August 26, 2005

"Red hair is smart, sexy comedy."

That's the opinion of Valerie Cherish, channeled by Lisa Kudrow, as told to WaPo fashion theorist Robin Givhan, who writes:
All of ["The Comeback"]'s nuances are reflected in Cherish's most distinctive physical characteristic, her long red hair with its painstakingly organized curls that have been flipped back and away from her face. That hair is gloriously thick and the waves fall with an unnatural precision. The hair appears Breck Girl clean, devoid of the styling products now used to give hair an informal, slightly messy appearance. Hers is hair meant to be tossed in slow motion during the opening montage of "Baywatch."

In constructing the character, Kudrow has said that Cherish's hair color was a calculated decision. In Cherish's mind, "blond is dumb comedy, red hair is smart, sexy comedy." And, presumably, brunette isn't funny at all.
Givhan doesn't mention it, but red hair and comedy are indelibly associated with Lucille Ball. But of course, Cherish is wrong about a lot of things, so Kudrow's analysis of how Cherish thinks must be understood in that light. But I have a feeling Lisa loves Lucy.

Red hair is a touchy topic with me. My natural hair color is red — see it here — but not so red that I couldn't spend my entire childhood insisting that my hair was in fact not red, despite the tendency of strangers to call me "Red" and even "Carrot Top." As an unstably pigmented American, I had to endure both freckles and the early loss of hair color. Anyone fighting the latter problem should know that going lighter makes it less noticeable. If you see me today, you may consider me blonde, but I am incapable of seeing myself as a blonde. Though I spent my entire childhood denying that I had red hair, I now insist that I have it. I know it's a delusion, but the mental imprint is too strong to shake.

Why is red hair so meaningful?

26 comments:

AJ Lynch said...

It is a most easily remembered characteristic.

When I was a kid, me and some friends liked to pilfer cases of beer from neighbpor's garages / porches. Once I was spotted but a innocent schoolmate who also had red Needless tosay, he was a little mad at me when I saw him in school later that week.

btw, what is this word verification you have installed? It's annoying!

Jille said...

Why indeed! I too hated being a redhead when I was young. Only as the color began to fade, did I realize what an important part of my identity being a redhead was. Part of the red-headed league.

About the same time I stopped yearning for golden olive skin and long dark hair, I began to start seeing the beauty of other redheads.

Wasn't part of the appeal of Claire on Six Feet Under that her hair was so gloriously red?

goldsoundsz said...

When I think of red hair I think of Rita Hayworth. And Diane Lane in the Outsiders.

Red hair is meaningful because it's rare.

I have no idea if it's true but I read that density (# of hairs per head) is a function of color. With redheads receiving the fewest.

Walter said...

Red is the color that will make me notice a woman I might have otherwise ignored. There is just something about a redhead that is different from the other colors.

There is a old (and silghtly dirty) joke lays out the pecking order:

Redheads
Blonds
Everyone else

My girlfriend is redish blond and dyes it to have a bit more orange and has found her sales (retail jewelry) increased by 50%.

Mary said...

I don't have anything on hair color, but wanted to note as a former Red Cross Water Safety Instructor -- aka. swim teacher --what a great service you are providing readers by publishing that photo. So many people seem to think it's uncool to actually WEAR the life preserver -- ski vest type, personal flotation devices (pfds) excepted. So a great illustration of what we say in the trade... Don't just pack it; wear your jacket!

Ann Althouse said...

Goldsoundz: My hairdresser tells me I have the thickest hair of anyone she's ever worked on, by such a margin that it makes her laugh!

Ann Althouse said...

Thanks, Mary. We were canoeing from one island to another on a lake. You'd better believe I kept the jacket on the whole time! It looks cute, doesn't it? They don't call it a Mae West for nothing!

Robert said...

Red hair is meaningful because people with red hair interacted significantly with people in cultures all over the world, and cultural memories are long. But unless you want to turn your blog into a cryptoarcheology discussion board, best to leave it at that. :)

Mark said...

Who didn't have the hots for Agent Scully in X-Files? And I think she got redder as the series went on. If she was blonde or brunette, she would've been plain-looking.

EddieP said...

Wow, in an earlier post I remarked that I thought you had magnificent hair. Little did I know. This photo is fantastic. How do you decide to be blonde when you sport such breathtaking tresses? Were I only about 30 years younger!!!

At the risk of being a bit impolite, when was it taken? Do you switch back from time to time?

Incidently, I don't have a problem with your verification word. Cheers

goldsoundsz said...

Wikipedia on the subject --

"Red hair is significantly thicker than the hair of people of European descent with other hair colours. The numerical density of hairs on the head in red-heads is also lower."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_hair

And the combo of your red hair, the orange life preserver and the purple pants in that photo is great!

Ann Althouse said...

Eddie, the picture is from 1980!

Ann Althouse said...

