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The Best Reasons to Become a Redhead and Stay One

When her redhead daughter was born, it was a perfect time for Beverly Willett to go red too. Now, she finds she just can't quit it.

A brunette by birth, I’ve been a redhead for more than 25 years. As long as I can afford those periodic salon appointments, I’m fairly sure I’ll keep bucking the trend of women my age embracing their natural gray. Vanity? That’s the least of it.

I started frosting my hair in college, adding more and more streaks until I blossomed into an all-out blond. In my 20s, what they said about blonds was true. Despite attending law school while working to pay for it, I still made time on the weekends to be the disco queen.

My husband and I gasped when the nurse handed Ella to me.

In my 30s, I transitioned to motherhood. Worried about how all that bleach might affect my developing babies, I skipped salon appointments during my first trimester with both daughters. Happy and fortified with cupcakes, I didn’t much care about exposing my brown roots for the first time in more than a decade.

After the birth of my second child, I became a redhead. My husband and I gasped when the nurse handed Ella to me seconds after she was born. Where had her bright, silky carrot top come from?

Read More: Forever Blonde: Why I’ll Never (Ever!) Let My Hair Go Gray

Matching My Redhead Daughter

My grandfather’s ancestors hailed from Northern Ireland, but there had never been talk of a redhead in the family. My husband’s Jewish ancestors from Eastern Europe were even more remote candidates. And yes, my husband was definitely the father! Eventually, someone in his family remembered talk of a distant aunt who carried the red gene.

But why dye my own hair red? My eldest favored my ex—both had dark hair and dark eyes. I wanted Ella to feel like she resembled one of her parents too.

I wanted Ella to feel like she resembled one of her parents too.

Our circle of friends and acquaintances gradually grew to encompass people who’d never known me as a blond—moms and dads at Ella’s schools, the people at my new church, etc. With Ella in tow, against the background of my own Irish heritage—fair skin, blue/green eyes, and freckles—I resembled a natural redhead.

To quote that famous Clairol commercial, only my hairdresser—and those who’d known me before Ella’s birth—knew for sure.

Except for a van full of families we met en route to our hotel from the airport while vacationing in Hawaii. Ella was 3.

“You and your little girl look so much alike,” another mom said.

Before I could reply, Ella jumped in. “My mom dyes her hair,” she quipped, adding a sustained giggle.

Keeping a Grip on Life

Over the years, Ella’s hair faded to dirty blond. During that time, I progressively intensified the copper in my formula until it reached my current shade of fiery red.

Covid-19 came. Salons shuttered. I muddled through, camouflaging that skunk stripe in my center part with the last box of root touch-up that remained on the supermarket shelf. As soon as my colorist reopened his salon, I made a bee-line. Many women my age were opting to go completely grey. I never considered being one of them, even though their silver locks looked shiny and smart.

Sometimes what’s visible on the outside helps us cope with the unavoidable challenges.

Shortly before the lockdowns, a car crash nearly killed me. During the lockdowns, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. As it was, I was struggling to feel like myself again. Continuing to color my hair felt like a positive step in the direction of getting a grip back on my life.

Of course I know that how I feel on the inside is what makes me who I am. But sometimes what’s visible on the outside helps us cope with the unavoidable challenges, much in the same way that an occasional shopping spree, fresh shower, and night out with good friends contributes to my sense of renewal. Though Madonna’s new look makes me cringe, she’s a better judge of what keeps her going than I am.

Red Is for Safety

A few weeks ago, I met with my bank manager, a woman about half my age. Our conversation touched on online banking safety before turning to our analogous circumstances as single women who live alone.

If I look younger and stronger from a distance—and stand up straight—I add additional protection for myself.

For the first time, I realized how issues of safety had also come to play a role in my decision to continue dyeing my hair red. Viewed from inside my car or from a distance down the street, when I wear a pair of flattering jeans and designer sunglasses, my flaming red hair projects someone much younger than I am, resulting in more than occasional waves from younger men. As a single woman out alone, I must be especially vigilant unlocking my front door when I come home late or while I pump gas or walk to my car in a parking lot after dusk. If I look younger and stronger from a distance—and stand up straight—I add some small measure of additional protection for myself.

One more thing.

Ten years ago, after a painful divorce and facing an empty nest, I could no longer afford the mortgage on my dream house in Brooklyn and was forced to sell. Friends suggested that unloading my home would allow me to reclaim my life. But who was I without the reference points of wife, full-time mom, and lawyer that had ordered my life for decades? As I whittled down my possessions, I saw her clearly: a positive, courageous, and vivacious woman who’d always wanted to be a writer.

And her hair was red.

Read More: Going Natural: What to Expect When You Let Your Hair Go Gray

Beverly Willett is the author of Disassembly Required: A Memoir of Midlife Resurrection and the novel in progress Nobody’s Fault.

By Beverly Willett


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