (do you read dooce? I think Heather Armstrong would be proud to become a verb.)

  3. meridith says:

    well, thanks for the compliment. I got about halfway through your post when I realized that all my generous (okay, excessive) fawning over her hair makes her as uncomfortable as you’re talking about. now, I reserve the right to compliment my wife on her hair, but you’ve added some perspective for the long, straight boring haired among us.

    love, the only blonde in her kindergarten class and subject to awed hair touching ever since.

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