The red-headed league

Jan 21, 2008 at 11:54 a.m. ET

The color red usually has negative connotations. Stop. Or anger: "I saw red." Blood is red, and so that color is used a lot for advertising horror books and scary movies. The devil is usually depicted as red. Red apples -- not green ones -- were the source of temptation in the Garden of Eden, and a vessel for poison in Snow White.

Redheads: Never invisible

The Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland is an evil character. You might not think on these things very often yourself, but as a redhead, I do. While I do love the song, Willie Nelson's 'Redheaded Stranger' is a bit of a misnomer... as a redhead, you are never inconspicuous, never anonymous, never one to slip through the cracks.

There's just something about these titian tresses of mine. I don't know what it is, but for some reason red hair seems to inflame people. As a child, it provokes little boys to run up and shout in your face, "Ewww -- Your hair is RED!"

Then there's the endless barrage of nicknames all throughout school: red, carrot top, freckle face, Strawberry Shortcake, and my personal favorite, Pippi Longstocking. It was hard for me a child, because at that age, being "different" is not embraced at all. It's an easy in for bullies and name-callers.

"Hey, Red!"

As an adult, the red hair invariably causes construction workers, vagrants, baristas and those ghost-riding the whip to yell, "Hey, Red!" -- as if that is going to win them an appreciative smile (or a date). Another fun question that we redheads of the female persuasion have to hear all the time is, "Hey, are you a natural redhead?" as the speculator's eyes make a quick trip down South. That line pretty much ensures that they are never, ever going to find out.

Another kind of odd thing about having red hair is that everyone wants to touch it (and many strangers do, without even asking first!). It doesn't matter where I am -- from the supermarket check stand to a funeral -- it is inevitable.

When someone is nice enough to ask first, I usually comply while hoping against hope that they're not nose-pickers. There are exceptions, however.

I'll never forget the time when I was vacationing in London. I found myself in the midst of a Hare Krishna parade in Picadilly Circus, and a foreign-speaking member of the brethren came up to me, pointing at my hair excitedly and asking a question. All I could think of was the questioner's slick, bald head... just in case I was being asked to join the church and begin looking the part right away, I shook my head "no" and made a quick exit!

The bad girls?

Aside from the teasing and rather rude questions, there's the unspoken stuff that all redheads know is on non-redheaded minds.

Ever since the ancient Egyptians used henna in their hair in a frenzy for fiery-toned tresses, women with red hair have been marked as tempestuous, intriguing, unconventional, even naughty, and sometimes evil. Temperamental redheads are often described as other red things -- exploding firecrackers, dynamite with a short fuse. Why do redheads have a rep for being bad girls?

More about red hair appreciation & care:

What's so hot about redheads?

How to get soft, touchable curls

See lots more hair: Auburn Hairstyles & Red hairstyles

Hair losing its luster? How to get the shine back