Ginger – and proud

Shelley Marsden looks at an exhibition hoping to re-brand often negative notions about ginger men…

THE red hair gene is most common in Irish blood, though on a global basis, red hair is the rarest hair colour to be born with (to be exact, 2 per cent of the world population, 4 per cent of that of Europe).

Unfortunately, those with flaming locks, particularly if they’re men, have been the subject of abuse since the Middle Ages. Today, there even exists the term ‘gingerphobia’, while some say redheads have got the ‘Irish curse’.

In 2009, the Telegraph reported that a schoolboy bullied over his ginger hair committed suicide, and in the same year a debate unfolded on the social media web page entitled “All ginger kids/adults should be killed.”

Fiery redhead, Leeds-Irish singer Ed Sheeran

This anti-redhead sentiment is steeped in popular culture, too. An episode of South Park that aired in 2005, but which has since mutated into a global phenomenon, saw misanthropic elementary schooler Eric Cartman insist that “gingers” are diseased and inhuman.

But after his friends bleach his skin and dye his hair red while he’s asleep, Cartman does a volte-face and becomes the leader of a genocidal ginger uprising. This was one imagines an attempt by South Park’s creators to satirise the matter of anti-ginger violence, but as the abuse, sometimes physical, continues, things have gone beyond a joke.

But the good news is that redheads are fighting back. In August, some 200 people took part in the UK’s first Ginger Pride march, and the world record for the largest gathering of natural redheads was broken last month when 1,600 attended the Redhead Day Festival in the Dutch town of Breda.

In Scotland, another country known for its high percentage of redheads, Edinburgh was the location recently for the Ginger Pride march, led by Canadian comedian Shawn Hitchins.

Moreover, a new exhibition is hoping to help turn the tide on what people think about redheads of the population – or at least the male ones.

Red Hot, taking place at The Gallery in East London, December 16-22, will feature a series of striking photographs and videos that celebrate red-haired male beauty, while attempting to reverse the stigmas attached to ginger men in the UK.

The exhibition is the result of a year-long photography project by fashion photographer and music video director Thomas Knights, a natural redhead himself, who has worked with Rosin Murphy, Marina and the Diamonds, Labrinth, and Maya Jane Coles and whose work has featured in the likes of Vogue Italia and Marie Claire.

Knights says he has experienced personally the negative perceptions that come with being ginger, and, having no red-haired male public role models to persuade him otherwise, he grew up feeling ashamed of his red roots.

With Red Hot, Thomas has devised a photography and video concept that re-defines the perceived image of the redheaded male with images of men that are masculine, chiselled, cool, and proud of the way that they look. He hopes these men will be the new icons for a new, positive rebranding of ‘the ginger’.

He said: “We have been conditioned to think ginger men are ugly and weak. I wanted to flip this on its head and present the redheaded male as the ‘ultimate’ alpha male.”

One of the models featured in Knights’ exhibition is a young Irishman who moved to London and kept his true hair colour a secret for ten years. His story reveals the extremes of how ‘gingerist’ comments can damage a person’s confidence.

He had a rough time at school and as soon as he could, left for London. He wrote to Knights when he heard about the Red Hot exhibition, saying what the photographer was doing was really interesting, as he’d just come ‘out’ as ginger to his friends.

For the full article, buy this week’s Irish World newspaper (issue 16 Nov 2013).


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