The joy of ginger

I’m sure many of you will have read Amber’s post this week about Nicole Nagington, the 12 year old girl who has received death threats for being ginger. It beggars belief that this sort of behaviour can still go on in schools – as Amber often points out, gingerism is really the only prejudice that is still acceptable to society, and had there been a question of death threats over skin colour the reaction would have been entirely different. It devastates me that a pretty girl like Nicole with such STUNNING hair could be made to feel so small and unattractive, particularly when her hair and colouring is probably the thing that will make her stand out as beautiful when she is older. Red hair is, after all rare and special – and truthfully an endangered species!

I didn’t always love my hair. As a strawberry blond I was teased at school for being ginger, as well as for being fat and for wearing unusual clothes. The bullying didn’t get physical or even near bad enough for me to consider dying my hair (or sticking to a diet!), but it was bad enough that I would stick the thermometer in a cup of tea to convince my Mum to keep me off school, and I developed an ongoing stomach ache over several months which culminated in hospitalisation for suspected appendicitis… to this day I wonder whether part of this was psychosomatic, or actually the onset of stress-induced IBS due to the unbearable school situation.

For a long time I wanted to dye my hair, and, in fact, dye it was the first thing I did when I finally moved into halls at university. Because, being a strawberry blond, having siblings and cousins decidedly more red-haired than I was, I felt my hair was holding me back, stopping me from fitting in. Bullying aside, I was neither a redhead nor a blond, neither fiery nor dumb – stuck in no-man’s land. I wanted true auburn hair like my Gran’s or wild red curls like the heroine Mariella in my beloved Sadlers Wells novels. So, in fresher’s week I spent a proportion of the shiny student loan pennies in my pocket on a semi-permanent “burnt copper” hair dye. It came out very similar to my true hair colour, but sort of dirtier looking, and led to an embarrassing moment when my colour-blind father asked my step-mum whether my hair was really greasy on a reading week visit…

In fact, throughout university I dyed my hair various shades of copper with various degrees of success failure. I also went through a relationship break-up which resulted in pink stripes mid-second year, and a creative moment in which I dip-dyed the bottom 3 inches of my hair pillar-box red at the start of the third. It was certainly an interesting look!

After university I continued to experiment with my hair colour. During my masters I was highlighted to within an inch of my life and favoured surfer-style waves. A chance encounter with a rockerbilly chick on a bar terrace in the Toon led me to the only hairdresser in Newcastle (or anywhere, in fact) who seemed willing to dye and cut my hair without bemoaning its loss, resulting in a short, dark red bob with blunt fringe. In truth, it was only when I got enagaged that I decided to grown my hair – I decided I wanted to be entirely natural and as princess-like as possible for the big day. And it was at least a year before my hair regained its natural state and colour, not to mention its current colouring-free condition. It was the first chance since my teenage years  I had given it the opportunity to truly shine.

Personally, I think redheads are making a come back. The likes of Christina Hendricks, blond but undeniably designed to be a redhead, are making the colour hot again. Similarly, porcelain skin is becoming de riguer – I’ve even seen parasols for sale this spring (and I fully intend to invest in one!). The most fashionable look is always the most unattainable – historically, pale and rounded were fashionable in Britain because those who were thin and tanned were so from endless hours working the fields, or could not afford good food and a covered box to travel out of the sun. The tanned, bleached blond look only became popular last century as a symbol of the type of wealth that could afford foreign holidays, cruises and a second property abroad. And now that the high street is awash with yellow-blond extensions and tanning shops it can only be a matter of time before the balance once again tips, and natural takes over in the beauty stakes.

Perhaps this time we’ll get it right, and hit the balance square central. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this century’s key beauty terms were “natural” and “healthy”; if we could stop chasing the excesses of pale or tanned, blond, brunette or redhead, and settle for well-conditioned natural hair and the healthiest shade of your personal skin tone? If we just stopped focussing on the unattainable and looked instead for that simple healthy glow?

Sadly, as long as there is envy in the world there will be girls like Nicole’s bullies to attack those they perceive as a threat. And while it is true that jealousy is at the heart of their actions, that fact doesn’t make it any easier for the one under attack. We can only hope that Nicole will rise above their actions, with the support of her family, and come out relatively unscathed. As many of us did.


