We all probably know someone with red hair, right? There's likely a person who comes to mind - a pale-skinned, freckled individual who avoids the sun. But have you ever considered what it's like to grow up with red hair? Keep reading to find out more.
Orange wasn't always the new black.
It's tough growing up as ginger; people are constantly trying to define what your exact hair colour is. Ginger? Redhead? Strawberry blonde? Or they even try to come up with nicknames, ginge, carrot top, goldilocks or my personal favourite, ginger ninja. But sometimes those nicknames become derogatory and even plain offensive; ginger pubes, ginger knob, ginger minger or red-headed stepchild spring to memory. It always amazed me at how 'creative' people could be going off hair colour alone. But I cannot lie and say it didn't bother me because, for a large part of my life, it did. Friends would say one thing, and enemies would say another; the people who called me by my first name were the ones who stood out; most likely, this is the reason I became better friends with adults than my peers as a child.
Just how common are our fair-haired friends? Around 1-2% of the world's population lay claim to red hair with a greater frequency in Northern or North-Western European descent (2-6%). Although according to historians, it originated in South-East Asia. Despite the occasional social media post declaring, "Gingers are going extinct!" we are most certainly not going anywhere. Because anyone can be born ginger if two parents carry the recessive gene (more on this below!), meaning we do not need red-haired people to procreate to create ginger offspring. So why do redheads get so much stick? Well, it is written in the history books. Society tends to show suspiciousness of anything different, especially when it is so eye-catching and rare; therefore, associations with evil and red hair have been made over the years, for example, vampirism, witches, and even Judas who betrayed Jesus in the bible was, said to be ginger. Perhaps it is the assumption that redheads are hot-tempered or have a tempestuous personality! But redheads have not always been viewed in a negative light; henna was used in the Middle East and Ancient Egypt to create red hair. Queen Elizabeth I was a redhead, and many of her subjects dyed their hair to show loyalty.
Self-acceptance and Empowerment: It's OK To Embrace My Ginger Hair
I was shy at school, most likely due to being bullied for my hair colour. This became much more prominent when I started to notice girls. I had zero confidence around them and felt they must think I was utterly ridiculous approaching them with my unruly and bright orange hair on top of my freckly head. But one day, that all changed when I had an incident with one of my long-term bullies at school. I had read in Johnny Depp's book advice that his mother had given him as a schoolboy when he was being bullied:
"All right, here's the deal. The next time anybody puts their hands on you, pick up a brick and lay them out."
So sure enough, the next time I was called ginger pubes and got the back of my ears flicked, I turned around and punched this bully right in the jaw and then one more for luck when he was about to hit the ground. He bawled over, holding his face in pain and didn't get up for a full five minutes. Now I am not someone who promotes violence, but you know what? This boy never looked at me ever again, and funnily enough, no one else in the school bullied me ever again.
I felt free, and without the constant ridicule and name-calling, I could get on with my life. Sure, I still felt shy and would blush bright red if one of the pretty girls looked over at me. But without being consistently made to feel subhuman, I learnt to be myself and felt a curiosity about other redheads.
Carrots and Curls and Everything In Between
As I got a little older and started showing interest in science, I became more curious about my hair. I knew it wasn't as common as other colours, and neither of my parents had ginger hair, so where did it come from? I learnt that the 'ginger gene' is a recessive one, meaning that parents can be carriers of the MC1R gene, and as long as they both carry the gene, there is a chance they will have a ginger-haired child. Another interesting fact is that we gingers make better use of less sunlight, meaning we are more efficient at vitamin D synthesis. Which you could argue is ironic since we also tend to burn much more than most people! I started to see being ginger as something unique and rare, which allowed me to learn how to express my personality uniquely. Life became better, and I grew into myself. In fact, when I started going on nights out in my 20s, I would often get shouted that I looked like Prince Harry or Kevin De Bruyne in the street! Something I noticed made me feel good inside and that was a compliment rather than an insult.
The more I have read about redheads and history, the more I realise people have always been fascinated with it. This made me feel better about myself since it was less about me and more about how my hair colour is rare compared to others. It felt less personal, especially growing up in the 90s when notable comparisons were made between my hair and celebrities such as Paul Scholes, Ginger Spice and Prince Harry. When the 2000s rolled in, Rupert Grint made the Ronald Weasley character from Harry Potter famous for mostly one thing, his bright orange hair. Then when Ed Sheeran, Kevin De Bruyne and Eddie Redmayne came along, society deemed it cool again to have carrots and curls. When I started to date I realised that some women have a thing for redhead guys
Feeling more accepted by society allowed me to move past the insecurities those bullies had hammered into me. As I matured and developed my emotional intelligence skills, I started to feel I did not need the acceptance of others, what matters more is learning to accept myself, so I can be who I want to be. To this day, I have never questioned my hair colour ever again, no matter what anyone has said. I had finally learnt how to embrace my ginger hair.