There’s no denying that there’s something different about red hair, something that no other hair colour can hope to emulate. In popular culture it conjures up images of fiery passion when sported by women, and usually derision and on the extreme end bullying among redheaded men.
Recently we were invited to an event whose aim is to showcase and embrace this difference, by featuring a selection of the world’s hottest redheads in a bid to ‘re-brand the ginger stereotype’. The Red Hot II Campaign was put together by photographer Thomas Knights and designer Elliott Frieze, and launched at the nhow Hotel in Rotterdam last Saturday (September 3).
Knights and Frieze put the event together to launch their book, which also features redhead models.
All over the world there is a stigma attached to being red haired. At the press lunch before the official launch, Knights mentions the fashion industry as a specific example, saying that a few years ago it was unheard of to have a ginger model on the runway, and that using a redhead was seen as an ‘edgy’ move.
The fact that there is an event to showcase a positive outlook on ginger people says quite a lot in itself – you’d never see a show specifically featuring the world’s hottest blondes, or brunettes, for example.
And yes, at the launch party there were a lot of very attractive redheads – it wouldn’t be exaggerating to say the most I’ve ever seen assembled in one place. But behind all the glitz and glamour there is a serious issue here, bullying, one which Red Hot has been helping to tackle by donating profits from the book to charitable causes.
In answer to why he’s doing it, Knights says:
In the UK and throughout the world, being ginger comes with many stigmas attached. Many are bullied at school and for some, even later in life.
As far as I can see, no one has focused (or noticed) the huge, polarised gap between the way our society perceives red headed women (often the ultimate woman – think Jessica Rabbit) and red headed males (often emasculated and de-sexulised in film and TV – no Hollywood heroes, heartthrobs – few leading men).
Red Hot has been working with the Diana Award – a charity set up in Princess Diana’s memory, which is supported by Prince William and Harry – and specifically their anti-bullying initiative, donating the proceeds from their book to the group. So far the money they’ve raised has helped the Diana Award reach thousands of young people in schools, training them as Anti-Bullying Ambassadors who will go on to help improve the lives of others.
A study at the University of Cork found that redheads are more likely to be bullied than people with any other hair colour. Lead researcher Kevin O’Regan concluded that the ‘bullying of gingers’ is ‘one of the last socially accepted forms of prejudice against people for a trait they were born with’.
If the level of bullying levied against people with red hair was directed at the LGBT or black communities there would be mass outrage – and rightly so. Even Prince Harry has been bullied for his hair, and if the Royal Family aren’t safe from this prejudice then what hope is there for the rest of the ginger population?
The derision of red hair seems to be geographically split, with Northern Europe, and especially the UK, being at the forefront. Knights tells me that in Brazil and most South American countries red hair is considered a very desirable trait.
And in the Netherlands they even have Redhead Day, a celebration of all things red held in the city of Breda, which coincidentally happened at the same time we were celebrating the launch of Red Hot over in Rotterdam.
But then you have things like South Park, whose episode ‘Ginger Kids’ inspired a ‘kick a ginger day’ in one English school, generally adding further to the stigma surrounding red hair – although accidentally, as the episode was meant to be ironic.
After the suicide of 15-year-old Helena Farrell back in 2013, who was bullied for her red hair, there were calls for anti-ginger abuse to be classified as a hate crime. And sadly, Helena isn’t the only red haired person to die by suicide because of bullying.
In 2014, 13-year-old Peyton James killed himself after suffering years of abuse from classmates. In a similar story, Simon Walters from Wolverhampton, 14, tragically died by suicide after he was bullied in school. Another teenager, 15-year-old Adam Bailey, killed himself after being picked on, with his mum saying at the time that ‘he was bullied because he had orange hair’ and that ‘he found that difficult to deal with’.
So the consequences of anti-redhead discrimination are clearly serious, but where does it all stem from?
It seems to have seeped into the mainstream psyche way back in medieval times, where it was apparently thought to symbolise witchcraft, causing redheaded people to be routinely victimised by witch finders – redheads were also thought to be vampires and werewolves. As well as that, back then red hair was considered the mark of ‘beastly sexual desire and moral degeneration’.
Redheaded people were also considered untrustworthy, partly down to the fact that a lot of art at the time portrayed Judas as ginger – even up until the 19th century in France the phrase ‘poil de Judas’, or ‘hair of Judas’, was used to describe redheads.
If you or anyone you know has been the victim of bullying, the Diana Award’s Anti-Bullying Campaign has loads of really useful information and advice.
Alternatively, if you’re under 19 you can contact ChildLine for advice and support on a range of issues, by either calling their free number 0800 1111, talking to a councillor 1-2-1 online, or emailing them.
If you’re 18 or over the Samaritans are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to provide confidential emotional support. Their free to call number is 116 123, and you can email them at [email protected]