10 thoughts on “The joy of ginger

  1. As always this was a very thoughtful post. It constantly astounds me that it’s seen as okay to make jokes about people or judgments on people based on their hair colour. I was speaking with a colleague about it yesterday (herself having lovely strawberry blonde hair) and she said she has always thought of it as racism. It’s certainly being motivated by the same prejudice.

    I suppose the sad fact is that some people will always be on the lookout for something to pick on. Nic gets it a lot because of the colour of his skin, and when Amber gets catcalled at in the street because of the colour of her hair that’s no different.

    I really hope that Nicole is able to come through this time and to see that the problem lies with the bullies and not in anything that she is. Sadly we’ll always encounter bigots and small-minded people and while it can be hard to hold you head high and be proud of who you are, that’s the only way through.

  2. I think this is a great post. As someone with naturally reddish brown hair & a yellowish skintone from my Eastern European descendancy I’ve often felt odd, like i didn’t quite fit. From the age of 16 I was dying my hair, red, plum, blonde, black, even blue. Now, for the first time in years I have natural hair colouring & I find it really difficult not to look longingly at true red heads. It’s really because of my hubby thought that I no longer dye it since he loves the natural colour so much. Sometimes all we need though is someone to point out that what we have is good enough without changing it. Blogs like this help I think. X

  3. Ah, skin and hair. Like your lovely self, I’m blessed with two of those attributes in their rarest form, and my naturally blonde hair is more of a dying breed than the redhead! We will have naturally “dyed” out in about 200 years apparently, not enough blondes to mate with, it would seem. I do hold out hope for wee little blonde babies after Gav and Anna produced a perfectly white blonde specimen, but then it tends to change with most people, Gav and I are quite rare that we’ve kept it until 27 and 31.

    I was teased relentlessly from playschool to the end of Year 11. Snowy, Whitey, Albino – nothing exactly imaginative, but hurtful nonetheless. I often begged my Mum to change my hair colour (didn’t understand dyeing it when I was 8/9) and she said it used to worry and upset her in equal measure because she thought it was so beautiful, but yet I resented it and didn’t enjoy it. I do remember adults stopping my Mum in the street to comment on my skin and hair – never maliciously – kids at school were the only ones who used it negatively.

    Most children are the same – they want to blend in, go unnoticed – standing out is Not A Good Thing. Apparently I wanted Snow White’s hairdo, at least I had taste!

    It wasn’t until I left high school that I started to like my hair, skin and hourglass shape. I think something that did help was the fact I couldn’t actually dye my hair – I would have to bleach it to dye it, real blonde hair has a slightly different composition that needs to be “stripped” before dying, and I would never dream of harming my barnet in such a way. So, I really did have to like it or lump it to an extent. Same with my skin – I would look ridiculous with a fake tan for goodness sake! And, on some level, I like my very period appearance.

    However, that doesn’t mean everyone has started being kind just because I like my hair and skin now. My Mother in Law told me recently that I get “bluer and bluer” in my wedding pictures. I’m a bridesmaid this weekend, and people were saying they needed to start using gradual tan moisturiser until the bride pointed out they were going to make me look like I was a different race. It doesn’t hurt my feelings anymore, it just annoys me that people think commenting on something like hair colour and skin tone in such a negative fashion is acceptable just because I’m white?

  4. This makes me very sad because, sadly, no matter how many people say anti ginger jibes are the same as racism it will never stop.
    As a redhead, I got all the usual crap in school, and as an adult the only thing that has altered is that I am now strong enough to mentally (and physically) stick 2 fingers up to the small minded insecure people who think that ginger is ‘funny’.
    Indulge me please while I share a couple of the more hilarious occasions!!!
    1) brother of friend when asked if he wanted his due any day baby to be a boy or girl – don’t care as long as its not ginger….
    2) an aquaintance(who is a nanny) turning down a family as their child was ginger – I quote ‘well I don’t want them thinking its mine’………
    3) said to me by a friend..well I don’t count you as ginger because you tan in the summer?!?!?!?!?
    4) my brother telling me I had upset his wife because I mentioned that I had 4 non ginger babies and he would probably have redheaded children…(he is strawberry blond!!)

