Niamh Greene: About time we began to appreciate and embrace the beauty of redheads

Being victimised and bullied for your appearance is no joke

Angela Scanlon pictured for Living/Review.  Picture; GERRY MOONEY.   13/6/13
'Oi, Ginger!' -- hosted by redhead Angela Scanlon and on RTE 2 tonight

I've always had a bit of a thing for redheads. It started when pop singer Rick Astley boogied his way into my heart way back in the 1980s.

I was absolutely smitten with him, even though I couldn't put my finger on exactly why. It was only when I went on to develop an intense crush on actor Eric Stoltz and then began fantasising about dying my brown curls red to look like actress Molly Ringwald that I made the connection.

I had the red bug, pure and simple.

It was no surprise then that when I met my future husband, the first thing I noticed about him was his red hair.

Sadly, a lot of people don't share my love for redheads, quite the opposite.

Academic research shows that redheads are less likely than blondes or brunettes to be chatted up in bars -- six times less likely, according to the University of Westminister researchers.

This is not news, alas. For centuries, those blessed with auburn locks have been getting a very hard time of it.

Geri Halliwell has admitted that the Spice Girls musical 'didn't work'
Geri Halliwell was known as 'Ginger Spice' in her Spice Girl days

Back in the middle ages, for example, redheads were often persecuted because their hair colour was associated with the devil and immoral behaviour. These days, public reaction may not be quite so extreme but the belief that those with fiery locks have fiery temperament to match still persists.

It's all nonsense, of course. But that doesn't stop the often hurtful ridicule. Redheads can be called all sorts -- ginger, carrot top, Fanta head -- in the name of 'fun'.

In recent years, there have even been reports of Kick a Ginger Day in some UK schools, where children have physically and verbally attack those with red hair. Apparently the origins of the idea for this cruel 'game' stemmed from American show 'South Park', which once aired an episode suggesting those with red hair should be treated as a separate race.

UCC student Sarah Mullins from Tralee receives her Queen Of The Redheads crown from last year’s queen Máirin-Rua Hayes at the fourth Annual Red Head Convention in Crosshaven, Co Cork at the weekend. Photo by Darragh Kane

It seems incredible that this sort of discrimination should exist in the 21st century but look around and you'll see that prejudice towards redheads is rife in everyday life. A couple of Christmases ago, for example, Tesco had to pull a card from their shelves. On the front was Santa, with a redhead child on his knee. 'Santa loves all kids, even ginger ones,' it read.

I have redhead friends and they tell me that it was often incredibly difficult for them as kids. They longed to blend into the background, but they couldn't because they were different. They stood out -- and picked on because of it.

Some people might think this sort of 'teasing' is just a bit of harmless craic, but being victimised and bullied for your appearance as a child -- or indeed as an adult -- is no joke. It can have long-lasting psychological consequences.

Thankfully, my redhead friends have all grown up to love and embrace their hair. But, for some, it took moving away from the country of their birth to come to appreciate what nature had given them. Outside of Ireland and the UK, redheads are considered extraordinarily beautiful.

As one pal, now living in America, once said to me 'Being compared to Julia Roberts and Christina Hendricks isn't all bad. Being a red is now a badge of honour'.

This new style of positive thinking is beginning to spread as more and more redheads are standing up and having their say. Organisations that celebrate redheads -- such as the Irish Redhead Convention in Cork - are springing up.

Meanwhile, documentaries like 'Oi, Ginger!' -- hosted by redhead Angela Scanlon and on RTE 2 tonight -- are helping to demystify the myths tales that have dogged redheads for generations.

Some of us have always known that redheads rock. It's about time the rest of the world caught up.

Tonight, RTE2, 9.55pm: Stylist and fashion journalist Angela Scanlon explores what life is really like for people with naturally red hair.

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