Those are purple overalls. I had pink overalls too that year. It was some kind of trend of the time. I was a law student, btw.

Ann Althouse said...

As to why I changed my haircolor — I yielded to nature. If you look closely at that picture, you can see that I already had many white hairs. It is easier to make white hair blonde than red! I could stop fighting it and go around with a big head of stark white hair.

miklos rosza said...

a lot of rock'n'rollers and associated slacker types here in portland favor "poppy red" dye. it's almost magenta sometimes.

i think you're wise to go blonde as white and gray hairs come in. women who out of misplaced feministic stubbornness allow themselves to look prematurely old are making a big mistake.

Paul said...

I don't know, but anyone called me Carrot Top, I'd deck them.

Ann Althouse said...

Miklos: I started dying my hair because the proportion of white was such that the remaining red didn't "read" as red. It changed to a mousy color that I just didn't identify with. If I could have leapt to all white, I might have liked that. What I didn't accept was the dullness of the middle ground.

amba said...

Robert: I once was assigned a book to review that said Kukulcan, the Mayan culture hero, was actually the Irish Cuchulainn. Both cultures describe him with red hair! Is that what you had in mind?

chuck b. said...

Wow--a lot of women (and no men) in my father's family have reddish hair that's mostly lightened to strawberry blond w/ age; and I've never heard word one from anyone about it having special "meaning" to any of them and we're pretty close. This is news to me.

Also, I don't tend to think comic blond woman on TV equals dumb. I think of "Hot Lips" Houlihan and Samantha Stevens. Maybe they played blondness against type.

The Comeback is so good. I've liked it from the beginning, but now I actively look forward to watching it every week. "Hello, hello, hello!" Last week was too funny. I don't want to give away the big joke if you haven't seen it yet. I think the yoga episode wins for my favorite so far.

Speaking of redhead comediennes, Kathy Griffin's show's pretty good too.


Okay, I don't like this word: uafsvcsp

price said...

I agree that red hair is awesome. I had it dyed black for a few months, which was a huge, huge mistake.

I was unaware that fair-skinned people go gray earlier though, so thanks for the heads up.

Beldar said...

Well, since we're sharing:

Both of my grandfathers had, and my older sister still has, vivid Celtic-red hair. Until mine went very prematurely gray (virtually solidly so by about 32), my head hair was jet black, although I have my sister's same phosphorescent untannable skin and hazel eyes — a combination I've heard referred to as a "black Irish complexion."

When I hit puberty and began developing secondary-sex characteristic hair, though, that hair (including but not limited to beard and chest hair) came in ... red. Or more precisely, rather, it was a sort of calico mix of red and black on my chin and in my sideburns, shading into pure red on my cheeks (through all of which was added, eventually, a shot of premature gray that finally came to dominate).

After we'd gotten through Mendel and his garden-variety wrinkled and smooth-skinned peas, my high school biology teacher used me as an example of incomplete dominance and partial gene linkage in the more complicated human genome. Basically, as best I understand it, I'd have been a total redhead from birth but for the redheadedness gene being mostly masked by a separate-but-linked black hair gene, but the black hair gene expressed its dominance less fully on my post-pubescent hair than it had on my head hair and eyebrows — the latter of which being the only hair I still have that's almostly completely jet black!

I confess to having been inordinately proud of my once-red beard, and I miss it color more than I do the black head hair.

(No blogger begrudges you the word verification, by the way, Professor, for reasons I'm sure you already understand.)

lindsey said...

My brother has bright red hair. It was quite a shock when he was born. The only other red-haired person in the family is a great grandfather who's been dead for years. The hair's origin isn't Celtic but Czech. Odly enough, the Irish side of the family has absolutely no red hair. One of my friends from college who was from India would always stare at his hair and want to touch it because she couldn't believe it was real. He went through hell growing up because of that red hair.

In a weird aside, my brother's hair is redder than this kid's hair. And oddly enough this kid is Afghani.

Ann Althouse said...

Both my parents had dark brown, nearly black hair (and blue eyes). My brother and sister have blond hair. Light hair is a recessive trait, so it makes sense enough. Of course, we all have blue eyes.

lindsey said...

My mom has very dark almost black hair and brown eyes. My dad has medium brown with blue eyes. I'm light brown with blueish-green eyes. My hair matches the hair dye sample called ash blonde or sometimes medium ash blonde. If I spend my summer in the sun, it turns blonde-ish. The hair on my arms is blonde but on my legs it's dark. My bro's eyes are a golden hazel color. He's the only red head I've ever known who could tan.

Did you ever think of going strawberry blonde instead of straight blonde? Strawberry blonde is imo the prettiest.

Ruth Anne Adams said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Simon Kenton said...

The mythology is that redheads have ready access to their emotions (ie, have tempers) and are fun to do it with. I spent some time on this, to the point of being between anecdote and data, and found it ... true.