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It really is remarkable, what a simple emotion like jealousy can cause someone to do. I have a difficult time understanding how people can believe there is justification in their actions when they do something completely immoral and disgusting, claiming that they know everything and trying to destroy what could easily help save thousands of lives. What kind of selfish idiot would do something like that?

You never know who somebody is. It could be somebody you’ve known for the last 20 years of your life or it could be somebody you haven’t seen since you were eight years old. People, often claiming to have the best intentions, can stir up a lot of drama simply because they truly only have their own intentions at heart. I may never understand what motivates people to be so completely compulsive and manipulative, but I have to say that I don’t really much care anymore. There was a time it might have offended me or it might have made me angry. That’s not me anymore. I’ve learned that there are going to be idiots and jerks and all-around truly despicable, disgusting, bad people in the world. My getting angry is never going to change that. My getting upset is never going to alter their opinions or their lies. There’s nothing I can do to change them, but I can certainly do something to change myself. It’s rather liberating, not letting the jerks and the bullies of the world have any power. 

I just don’t care. It’s pretty simple, really. They can claim every negative lie that they want to, but they could never back it up with fact. 

Speaking of lies, Greene had an “E” on the end. 

Growing Up Red, Part 2

Growing Up Red, Part 2

Part One can be found HERE

I learned pretty early that my biggest bully was my own mother.  For whatever reason, she just never really liked me at all.  It all started there.  I figured out after many, MANY years that the whole reason I allowed others to bully me was because it was something I was quite accustomed to.  If I'd ever talked back to my mother through her bullying and narcissistic sociopath behavior, I'd have gotten spanked - or worse.  My father was more the 'hands on' kind of parent.  My mother conditioned me and taught me young to just take it, "or else."

The bullies in school certainly helped to reinforce those early lessons, especially as our ages progressed.  Things became more and more violent as the years went on.  Strangely, I was more accepted by the kids in my school once my mother bleached my hair blonde at 16 years old, but I was still incredibly self conscious.  I didn't have a firm grasp on who I was as a person.  I'd never really been allowed to be who I was, or to figure out who that might be.  It wasn't OK for me to just be myself, not in my household.  Systematically I was stripped of my dignity, pride and all personal possessions because I finally decided to fight back.  I'll never forget the day I sat at the dining room table, being told what the newest creative punishment would be.  I said nothing. I reacted not at all.  I just sat there.  At the end my parents asked what I was thinking.  That was truly the first time I ever stood up for myself and I spoke through a trembling, frightened voice.  But my strength and resolve grew as I spoke.  I smiled the entire time I spoke. 

"You've taken everything away from me.  Everything.  My bed, my clothes, my radio and music. Any TV privileges, my friends.  My bedroom door.  Everything.  But you haven't taken away my spirit. And you never will.  You can't take away anything else, there's nothing more to take.  You can hit me all you want. But there's nothing else you can do to me.  You'll never break me. "  I got up and walked away.  I fully expected to be pushed down the stairs or kicked while I walked away, but I'd simply "taken it" for so long that I left them dumbfounded.  They didn't say a word as I left them sitting at the table and I walked the entire length and staircase, all the way to my bedroom.

My father and I, 1997.  Obvious distance.

That was a turning point for me.  It wasn't until years later that I really stood up for myself and told my father that I had friends who had been there for me more than he ever had.  I told my mother she was a bully and that I wanted nothing more to do with her.  They still try from time to time (last night in fact) to have an impact on my life.  They've tried to tell different radio and news publications that I've never been kidnapped or raped or nearly sold into the human trafficking industry.  They've tried to turn my friends against me, telling them that I'm full of lies.  They even tried to end relationships of mine (and on occasion have succeeded with glowing review).  These days when I get to know someone well enough, I preface any friendship commitment with the fair warning that my mother might try to contact them, and that it will be venom they receive.  Time and again, they've only proven that to be correct.  Last night was only the most recent.

In 2013 I attended a seminar for Flight Attendant training.  In that seminar, we were challenged to "Say what you need to say."  All of us, no matter who we are, or where we've come from, ALL of us, have something we've never said to someone because we are afraid of hurting their feelings, making them mad, causing irreversible damage to whatever relationship we might possibly have.  They challenged us to finally say what we've always needed to say to someone in our lives.  It just happened to coincide with a recent run in with my mother where she had lashed out venomously at me for not telling her I was in flight attendant training.  There was a catch, though. Everything we said had to be passed through three filters.
  • Is it kind
  • Is it true
  • Is it necessary. 
Believe me, this is much more difficult than you would think.  When it came down to it, I wrote a three page letter to my mother explaining why I wouldn't have anything to do with her, and that I needed to focus on what I was doing.  I asked her to respect my time and to not reply or attempt to distract me from my studies, and that if she could hold out for two weeks we could have an adult conversation together, in person, rather than through emails.  Of course she responded within 10 minutes with one of the most painful memories she could conjure, telling me that she was convinced that it would be a 'good' memory for me.  That was the last time I spoke to her, though she continues to try.  I miss my parents, but I can't let them into my life. They will always be my bullies.  They look friendly and sweet, but looks, as  we have heard all our lives, can be deceiving.

