I was standing in the lunch line when I heard it. Someone behind me said “ginger” in a low voice, and then some kids burst out laughing. I turned around to see some older boys I didn’t know. “Look at the freckles…ginger kid…” one whispered to his friend as they all stared at me. Then they laughed even harder.
I ran out of the lunch line, no longer hungry. I was hurt—and confused. What were they talking about? I have red hair, and I’d been called things like “carrot top” and “sunshine red” before, but never a “ginger kid?” What was that?
When I got home, I went straight to my computer and Googled “ginger kid.” I clicked on the first thing that came up: Episode #911 of…South Park? That TV show? I did some more research, and what I found out really upset me. On the show, ginger kids—redheads—are disgusting and dumb. They can’t survive in sunlight and have no souls.
At school the next day, it seemed like I got teased twice as much as before. I didn’t get it. Isn’t making fun of someone for the color of her hair the same thing as being racist? Why would anyone do that to a nice, friendly girl who had never done anything mean to them?
Did I Have a Soul?
Things got worse. It seemed like practically everyone in my class started calling me a “ginger” or a “ginge.” They told me I had no soul. Boys sang mean songs about me. Some people would even stand in front of me when it was time to go out to recess. “The sun is too dangerous for you,” they’d say. “You’d better not go out unless you want to get fried!” The teachers never realized what was going on, and I never told. I was afraid that might just make things worse.
I started to feel really bad about myself. I’d spend hours crying in my room at night. I truly began to believe that I didn’t have a soul and that nobody could love a ginger. I was convinced everyone was better than I was. My self-esteem sunk to practically nothing. I even lost faith in my family, and I thought they were faking their love for me, the only redhead in the bunch. Everyone hates me! I’d think. Why can’t I have blond hair or brown hair, like my little brother or my parents?
I began to convince myself that I was losing my friends, too. They would tell me over and over again, “Madeleine, we love you! Don’t listen to those bullies!” But somehow I would twist the words up in my head until “Madeleine, we love you” became “Madeleine, we hate you! We can’t believe we used to be friends with a ginger like you!” I was sure they would all leave me and I would never have friends again, unless I dyed my hair and moved to a brand new town.
A Stronger Person
Even though I was so sad, my friends stood by me. Month after month, they stood up for me through all the name-calling and teasing. They made me laugh when I felt like crying. But even though I was so grateful for my friends, school still felt like a nightmare. I think the worst part was that I never knew when someone would start in on me. I felt like there might be someone waiting to tease me around every corner…and why? Just because I had red hair? It was so unfair. My red hair wasn’t something I had control over. I never asked to have it! I was born this way, and I couldn’t do anything about it. For people to make me feel like there was something wrong with me because of it was stupid, I knew, but it still really hurt me.
The end of the school year was coming, and I was feeling totally fed up. I was so tired of feeling bad about myself. I just didn’t want to do it anymore. I decided not to listen to them. That’s when realized I never had to listen to what mean people said. Who were they, some dumb bullies, to change the way I felt about myself? Making me feel insecure and self-conscious was exactly what they wanted, and I wasn’t going to give it to them anymore. This was my life. Why didn’t I listen to my friends and family instead? They were the ones who knew me and loved me. They were the ones who were important.
Proud to Be a Ginger
That was definitely a turning point. Something inside me changed. Before, I’d always tried to ignore the teasing and pretend the bullies weren’t getting to me, but I think they knew how much they upset me. Now I really didn’t care what they said, and it showed. I started standing up for myself without getting upset, or I’d walk away with my head held high. After all, who said being a ginger has to be a bad thing? I’m learning to be proud of it.
The more confident I got, the fewer mean comments I heard. I guess picking on me just stopped being fun. I still get the occasional “Hey, ginge!” or “What’s the ginge doing here?” but I don’t pay attention to them. There’s no reason to. What’s important is for me to be the person I want to be and not let mean, rude people stop me.
As hard as all this was, I feel like it made me a much stronger person. I’ll never let someone make me feel bad about myself like that again. And if you’re being picked on for something—whether it’s red hair or something else—I hope you won’t, either. Be proud of who you are!