Editorial: Hair and There

6 May 2016 Melissa Cranenburgh

Editorial: Hair and There

Image by istock

My sisters and l were pretty much the only kids with black hair at my primary school in the 1980s.

The ambiguous ethnicity that went along with my dark hair didn’t lead to bullying. But it did mean I got the kinds of questions that, as a youngster, I found incredibly confusing. Here’s a pretty typical playground exchange:

Some kid: “Hey, where are you from?”
Me: “Seaford.”
Some kid: “No...I mean where you are you
really from?
Me: “Ummm...Seaford. See?” (Pulls up neck of jumper to expose address label).”
Some kid: “Noooo. I mean what country are you from.”
Me: “This one.”
Some kid: “But you don’t LOOK Australian. So where are you REALLY from?”

The most confusing bit was that sometimes the adults would also, in slightly less direct fashion, question me about my origins. Being from a mixed race, not-all-that-easy-to-explain ethnic background, I couldn’t just trot out a simple answer. So I went with the classic: “I’m from a hospital.” Or, the more expansive: “You mean, where are my family from?” Before listing all the colonial countries my genes had traversed before landing in outer suburban Melbourne. This pretty much left the questioner as perplexed as I was by the whole exchange.

So, with my appearance already provoking an odd kind of identity crisis, you’d think I would hanker for less conspicuous tresses. Sleek mousy brown curtains. Dirty blonde piggy tails. Honey-hued tangles. Nope. Not for me. Because my childish heart had been won by Jessamy Mason’s fire-orange hair.

Much like her hair, Jessamy was a forthright person. Vibrant. Outgoing. And for a while, my BFF. Walking next to Jessamy, I was always stunned by how her hair reflected the light, atop her pale, freckle-specked, smiley face. To my bookish mind, it seemed she had been touched by the extraordinary. A brush of Anne of Green Gables. A head toss of Pippi Longstocking. She was the lit match to my burned one (as one kid put it, somewhat more bluntly, when we were waiting in the canteen queue one lunchtime).

But primary school is a fickle time. And when I moved to a new school at the end of Grade 4, I put old friends behind me. My own exceptional appearance was more run-of-the-mill in my new, more multicultural playground. Still, all these years later, as I watch my nephew run around the park – his reddy-brown mop vibrant in the afternoon light – I find myself hoping it won’t dull into ordinariness.

This edition is dedicated to those sunny individuals blessed with the MC1R (or redhead) gene mutation. Yes, that’s right. It turns out redheads are extraordinary. And the topic of redheadedness seems to be even more so – as Mel Campbell explains in our cover story (‘Take It As Red’, p14). Red hair is more than just hair. “One reason we’re obsessed with redheads’ genetic authenticity is that it’s always been the rarest hair colour,” Campbell explains. Unfortunately, not everyone appreciates the unique: Kate Bradley describes how she overcame schoolyard bullying, specifically the horrifying “Get the Redhead Day” (p18). As an antidote to such haters, we also cover Australia’s inaugural Ginger Pride Rally (p19). And Roving Eye (p24) is filled with stunning portraits of redheads from around the world. If you aren’t already Well Red, by the time you’ve finished flicking through these pages, you will be.

Melissa Cranenburgh, Acting Editor