‘People who haven’t red hair don’t know what trouble is.’
Anne Shirley, Anne of Green Gables, 1908
Carrot top, rusty, ginger nut, ginger minge, Duracell, ginga.
You just know me as ‘mummy’ but these are just a few of the names I’ve been called over the years.
Time will tell as to whether you’ll be on the receiving end of any of them but as your mum, it’s my job to navigate you through life, and prepare you for both the good and bad bits. And as a redhead, it’s fair to say that there may be a few bumps in the road.
Despite my own red hair, yours came as something of a surprise to your Dad and I. When your sister was born four years before you with raven hair and bright blue eyes, complacency set in and I was resigned as forever being the rust coloured sheep of the family. But then as a two week old baby a change suddenly came over you, gone was your bald head and in its place were the beginnings of a peach coloured fuzz. You sunshine, were destined to be a ginger.
There, I said it, I dropped the ‘g- bomb’. Not for us the pinkish highlights of strawberry blonde nor the chocolate tones of auburn, no you and I we are proper gingers, you the Chris Evans to my Patsy Palmer. I’ve noticed that in polite conversation people are increasingly reluctant to use the word ‘ginger’, they steer towards the safe territory of ‘redhead’ or put the onus on me asking, ‘how would you describe your hair colour?’. Its negative association has not gone unnoticed amongst the masses, but me, I’ve reclaimed it, taken away its negative power. I. AM. GINGER.
We my boy, are 2% of planet Earth. A tiny army with a worldwide population of 145 million. We inhabit every continent (yes, there are native African and Asian people with red hair) and account for 98.7% of the world’s sun cream sales.(Yes, ok, I made that last bit up). And as a blue eyed redhead you, my darling are the rarest of all, you’re practically a unicorn.
Your infancy and early childhood will be the halcyon days of your gingerness, swooned over by old ladies and patted fondly on the head by every foreign waiter you ever encounter, I only hope that by the time you reach secondary school things will have changed somewhat and that unlike my own, your teachers will not turn a deaf ear to any name calling that may take place and call out and stamp out the mockery that, much like other forms of prejudice and bullying, zeros in on a physical characteristic over which you have no control.
I’ve often wondered if mocking and name-calling gingers are the last bastions of meanness when it comes to physical appearance (perhaps that and being very tall). Whilst racism, sexism, ageism, and myriad other -isms murmur away angrily in the darkest of corners, they are generally not considered acceptable in polite conversation nor in the mainstream media. Gingers however still seem fair game. Although it was 15 years before you were born, a major power company still considered it appropriate in the year 2000 to run a billboard campaign featuring a ginger haired family (obviously styled to look as ugly as possible) that read ‘there are some things in life you cannot choose. Your gas supplier isn’t one of them.’ I feel confident that if the advert had featured an Asian family, a disabled family or even a family all wearing glasses it would have received more than the 219 complaints that it did. Even in 2018 the overriding message in media campaigns (such as the recent Walker’s crisps advert) is that gingers are ugly and worthy of ‘light-hearted’ derision.
And let’s not forget the whole collar and cuffs situation either. I’m not sure when it became acceptable to openly speculate as to the colour of someone’s pubic hair but this is one that certainly red-haired ladies hear a lot (and, much as it pains me to say it, nearly always from men). I mean I’m not sure what colour they expect it to be, nor what the ‘gold-standard’ shade of pubic hair is (not gold, clearly) – perhaps someone could enlighten me.
Throughout history it’s been a mixed bag being a redhead, we’ve been burned as witches across much of Western Europe and much of Eastern Europe associated us with vampires. Eve (of Adam and Eve fame), the one who committed the first sin and forced us all to live outside of paradise is often portrayed with red hair and even Judas is often depicted as being a redhead. That said we’re as revered in art as we are reviled. One of my early awakenings as to the attractiveness of red hair came as I exited the horror of my teenage years, whilst things had been looking up for a while thanks to Geri Halliwell it was a trip to the Musée d’Orsay in Paris that affirmed in my mind that perhaps adulthood as a ginge heralded better things than adolescence. As I rounded a corner the first painting I saw was Alexandre Cabanal’s ‘Birth of Venus’. It was magnificent. The canvas was enormous and there on the crest of wave in all her naked glory, was Venus. Her lustrous, thick red locks spilling into the sea. She wasn’t alone, there in that museum was room after room of gingers. Paintings by Van Gogh, Degas, and Manet amongst others celebrating all things ginge. And now we’re comfortably into the new millennium we don’t have to look at oil paintings any more to gain a sense of validation. We’re everywhere. Adele, Amy Adams, Jessica Chastain and Emma Stone to name but a few, and as for the fellas, well take your pick… Benedict Cumberbatch, Eddie Redmayne (surely the best name ever for a ginge?!), Ed Sheeran, Prince Harry and the ultimate poster boy of our mutated MC1R gene, Damian Lewis.
So yes, let’s focus on the positives because as rubbish and baffling as it can be to be a ginge at times, as a white middle-class male I’d imagine you’re not going to encounter a great deal of predjudice nor discrimination over the course of your lifetime. No one will ever overlook your for a promotion, jail you or kill you (any more)for your golden locks, so let’s not go overboard. Nevertheless I do wonder if like myself acquaintances of yours will state in front of you that they hope their unborn child is not ginger or not swipe right when faced with a ginger Tinder prospect. Whilst all my experiences are inextricably linked with being female, sadly everything leads me to conclude that ginger boys actually have a more difficult time of it than girls. That said at least you won’t have to spend 1/3 of your annual income on mascara and getting your eyebrows tinted.
We might not be able to wear pink, but we rock the colour green like you wouldn’t believe. We act as the canaries in the coalmine when it comes to the sun and when that mercury hit 18 degrees a few weeks ago, we both wore the painful pink badge of shame. BUT we’re so tough we actually need more anaesthetic to knock us out for operations ( the only instance where a seemingly superficial physical characteristic actually impacts on the serious business of keeping someone alive but in a state of deepest unconsciousness). We’re hard to lose. We’re stunningly efficient at manufacturing vitamin D and we’ll never go grey. Rose gold, then blonde, then white but grey? Never. And then that will be it, your ginger journey will be at an end and for once you’ll blend in with everyone else. Maybe it will live on in your children, maybe not. But for now at least, love yourself, love your difference and those of others. You are rare. You are beautiful. YOU. ARE. GINGER.
A Guest Blog from Clare Watson
Clare is a wife and mother of two living in Cheltenham, currently working as a content writer for an educational publisher. When not tidying up she likes to cook, read and travel. She is an avid traveller, aspiring travel writer and aims to have visited 40 countries by the age of 40. She’s very nearly there…