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'Your child is more than their hair colour’: Advice from a red-haired parent

Tori Bowman Johnson

Tori Bowman Johnson

Tori, a freelance writer, has worked in production, talent management & branding since her agency role at Vivien’s Model Management in Melbourne in 2011. Tori has recently launched, The First Word; a conversational podcast for women, particularly those who juggle young children & paid work. Tori is also a very proud mum of two little boys.
Created on Mar 24, 2024 · 8 mins read

I recently read an old Allure article by a woman who wrote about growing up with red hair. Her opening line read, “The first memory I have of my red hair is of wishing it away”.


The writer, Jessica Matlin, went on to recount, “I wanted blonde hair, like Barbie’s. It seemed sunny, easy, and uncomplicated. Red hair felt like a burden …” Ugh. I feel you.

I myself am a redhead and yep, I too remember a childhood laden with ambivalent feelings towards the way I looked. As just over 2% of the world’s population walk the earth with their auburn locks, the way I felt about it was just as imbalanced. There was 2% of my thoughts that reckoned this makes me pretty special, but the dominating 98% was going, why me?

As soon as I began noticing I looked different to my peers, I was about 9 years old. In response to this revelation I begged my mum to let me dye my hair blonde. Along with a crop top, a Bridget B mini skirt and a Cover Girl concealer from aisle 7 at Coles (back before the tween obsession with expenny Sephora products), I wanted what all young girls want, to simply fit in. 

Before I go any further, if any parents of redheads are reading, a few little tips:

Tips for supporting your (gorgeous) red-haired kid


1. Give them the lowdown on bullies

If they get picked on or attract a negative comment, personally I think honesty is helpful here. Time to whip out the “Why do bullies bully” chat. 

Maybe explain to them, “Some people choose to pick on others because it’s a quick and easy way for them to feel powerful in the moment. You’re not at fault. That individual is just having a bad day, and using you to feel better about themselves” 

2. Listen in, and help them redirect

If you find that lots of people comment on your child’s red hair, whether positive or negative, and your kid’s becoming irritated, hear them out and give them the space to share their feelings. 

Perhaps ask, “Are you feeling irritated because the comments on your hair make you uncomfortable?” 

If they say yes, make an effort to shift the attention at your end as you can’t control others. 

Start complimenting or just talking about other areas of their lives. Think “Your music practice sounded so good today!”, “You looked like you really enjoyed your swimming lesson”, or “Thank you so much for helping me. with dinner, you’re so helpful.” 

The idea is to take the focus off the hair. Trust me – redheads get many comments!! Allowing your child to understand that their other traits are also worthy of such commentary, is kind. 

3. Approach everything with empathy – even demands for hair dye

If they desperately ask to change it (like me!), don’t get angry. They’re just little and they are feeling self-conscious in their skin. It’s really difficult. I mean, imagine if there was a part of you that made you feel awkward or embarrassed. As adults, we have the luxury of freedom! Tell your child that despite their hair, they’re beautiful from the inside out. And then help them to understand that some privileges (such as decision-making), come with age. It’ll be a bitter pill for them to swallow, however helping them to build resilience under the guidance of safe and positive words, is important.


Battling it with blonde


When it comes to red hair, interestingly, only 3% of the world is born blonde. Unlike red heads, however, blonde was (is) deemed pretty. Beautiful. Sexy even, thanks to conglomerates such as Mattel and Pantene. Despite the novelty, however, blonde blends in as seamlessly as brown and black. 

’Tori when you’re 16, if you feel the same way, you can dye your hair,” Mum promised, probably a little naive as to just how much weight this promise held. 

All I wanted was to push thoughts such as these to the curb; 

Will boys call me names? 

Will boys be less attracted to me? 

Will older girls and dare-I-say mean girls call me out? 

Will I feel self-conscious on the bus ride home with kids from different schools? 

Will I feel like the odd one out at the Blue Light Disco? 

Because the answer to all of that was, yes. 

There’s no beating around the bush. 

So come my sweet 16th, hello blonde. And for the fifteen-odd years that followed, hello blonde of all shades! White, ash, sandy, honey, highlights, lowlights – even strawberry. But never red. Good god, no. 

For the parents who are reading along, and who also have children with red hair, I am writing this with you in mind. 

I have a son with red hair and despite sharing this gene with him, a gene that I’m now really fond of, I find myself looking out for comments (bullets) that might hit him the way they hit me all those years ago. It might be different now, with ‘uniqueness’ becoming a societal movement but as woke as we think we all are, growing up and going to school will always be bloody tough. Even wokeism does not yet diminish humanism.

 So let me shed some light on how we can treat our redheaded children.


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Your child is more than their hair colour


Firstly, I think we can all agree that red hair is special. Red hair is unique. It is different. It is distinctive. It is all of these things simply given its rarity in the world.

And thanks to TikTok, Sophie Turner and Emma Memma, red hair is currently having a fabulous moment in the sun.

But.

Despite the above (and despite the charm of Prince Harry), kids do not want to feel or look unique or different. Based on their appearance, they do not aspire to be called ‘lucky’ at the supermarket or ‘distinctive’ at swimming practice. 

We (redheads) are acutely aware that your “efforts to match our colour with a box dye, has never paid off” … but with uttermost respect, please keep this feedback for the adults. Those, like myself, who have had the chance to mature, find their confidence, and broaden their perspective on life. 

Let’s focus on letting all of our kids fit in. Let’s champion their art skills. Their math. Their manners. Their high jump record. Their piano playing. Their drama performance. Their slumber party snacks or choice of movie.

Not a physical attribute we don’t yet know if they are proud of or self-conscious about. Let them lead us … and only when they’re ready. Ed Sheeran, a fellow natural born redhead, once mentioned how an episode of South Park ‘ruined his life.’ Some may think this is an overly dramatic statement given his talent, fame, and fortune. To those, I ask you to read the episode extract below and perhaps reconsider because behind even the most famous of pop stars, is a person with feelings. 

On the episode of South Park, the character Eric Cartman presented to his classmates a powerpoint titled, ‘Ginger Kids: Children with red hair, light skin, and freckles.’ Cartman goes on to present, ‘We’ve all seen them – on the playground, at the store, walking on the streets – they creep us out and make us feel sick to our stomachs. I’m talking of course about… ginger kids. Gross! Ginger kids are born with a disease which causes very light skin, red hair, and freckles. Aw, nasty! Yuck! This disease is called Gingervitus, and it occurs because ginger kids have no souls. Kids who have gingervitus cannot be cured.’ 

Even as an adult re-reading that, my heart slips with yours. I’m not boiling up with rage but rather feeling the little girl inside me take a wobble. Words like this don’t bruise. They scar. 

My little boy is just 4 and already in his lifetime, along with lovely words and compliments directed at me on his behalf, people (boomers) have said the following to me:

  • ‘I’d only ever take black and white photos of that boy.’ 
  • Oh. So he still has red hair?” 
  •  ‘I’ve genetically worked it out and thankfully we won’t be having red headed grandchildren.’ 

While I can forgive all that, I can’t forget it. Because as I said above, words like this can scar. 

So personally, as I proudly welcome my little boy into ‘The 2%’ with pride and open arms, I’m not going to wrap him in words such as special, unique, or lucky in relation to the colour of his hair. 

Instead, just as I encourage his blonde brother, I will wrap him in this; 

Aim to claim uniqueness, distinctness, and remarkable greatness by the company you keep. By the skills you learn & finesse. By the feedback that reflects good character and kindness. You were born the way you were born. To mature into a great man will not depend on your hair colour, but on the depth of your heart.

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