Despite living in Scotland, the country with the highest proportion of red-headed people in the world, the social stigma of being ‘ginger,’ and therefore the runt of the litter in the world of hair colour, is still very much alive and kicking. First there is the mild disdain and light teasing, I am referring of course to the timeless classic of, ‘ginger minger’ which so many teenage boys in hoodies, reeking of body odour, seem to think is an original insult. Then a step up from them is the girls who either tell you how much they love your hair and how beautiful it is, before shrieking in horror when their blonde dye job goes wrong and they end up looking like one of us, or constantly pass snide remarks coupled with badly veiled suggestions about how to deal with the problem (these include but are not limited to; straightening, dyeing, cutting, gelling, chemically altering it, a wig). Then there is the slightly more haughty lot who cannot possibly imagine what it must be like to be afflicted with the condition as they see it, and run for the hair-dye as soon as their poor child makes it past their third hair. These are also the ones who find the actual words, ‘red’ and ‘ginger’ distasteful and so make sure to always use ridiculous euphemisms such as ‘strawberry blonde’, ‘auburn’ and ‘chestnut’. It is a fact of life that everyone blessed with fiery locks will at some point in their life be referred to in such a derogatory manner. Be you celebrity, politician or normal person – Lyndsay Lohan endured the wonderful ‘firecrotch’ joke, Danny Alexander was called a ‘ginger rodent’ by the ever charming and intelligent Harriet Harman, and as for normal people, well they probably get similar things yelled at them on street corners every day.
Historically red hair has been interpreted in wildly diverging ways. In the medieval period we were tied up and chucked in water before being burned at the stake for witchcraft. We were accused of having beastly sexual desires and being morally perverted. Even vampires have been mentioned in connection with red hair (I am guessing it must have something to do with the pale skin). Even the Vikings don’t really do much for our reputation, as every picture I have ever seen of them are huge, hairy men wielding an axe and strange horned head gear. Yet there are positive images of us out there. The picture of The Birth of Venus, the red haired women many Pre-Raphaelites painted, and the cute little angels of Botticelli look quite ginger to me. In India and some parts of the Middle East they view red hair as a sign of youth and of optimistic temperament. Yet the modern western image of someone with red hair falls under two highly unflattering categories – witch, funnily enough is still one of them, the ginger bad guy for example in ‘The Incredibles’, or they are the (usually unattractive) victim of bullying or some other crime, as in just about every American sitcom. In fact along with freckles, glasses and braces, frizzy ginger hair is now the hallmark of the western ‘geek’ image. So taken together we have somehow morphed into a violently optimistic, vampiric witch with glasses and a Viking helmet who’s constantly gagging for debauched sexual action whilst posing naked in a clam for a painting.
Although it has come in and out of fashion, every red-head I have ever seen in Hollywood has gone over to the blonde side as soon as they hit the jackpot. It’s as if it’s a reward for managing to make it in spite of the handicap of the ginger gene. Marilyn Monroe was one of the most notorious ginger traitors. Nicole Kidman, Kate Winslet, Lindsay Lohan – I could go on. Yet I don’t understand why. If you’re being bullied in school, or constantly harassed (as some people have been), or you’re really ugly, then I can maybe see the point (although for the last one I am not sure that changing your hair colour will help). But these people are rich, famous and successful – if someone makes fun of their hair colour, why should it bother them? Yet it obviously does. So if they can’t take it, what hope have any of the normal ginger people in the world? Well personally, I have had enough. It is time for the ginger people of the world to unite and stand up against this ridiculous and harmful propaganda that the other hair colours of the world have been peddling for so long. So put down the hair dye, or the wig, or whatever it is you use to disguise your naturally brilliant ginger colouring. Step away from the scissors and the gel. You are one of the lucky few in the world to be blessed with such colouring and you should be proud. I have recently discovered ‘Readheadday’, the festival to celebrate all things red and serve as a gathering for all ginger folks in the Netherlands. For anyone non-ginger reading this – you are not invited; to my comrades in hair – see you there!
Image Credit – Dave Pape