Today thousands of children worldwide will be born with a relative high amount of the pigment pheomelanin. By being so they will join roughly 1.5% of the population in being known as red headed, or less formally, ‘a Ginger’. Their school years will bring taunts of Carrot-top, freckle face (80% of gingers having them) and countless other imaginative creations mocking both hair and skin tone. Into adulthood the insults will generally fade but the act of being ‘a ginger’ will often be used as a descriptive term for strangers and friends alike. The question is ‘what does it still mean to grow up a red head in today’s more liberal world?’
Most remember that in times past wearing glasses would result in a certain amount of social stigmatism; nowadays though you would be hard pressed to find anyone who cared. In modern educational systems racism, in all its forms, is taught from the youngest age possible to be wholly unacceptable, however pointing out the difference or ‘undesirable qualities’ in gingers is seen as fair game, a trait especially apparent within the UK. For instance the summer of 2007 saw the Chapman family of Newcastle upon Tyne forced to move home for the third time after a campaign of abuse from local kids living upon the same estate. Middle child Kevin even attempted suicide aged just 11, an act Adam Bailey, 15, from Manchester tragically managed two years later. An episode of hit US animated TV show South Park declared that all gingers were ‘soulless creatures’ while back in Britain Catherine Tate mocked her own roots with a regular sketch on BBC2. In addition the media, particularly the film industry, has a history of representing red heads as two extremes, either sultry vixens, think Jessica Rabbit of ‘Who Framed…’ fame, or spineless wimps. However despite the frequent targeting of gingers it pays to remember they are far from the only ones harassed; pick up any book, flick on any television channel and you are just as likely to find a fat joke, jab at the old/senile or laugh at the expense of the ‘dumb’.
The last few years has also seen a noticeable rise in red headed role models within the public eye.
There are nevertheless many positives to being red haired, a sense of identity and resilience can and often is gained, Claire, 26 from Yorkshire, describes the benefits ‘The teasing growing up taught me to not let anyone get to you, to keep your head held high…plus other girls would kill to have my hair colour!” The last few years has also seen a noticeable rise in red headed role models within the public eye. Amy Pond, Dr Who’s feisty assistant will for a generation represent the positive tenacity of ‘the ging’, Florence Welch (of The Machine fame) happily dyed her hair to strike of chord as she dominated the charts while rock star Josh Homme, nicknamed ‘The Ginger Elvis’, proved that fair skinned guys can be anything but wimpy and effortlessly cool. Jokes about Mick Hucknall and sun cream will surely continue for a few more generations but attitudes are slowly changing, and with the sales of red hair dye rising and prejudices of all kinds steadily falling, things can only get brighter.
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