Updated: Sep 2
A number of years ago I lived in Thailand briefly which, as a natural ginger with all associated aversions to direct sunlight, was a pretty edgy undertaking. Miraculously, however, I managed to survive a full year without getting sunburned once.
This was largely thanks to the fact that the sun is so hot out there that everybody prefers to hide in the shade, as well as my ambassadorial role for a pioneering factor 150 sun cream which was offered to me by sales reps as I was walking through the streets of Phuket (I am not making this up). Being stopped in the street by local Thais was not, as it turned out, an abnormal occurrence. My hair colour and complexion were held in almost god-like reverence out there, where skin-whitening agent is a permanent fixture in all their beauty products from moisturiser to shampoo and the most popular hair colouring is auburn. And why not? In a land where everybody has almost identical shades of dark brown or black hair, standing out from the crowd naturally entails going for the polar opposite. Red hair and pale skin is that polar opposite, and I was a walking poster child for it all.
The most common question I got asked was “how do you dye your beard?”. The first time I was asked this I was understandably perplexed, until I learned that a lot of Thai people didn’t actually realise that there was such a thing as a natural redhead, and they assumed I was bottle-produced like all the other Thai copper-tops. Issues of wider cultural awareness aside, this mentality fascinated me as anecdotally there were a lot of redheaded Asians, so the question naturally springs to mind of where they felt this colour came from in the first place.
A redheaded Asian girl: quite a common phenomenon in Southeast Asia.
Fast forward to my return to the UK and no such reverence of my ginger colouration. Ginger fetishists aside (and there are quite a few of them as I discovered), my hair colour was met with either total indifference or gentle mockery. Business as usual from a ginger perspective. But there was a new attitude that I had not noticed before: disparaging of so-called “fake” redheads. There’s even a suitably derogatory term for people who join the ginger side from another domain of colour: daywalkers – which, in fact, cleverly manages to insult both “fake” redheads and natural gingers (by implying we’re vampires etc) in one word. Genius. But let me tell you something, and I say this as a non-“fake” redhead: this attitude is completely wrong.
No ifs, buts or exceptions: putting somebody down because they dye their hair ginger is just as bad as putting down a person for having naturally ginger hair.
“But,” I hear you cry, “They CHOSE to be red, they don’t know what it’s like to go through life as a ginger with all of the teasing and bullying that we get”. This is true, and they’re extremely lucky because they are able to carry their red hair without any of the negative emotional baggage that the rest of us have to deal with, and see its positive qualities from day one. When a person chooses to dye their hair red, It’s a compliment of the highest order, a shimmering beacon of approval for a hair colour that is so often put down and disparaged on those who are born with it. It is something to be championed and lauded, not a cue for misplaced elitism.
Personally, I believe we natural redheads have a lot to thank the dye-jobs for. Look at the more desirable characteristics of the redhead cliché: the fiery but exciting temperament, the reputation for being wild in the bedroom, the great sense of humour, the broody unattainability of the redhead mood canvas… all of these are propagated by the famous redheads of screen and print, many of whom have adopted the red hue artificially but carried the mystique as if it were entirely natural. Trace a line through entertainment history and you’ll find the likes of Rita Hayworth, Lucille Ball, Molly Ringwald, Amy Adams and Christina Hendricks all enthusiastically embracing and promoting the redhead stereotype and benefitting professionally from their choice to go red where previously their natural colouring stifled them. We natural redheads have, in turn, gleefully enjoyed the trappings of the stereotypes that these so-called fakers have helped build up.
Let’s be honest, do we gingers live up to the stereotypes of being fiery, passionate and detached/moody because of our hair pigmentation? Of course not: it is entirely due to social conditioning. From a very young age we are told that we are moody, fiery and all the other clichés so, naturally, we end up embracing those traits in much the same way as repeatedly asking somebody if they are in a bad mood will eventually put them in a bad mood. And if you live with dyed red hair for long enough then society will eventually condition you in exactly the same way so that you become indistinguishable from a natural ginger – even to natural redheads like me! For example, I always get Amy Adams confused with Isla Fisher, despite the latter being naturally ginger but not the former…
This is not the same person. And only one is a natural ginger.
In a world where there are too many negative reactions and treatments of red-haired people, it is complete lunacy to reject the few who are going to lengths that help promote a positive image of our colouring. Yes, natural redheads are born this way rather than opting in to being ginger, but we have the option of dying our hair too. Not that I would encourage such a thing, as personally I am proud to be one of the beautiful 2%. And we should embrace anybody who chooses to join our ever-dwindling ranks.
I leave you with this video that somewhat underlines the point, and a message to all adoptive redheads that you are, as always, welcome in our community.