29.6.11

The stigma

A friend alerted me to a discussion on Woman's Hour about whether there is still a stigma against redheads, and naturally I tuned in. As a self-confessed ginger wannabe (it's true that I am what one might call 'strawberry blonde' naturally, but enhance what God gave me with whatever Garnier, Schwartzkopf or, my dye of choice, Superdrug's own has on offer) but managing to hide it well behind more natural bullying choices from my then-peers (I was 5 feet 7 at 11 with short hair, go figure). 
The programme is doing the obligatory vox-pop and the comments coming back are fascinating. Redheaded women with flowing locks are deemed attractive, but men generally are not (clearly that individual has never clapped eyes on Damien Lewis or Paul Bettany). One man even associated redheads with witches. The fact that some poor boy from my hometown of Bristol ordered a pizza and got the pizza with 'ginger kid' written on the box is about the pinnacle of the strange strange practice of insulting the redheaded kids. 
There is speculation that society's hatred of redheads comes from historical cries of ethnic inferiority, and as the presenter accurately pointed out, history's great sinful women are often portrayed with red hair (see the works of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who is thought to have had a much-desired flame-haired muse) and perhaps this story has filtered down to the mentality that a redheaded woman is fiery, wild and untameable, the colour of the flames from which the more flattering nicknames take their routes. See also 'Titian' and 'Pre-Raphaelite' for other flattering variants of the more popular 'carrot-top'. But as Charlie Dimmock (whom I remember more for never wearing a bra on Ground Force than being ginger) accurately pointed out, though J K Rowling made a valiant effort in making gingers acceptable with the gawky, kooky and slightly awkward and laughable Weasley family...yep, I don't need to explain that one do I? Ginger boys have and will continue to have a harder time of it than men blessed with blonde or brunette hair (worth noting that the first boy I ever had a proper crush on with ginger...) and it is generally something that even the girls have to grow into. 
I remember when a few years ago one of the monthlies ran a story about the popularity of the pixie crop. Yet that popularity, despite all the pictures of famous pixie-cuts they featured, is still to materialise. In a similar way, ginger is apparently the 'in' shade, but it took celebrity brunette Cheryl Cole to make sales rocket. It's a lot easier for ginger women than it is for ginger men, but you do get the feeling that they receive more recognition for the fact that they are ginger than what they actually look like. Women are on a quest to get the luxurious volume of Rosie Huntingdon Whiteley, the silky sheen of Kate Middleton, or the California dazzle of Blake Lively. Blondes and brunettes can sell anything - bags, makeup, clothes. Redheaded women just sell their hair. If they want to look like Christina Hendricks, they just reach for a bottle and disappear. 
These ads all appear in the first few pages of a monthly glossy. I like to think that's my point proven. Incidentally, there are only two redheads in the entire, 250 page magazine. One is advertising Schwartzkopf. One is a cartoon for Vivienne Westwood. No stigma, huh?

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