    I can (aided by vino) get very ranty about the fact that its not acceptable to taunt someone about their sexuality or skin colour yet because we have fan – freakin – tabulous, but different, hair – its considered fair game!!!
    I love my hair now, I do dye it from time to time, through boredom not through trying to hide my natural colouring.
    I do have a theory too..those nasty bitches who made my life hell at school – they have got ginger children and are now wracked with guilt over the torment they caused!!
    Oh and the brother of the friend who didn’t want a ginger baby…his daughter was born with a very aggressive birthmark on her face…and was ginger.
    I’d like to say I got no pleasure from that happening……………………….(she’s a lovely little girl, birthmark has faded..ginger hasn’t!!)
    Sorry taken over your comments page….
    Thanks for another thought provoking post x

  5. Thanks for the link, Caroline – excellent post as usual 🙂 I’m still fuming every time I think of this, and as Claire says, it’s the fact that it’s seen as totally acceptable by so many people that really annoys me. I’ve had a lot of similar comments to Claire (always with the coda that “Oh, I don’t mean YOU, Amber! Your hair is lovely, for a redhead!” And, from my mother-in-law, “Well, your hair isn’t really RED is it?” Um, what is it, then?)

    I’ve actually never been dyed my hair, though, or been tempted to. I was such an ugly child that my hair was the only thing people ever complimented me on, so altough I was bullied for lots of other reasons, I managed to get through childhood without even realising that there was so much hatred out there for “gingers”. It always surprises me, though, how polarized people’s reactions are. I still get a lot of compliments about my hair, and I know you do too (and quite rightly!), even although it’s deemed to be the last acceptable form of prejudice!

  6. As really dark haired tanned Asian girls growing up in Malaysia, my sister & I always lusted after really red hair – there was always something so dramatic about it and yes, utterly unattainable for us. So we admire from afar!

    Although we have come to love our own dark locks, we still admire redheads like Christina Henderson and Bree (what’s her real name?) from Desperate Housewives.

    However (even though I’ve lived in Australia for 8 years – possibly under a rock), it’s only recently I’ve been made aware of this strange attitude of gingerism and bullying. How sad and weird. It must have started with jealousy.

    In fact the government here came under fire recently for actually running an ad that was derogatory towards redheads – (WARNING: this link might be offensive)

    I’m sorry if that link upset anyone but just wanted to illustrate that we still need to speak up against teasing and bullying of all sorts, and in this case when it discriminates by physical appearance.

    Let all the redhead kids and girls in your world know they are beautiful.

    • Kathie Duffie, writing in the Sunday Age magazine, recently used the phrase “as unwelcome as a red-headed step-child”, wihch I find offensive, being a red-headed step-child myself. Racism is rampant here in Oz, and I think the ginger-ism is part of that.

  7. As a fully paid up member of the pale club, I can’t praise this post enough. I’ve been chased through town by loads of people giving out flyers for tanning shops and spray tans, and know loads of people who don’t seem to understand that yes, I like the pale and interesting look. In addition to my collection of wide brimmed hats, I also own a parasol, which I looks looks amazing shielding my eyes and skin whilst I lounge and read. Personally, I think ginger hair looks amazing, and perpetually die my hair a variety of shades of copper and red.

    Ginger-ism stinks, let’s stamp it out 🙂

  8. I really hope it does become acceptable to carry a parasol. I have skin that’s very sensitive to sun, made worse by the medication I have to take for it. I wanted to get the most cheerful parasol-type thing as possible so as not to be labelled a goth, so bought a silver parasol/umbrella with a red lining. The only time I dared walk down the street with it I got clever taunts from stupid men enjoying the sunshine outside a pub, so have resigned myself to the choice of staying indoors or face the consequences on sunny days…

  9. I a red-head-with-freckles variety. As a kid I too despised my hair and, like Anne of Green Gables, wished for a darker colour. As I have grown older my wish has been granted, my hair has darkened from the vibrant ginger of my youth to a darker ‘dirtier’ auburn. Last year, at the age of 31, I started using henna to accentuate my redness, becasue I was sick of having to convince people that my hair was in fact red. Who thinks it smart to tell a red head that no, she’s not red, she’s brunette?!?! After the third such conversation in 2 months, I decided it was time to up the ante, and I love the results.

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