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Rising above redhead myths

  • 18 April 2018


I recently went to get my hair cut. 'Just a cut?' my hairdresser asked me. I nodded. 'Good,' she said, 'I would never want to colour that hair.'

As a redhead, these kinds of comments aren't new to me. In fact, my mum has her own story of a hairdresser refusing to cut 'hair as beautiful' as hers. In Red: A History of the the Redhead, author Jacky Colliss Harvey points out that this is a common redhead experience. When a redhead cuts or dyes their hair, it's 'as if the thing you changed was everyone else's property, which you have damaged, willfully'.

Throughout history, people have had a lot of opinions about red hair. A third century work called Physiognomonica, often attributed to Aristotle, said redheads are 'of bad character; witness the foxes'. Since medieval times, redheads have been associated with witchcraft and vampirism. In pop culture, depictions of redheads often perpetuate stereotypes about redheads, ranging from temperamental (think Merida and fiery tempers), lustful (Jessica Rabbit) or freakish (South Park).

There's even a gender divide in how red hair is perceived. Redheaded men are often seen as less masculine than their blond or brunette counterparts. There are many redheaded actresses in Hollywood, but there are far fewer redheaded men. To dispel this misconception, Thomas Knights created a photo exhibition of attractive ginger men. 'We have been conditioned to think that ginger men are ugly and weak,' he said, 'I wanted to flip this on its head.'

Conversely, redheaded women are eroticised. The idea of the redheaded woman as an object of fascination can be found in Renaiassance and pre-Raphalite artistic tradition by the likes of Titian, Rosetti and Botticelli, among others. In modern society, this translates into redheaded women, including myself, getting questions like whether the 'carpet matches the drapes'. Even the word 'redheads' is always said with lascivious meaning by male characters in TV shows and films. In her book, Harvey has a phrase for this: 'Man with a Thing for Redheads'.

Growing up as one of the few redheads in any classroom, I was often in the firing line for the newest redhead insult. First it was bloodnut or rednut. Then I was a 'ranga'. During high school I would regularly be tagged in Facebook memes saying that redheads were soulless, courtesy of South Park.

I was (and sometimes still am) someone's 'redheaded friend'. Often, in a shopping centre, someone would come up to