Blonde ambition turned my flaming hair to ashes: Julie hated her red hair. But now
it’s been destroyed by a decade of dye – and, oh, how she misses it!
23:08 GMT, 5 July 2012
08:49 GMT, 6 July 2012
Natural redhead: Julie Cook was teased over her hair colour throughout her childhood
When I was growing up, the scene at suppertime was always the same. After eating and discussing my day at school, I would take a deep breath and commence my nightly plea.
‘Please, Mum, please, please, please may I dye my hair’
The reply never changed.
‘No,’ my mother would say. ‘You may not.’
I’d been born with what, back then, I considered to be a hideous congenital defect, an evil curse cast by some wicked fairy godmother.
I was ginger.
That wasn’t all. My hair was not only
orange, it was also thick and wiry. The only positive was that my hair
was so bright, my parents never had to worry about losing me in shopping
centres; you could spot me a mile off.
I was a younger child, kindly adults would stop and pat my head,
uttering polite words such as ‘Oh, what beautiful hair’ but, as I grew,
other children were not as forgiving.
Soon came a barrage of insults in the playground. Gingernut… Copper knob… Carrot-top — and they were the nice ones.
a teenager, not only did I have to endure the usual awkwardness of
budding new bosoms and the arrival of periods but also the fact I was,
in my eyes, a freak, a ginger oddity.
made it even harder to bear was the fact that I had no idea where the
ginger hair had come from. My sister was naturally blonde. My parents
both had dark hair. Jokes about the milkman abounded.
a day went by when I was not the butt of some nasty joke about my hair,
freckles or pale skin. I’d lament all this to my mother, telling her
that my plight was akin to racism.
I am well aware now how ridiculous this sounds but when you are 13, it seems that terrible. My mother remained resolute. My hair was beautiful, unique, unusual. People paid good money to get hair my colour… and so on.
So, disconsolate, I obeyed. But that didn’t stop me sneakily attempting other methods to banish my ginger hair.
One sunny day I poured lemon juice on my head and stood in the garden for four hours, praying to the sun gods to turn me Monroe-blonde. All I received was a burnt nose and even more freckles.
Every night I’d pray for the blessed day when I could dye my hair and finally, aged 21, I took the plunge. I went to my hairdressers and asked for blonde highlights. The salon worked their magic and, an hour or so later, I was transformed. I liked it so much I returned just two weeks later for more.
Lifelong battle: Julie as a teenager (left), a bottle blonde and an ice-white bride (right)
Within a year I’d had so many highlights, my ginger hair was a distant (bad) memory.
How I loved my new hair! For the first time, men looked at me in the street — and not because I looked like a walking carrot. I felt glamorous and I exuded confidence.
But in place of my old shyness came an addiction to the bottle. If I saw so much as a speck of my ginger roots appearing, I’d panic and reach for the bleach. Soon I was spending around 100 a month.
It was only later in adulthood that I learnt the true extent of discrimination we gingers had suffered throughout history. Only one to two per cent of the world’s population are true gingers, with most in the UK, Ireland and Australia.
During the witch trials in the 16th and 17th centuries, redheads were more likely to be accused of witchcraft and burned at the stake.
Hitler is even said to have banned the marriage of two redheads as he feared their children would be ‘deviant offspring’.
And the myths surrounding redheads’ temperament — that we gingers were violent and fiery-tempered — are still present today.
So, faced with such bigotry, was it any wonder I turned to the bottle
By my late 20s I was 100 per cent blonde, but it came at a price: my hair grew thin and sometimes fell out if I brushed too vigorously.
Then my husband proposed and we planned our wedding. I wanted an ivory dress and snow-queen hair to match, so I began using an ‘anti-yellow’ shampoo — far more often than the instructions advised. On my wedding day I thought I looked a glamorous Hitchcock blonde.
But when the photos arrived, I gasped. I was not, in fact, Kim Novak from Vertigo. More Cruella de Vil.
My hair wasn’t icy blonde, it was white. I looked like a pensioner in a wedding gown.
'It took me a decade and a half of
bleaching, hair loss and purple rinse nightmares to realise I had been
blessed to have such unusual hair'
Why had no one told me I’d gone too far When I confided in my mother she cocked an eyebrow and retorted: ‘I told you never to dye your beautiful red hair. That white colour ages you.’
She was right, as mothers so often are. I’d become so obsessed with ridding myself of my ginger heritage, I’d gone off the colour scale.
So I made a decision. I’d not seen my real hair colour in nearly 15 years. Maybe it wasn’t so terrible after all. I decided to grow it out and re-evaluate.
Each night I’d peer in the mirror, awaiting the carrot hue. Weeks elapsed, but the copper glow I’d had as a child didn’t appear. I was puzzled. I was a natural ginger, so where was my ginger hair
Soon a whole inch had grown but it was not my old, fiery red. In fact, it wasn’t any colour at all. Peering into the mirror, I struggled to find a name for it but failed.
The colour was, for want of a better word, sludge. But what shocked me most was how utterly disappointed I was.
Now 34, I’d spent my life battling my ginger hair but when I wanted it back, it had deserted me. It was as if my ginger locks were giving me a two-finger salute: ‘You didn’t want us before, so we won’t appear when you want us to.’
Touch. I deserved it.
So, reluctantly, I went back to the bottle; being blonde was better than being invisible. But I had learnt a valuable lesson, which I wish to pass on to all gingers, young and old.
You are not a carrot-top or a gingernut or a copper knob. You are not a freak. Your red hair is unique and beautiful.
It took me a decade-and-a-half of bleaching, hair loss and purple rinse nightmares to realise I had been blessed to have such unusual hair. The thickness never returned, nor did the sheen. The years of bleaching have taken their toll.
So, fellow redheads, as you curse your hair and wish yourself a blonde or a brunette, heed my words: Enjoy your red hair. Flaunt it.
You are part of just one or two per cent of the world’s population and, so some say, a dying breed.
Be proud of who you are because, finally — too late — I am proud to say that I, too, was once a ginger.