Mother and Father, 2009

It's perfectly OK to not allow abusive people any room in your life, no matter who they are.  Some people don't deserve to be in your personal space.  It might be easier to do that with kids at school, or a coworker who decides they don't like you for whatever reason.  You're allowed to set boundaries.  Some people will simply never change.  The abusive will likely always be abusive. They see nothing wrong with their own actions, because clearly you deserve it or they've done everything for "your own good" as I so often heard. Cruelty shouldn't be a part of your personal space, no matter where it's coming from. In my case, it was easy to cut out the people at school who would mistreat me, but I was well into my 30's before I finally had the courage and ability to tell my own mother how much she constantly hurt me and to formally ask her to stop.  When that didn't work, I finally felt justified in cutting her out of my life.

I grew my hair out finally. I'm proud of having red hair, and I'll go right on being proud of it no matter what. Nobody will ever convince me to grow it or cut it, dye it or bleach it, shave it or recreate it.  It's about time I learned how to be me.  I'm certainly flawed, and my self-esteem may falter from time to time.  But finally I've chased the bullies away - including that inner voice.  Mostly.  We should all be so lucky.

Now, go say what you need to say.
 And, by all means, learn to let go.

Amanda Blackwood. Image by Kev MK, copyright Redheads Unite!

Thanks for reading.

Growing Up Red, Part 1

Growing Up Red

I've talked to a lot of people who experienced bullying growing up as a redhead. It happens a lot. I was not immune to that, though there were several other layers of cruelty to my bullying, from religion to having moved more than 5 miles in my lifetime.

I'm pretty sure almost anyone I were to meet on the street would be able to give me a near textbook definition of Racism. Many would even be able to define the differences between bigotry and prejudice. But how many people do you think anyone could meet on a daily basis who would know that the word "Gingerism" is a form of hate speech? Did you know some redheads have been not only brutally beaten, but some even killed, just because they have glorious red hair?

Redheads don't have the option of being an introvert. To some degree, certainly, but every time a person with the hair of the sun walks into a well lit room, every eye will be on that poor soul, whether they like it or not.

I grew up being bullied. When I was only 7 my own grandmother told me that it looked like a cow had farted into my face. She wasn't fond of my freckles. While that may seem funny on the surface, it was absolutely devastating to a 7 year old little girl who already believed herself to be unattractive, and who idolized people like Judy Garland.  I so desperately wanted to be pretty.  Sadly, at a young age, I had already accepted that it would never happen for me.

Amanda Blackwood, age 2, with Family

At 8 my mother said I'd entered an "awkward" stage, telling me that she hoped someday that I would grow out of my ugly. It was "just a phase" she said. My already struggling self esteem was finally non-existent. "It's a shame you look so much like your Aunt Debbie (she was a redhead also, and the only other redhead in the family) because she's just not very attractive."

I don't remember what age I was when my mother told me that I could easily have been swapped in the hospital for another child, but I was probably somewhere around 9 years old.  She was pretty sure I was hers because I had my father's funny looking ears.  I guess there were two baby girls who had lost their bracelets in the hospital and we were both taken to my mother for inspection.  They apologized and informed her that they had no idea which baby was hers and hoped she could tell them. That's probably not something a young child needs to know about.  In fact, I probably could have lived my entire life without that bit of information.

At 10 years old I often sat alone on the playground, making swirling patterns in the dirt with my pointer finger. If I tried to play on the swings or slide, I'd get pushed off, sometimes at a fair height. If I tried the money bars, some mean spirited child would poke their elbows or fists into my ribs until I fell. Often I ended up with playground sand in my mouth - either from the fall or from the other children kicking it into my face.

By the age of 13 things had progressed to having a girl several years older and an entire foot taller than I was trying to shove me into my own locker that was, I'll admit, too narrow for my skull. Upon failing, she attempted to fit me inside of a standing soda vending machine, which promptly cracked and broke. Her excuse was that she'd heard I was responsible for rumors about her cousin, which of course wasn't true. Until then I wasn't even aware of who her cousin might be. It turned out her cousin was one of my closest (and very limited number of ) friends, until then.

Amanda with friend, Lisa - one of few at the time

By 14 things escalated again and a girl by the name of Robin, whom I had for quite some time called a friend, decided I was out to "steal her man" because her boyfriend happened to like red hair. She pulled a knife on me in an empty hallway and it was all I could do to not show fear. I'd been bullied so much. I'd gotten used to it. I just wasn't used to the other kids having actual weapons. She slashed at me, I dodged, and that was that. But she did threaten to cut my hair off.

