Stereotypes & Stigmas: My Life as a Redhead

‘Oh my god, she’s not a carrot top is she?’  Having entered the world for approximately ten seconds, these were the first words spoken by my mother after learning that she had just given birth to a redhead.  Before drawing breath to produce my first cry or opening my eyes to see the world around me, this loaded term had a chance to seep into my tiny baby brain, forming a precedent for my life as a ginger.  Whether it’s copper head, ginger nut, carrot top or, worst of all, Wotsit, trust me, I’ve heard them all.  From cruel childhood taunts to awkward and predictable chat-up lines in clubs, my red hair seems to make an impression.  If the name Wotsit wasn’t enough of a giveaway, you can imagine that many of these hair-related run-ins have been far from pleasant.  In fact, a good deal of the time, they’ve been downright offensive.  However, after spending much of my childhood trying to escape the role of Ron Weasley at fancy dress parties, and wishing there was an easier Disney princess outfit than Ariel’s mermaid tail, I’ve finally come to love and embrace my fiery locks.  

And what’s not to love?  With less than 2% of the world’s population having the privilege of being named natural redheads, I am a rarity; something I’d take over mousy-brown any day.  When it comes to travelling abroad, however, this often means that I’m treated more like a yeti from the Himalayas, or something from the Stone Age, than a regular human being.  The characteristic pale skin, the curse of the ginger, also does little to help disguise my Anglo-Irish heritage in a sea of olive-skinned beauties.  Walking among them with my coppery head held high, I can’t help but feel as though a sign is hanging above me, warning: ginger alien approaching.  This may all sound a bit self-indulgent but when you have endured the cat calls of men in Turkey shouting ‘hey Barbie, hey ginger’ as you innocently walk down a street, it changes your perspective slightly.  Sadly, as other redheads can confirm, if it’s not my translucent vampire-like skin giving me away, the bright red burn spots will.  Having forgot the factor 50, I can come away from a holiday looking something like a Dulux colour chart, ranging between ‘Frosted Dawn’ and ‘Salsa Red’.  I won’t even begin to describe the peeling process.  And on top of all this, gingers are rumoured to have a lower threshold for pain.  Still wondering why I’m embracing the hair?  Even I’m beginning to question it…

Although I don’t fear the annual event ‘Kick a Ginger Day’ (which is on the 20th of November if you want to pencil it into your diaries), and I’ve never faced extreme bullying due to my hair colour, I know of several people who have dyed theirs to be free of the stigma.  The secret gingers are everywhere, from the platinum blonde across the street to the brunette in the library who’s recently experimented with dip-dye.  Unless you have a particular aversion to the colour red, what I want to know is: why?  Why erase something which makes you so unique?  Why give in and become like everyone else?  You’ll never be able to run away from the burning effects of the sun, no matter how much Garnier you apply, so why hide your true self?  I know my main fan base is largely composed of women over the age of 65 who love to stroke my hair, but one day standing by my hair colour will pay off.  Just think of all the iconic redheads creating a storm in the media: Julianne Moore, Isla Fisher, Christina Hendricks.  I don’t see any of them shying away from a hair colour which has helped to build their image.  We only need to turn to our history and rewind a couple of centuries to realise just how much the ginger has been worshipped.  Forgetting all that nonsense about redheads being associated with demons and witchcraft, the pre-Raphaelites have sensibly demonstrated where everybody else has been going wrong.  Making strong, striking, redheaded women their muses, men such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti undermined the image of the wilting Victorian wallflower and stormed in with his buxom beauties.

Life can be tough for gingers.  If we’re not dealing with childish morons who can’t think of better insults than ‘ginger minger’, we’re combatting an even bigger threat to our well-being: the sun. Above everything, however, it’s the banal questions which really get to me.  If one more person asks: 'you’re a dying race, are you going to procreate with other redheads?' I may very well reveal that fiery ginger temper of mine.  Watch out, don’t you know we’re associated with demons?

Edited by India-Jayne Trainor