6 Women On The Highs & Lows Of Growing Up With Red Hair

Photo: Holly Rebecca White
This piece is from our series, Hair Story. We interview an array of women from different walks of life to discover what their hair means to them. From photographing non-binary people who challenge society's norms by wearing their hair in bright colours, to investigating stereotypes, this series explores the intrinsic link between hair and identity.
The 'oos were a strange time for redheads. In 2005, South Park aired its "Ginger Kids" episode in which Cartman, sick of being ridiculed for his ginger hair, pale complexion and freckles, assembles an army of ginger kids to crush the prejudice. Who can forget the viral YouTube video "Gingers Do Have Souls!!" published in response? In between these two cultural touchstones, we had representation from Girls Aloud's resident redhead, Nicola Roberts, before the seminal album Made of Bricks by the auburn Kate Nash made Indie Cindys love their red tresses.
In short, it was a decade of highs and lows for ginger people. Thankfully, the lows have dwindled, with women like Florence Welch, Tilda Swinton and Jessica Chastain flying the flag for the kind of red hair people now pay big money for in salons.
There is no denying hair discrimination is real, especially for women of colour around the world, but let's not pretend that ginger hair suffers the same unfair societal prejudice as afro hair, for example. In context, redheads have had an easy time of it, and it's unlikely anyone has been denied employment or followed around a store by a security guard simply because they have red hair.
However, many redheads have experienced bullying. Whether it's having orange juice thrown at them or being asked if the curtains match the drapes (an embarrassing classic), ginger jokes and offensive quips can affect people's self-esteem. What I learned from chatting with six natural redheads, though, is that while school may have been a turbulent time of name-calling and – in one instance – dating stigma, as they (and the rest of the world) grew up, hair shame transformed into flame-haired pride. For many, red hair is no longer the subject of a comedy sketch but evokes the majesty and beauty of Pre-Raphaelite fiery-locked goddesses.
From feeling a connection to their family history, to how 'ginger' became a term of loathing, six women describe how their relationship with their red hair has evolved over time.

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