At 16 the bullying shifted back to the parents. I'd started to make friends at school, though I'll admit they probably weren't the greatest of influence on me. I started to skip classes. My parents took me out of my school and enrolled me into the local "Troubled Kids" school instead. Suddenly I was surrounded by kids twice my size, often several times older, and most of them affiliated with gangs, covered in tattoos and selling drugs in the school yard. It's actually quite a miracle I didn't end up addicted to drugs in a desperate attempt to fit in, while the girls in school mockingly called me "Miss America" because of my unusual walk. Oh, how desperately I wanted to crawl under a rock and hide. I wanted to be anyone but me.

One day my mother pulled me aside and told me that she'd never liked my hair color, and called it a "mouse gray" color. You see, I wasn't quite the vibrant red color that the rare few have. Mine only looked red in the sunshine, and artificial light almost always washes out the lovely red color of most things. It's why you can't put a candy apple red car into a garage and have it look half as pretty as it does on the street. Sunlight is the secret. But that day, my mother decided she would bleach my hair blonde. Her first attempt turned my hair a bright neon carrot orange color and she went racing to the store for more bleach and dye while I stood staring into the mirror at the monster she'd created. My mother had 'always wanted a pretty daughter' she said. I stood there looking at my moody gray blue eyes, blonde eye lashes, crooked teeth, prominent freckles and, now, neon orange "Leeloo" hair. I wanted to cry, but instead I realized that I would likely always be that ugly girl and that I needed to focus more on who I was inside. I needed to care less about my outward appearance, or I'd never be happy in life. By the time my mother returned, I was resolved to be whatever it was she wanted me to be. And, for that day, she wanted me to be her blonde daughter.

My hair came out the color and consistency of straw, but my mother absolutely loved it. She said that it made my freckles pop out more (which I saw as anything but a good thing) and that I looked so much prettier with blonde hair. Maybe, she interjected, I'd actually have friends now.

She took me to the military base not long after that and saw a sign about a back to school fashion show that would be taking place inside the local on-base store. She grabbed me by the arm and dragged me through the store that day until she found the person in charge of the fashion show, and she offered me, her little blonde daughter, as a model. I saw the other kids - the short, round, adorable rascals who had worse self-esteem than I did if that was possible. I knew I'd fit right in with them, and of course I did. But it lit a fire under me that day. I thought that if I could simply bleach my hair blonde to be accepted by my own mother, surely if I changed other things about myself, I could be accepted by more people in my life. It was one of the most BRUTAL and unrealistic life lessons I've ever had to UNlearn.

I tried my hand at being 'me' over and over, but I was so lost in the world of bullying, not knowing who I was, not understanding why people didn't like me and not realizing that I shouldn't care. I became the shape-shifter. I would alter myself to fit whatever anyone else thought I should or could be. Time and again, I would be told by some boy I'd been dating that I was 'the perfect woman' because we had all the same taste in everything. Time and again, I would have my internal monologue, reminding myself that I needed to continue listening to their kind of music and enjoying their hobbies if I wanted them to continue liking me. It was exactly what my mother had taught me to do. My hair was blonde for years until I finally just got tired of it and let it grow without my doing anything to it.

I went on a little known show called Extreme Makeover in December 2003, where they cut my long hair, dyed it a dark chocolate brown color, set me in high heels and a ball gown, and called it a day. I was a Mini-Makeover. My episode aired on March 17th of 2004. That's right, when my episode was on TV, the majority of the nation was out celebrating St. Patrick's Day. Nobody even saw the show. I felt pretty, but that feeling was quite fleeting. I still wasn't me. I was an Audrey Hepburn Wannabe, which worked for the time being since she was my role model throughout my teens and early 20's. She was always just as self conscious as I was.

A few short months later, my grandmother died, followed quickly by my grandfather. At the funerals, I had an all out verbal battle with my father over his not being there for me, and I told my mother that she was too negative toward me and she needed to stop bullying me (I hadn't seen her in years and the first thing she said was that my hair was too dark). I'd finally stood up for myself as an adult. That small, seemingly insignificant act of defiance and pride set something lose inside me.

When I got back from the funerals, it was less than 2 weeks later and I moved, cut all my mid-back length brown hair off, bleached it out and dyed it bright neon red, and married a man I hardly knew. It took me 24 years to finally turn into that rebellious teen. Of course the marriage didn't last, but the short red hair did. I kept it short and neon red for nearly a decade. It landed me unusual opportunities like a featured spot on the TV show Alias, another on Will and Grace, and eventually a modeling gig for Harley Davidson.  But, to be honest, I still wasn't quite me.  I still didn't know who I was, I'd just built a different personality was all.  I needed to dig more into what made me who I was and truly discover who I wanted to be.

Amanda Blackwood, age 29, image by Michael O'Donnell