Growing up ginger was always a battle. At the time, I hated my ‘unique’ hair colour and especially hated when adults fawned over the ‘wonderful shade’ I was. The kids at school were never kind – I heard every nickname you can imagine. My first time in a gay bar, I was christened ‘Ron Weasley’ because I had longer hair at the time and that drag queen still refers to me as Ron nearly a decade later. Even nowadays, I still get the odd person who will shout ‘GINGER!’ or ‘Oi, Ed Sheeran!’ from a car. But now I’ve grown up, I love the fact I’m a rare breed.
Over the years, I heard many things that seem to go round as facts. I decided to research these things I’d heard over the years and see whether in fact any of them were true.
Only 1-2% of the world’s population have naturally ginger hair. That really doesn’t seem like enough to me! Scotland holds the highest amount of redheads with 13% of us residing there with Ireland coming second with 10% – if you like a ginger, maybe they’re the places for you!
One thing I heard a lot growing up was ‘you’re a mutant!’. For years, I protested but, as it turns out, the ginger gene is actually a slight mutation! There is one specific gene responsible for red hair – the ginger gene, if you will – and this is the melanocortin 1 receptor, known as MC1R. The ginger gene is a mutation of the MC1R gene on chromosome 16. This causes the varying shades of red hair, freckles and our pale skin. The MC1R gene is recessive and it must be passed on by both parents to have a red-haired child.
A lot of men notice that, while they aren’t ginger, they’re able to grow a ginger beard. Research has shown that more than 40% of the population carry the mutated MC1R gene responsible for red hair. We call these people ‘secret gingers’ (#secretgingers). If both parents have this gene but aren’t ginger themselves, they have around a 25% chance of producing a ginger child – it’s not the milkman’s!
It’s suggested that redheads are more sensitive to the cold. The natural reaction there would be to move to a sunnier place but alas, we can’t! Our skin is much more sensitive to UV rays and we have a much higher risk of skin cancer due to this. This is why in summer, you’ll often see me smothering myself in factor 10,000 suncream and finding shade anywhere I can just to protect myself.
Ginger people always to have thicker hair than other colours and this is partially true. Each strand of our hair is much thicker than our peers but we actually have less actual strands. Brunettes have on average around 140,000 compared to blondes who have 110,000 – us gingers only have around 90,000! Ginger hair also retains its natural pigment for a lot longer which means we don’t tend to go grey, our hair usually just fades to a softer colour until it starts becoming a little silvery – I’ll skim over the fact that I’m 28 and am constantly finding greys, shall I?
Some facts that turned out not to be true were that we have a lower pain tolerance – some claim we need up to 20% more anaesthetic than our counterparts but studies have so far proven this wrong. Studies have also shown that we don’t bruise more easily, but instead suggest that it seems that way because our skin is paler and therefore appears more bruised than people with darker skin tones. We aren’t witches, we aren’t conceived via ‘unclean’ sex, we definitely aren’t going extinct and – without sounding like Chris Crocker defending Britney Spears – we DO have souls. Well, I assume – who really knows?
Many countries have their own traditions/superstitions about redheads. In Poland, it’s believed that if you pass three redheads in a row, you will win the state lottery. In Ancient Greece, red hair represents courage and honour but they also believed that redheads turn into vampires after they die. I’m hoping a proper vampire and none of this Twilight nonsense. In Corsica, France, you must spit and turn around if you pass a redhead on the street to avoid bad luck. I don’t think I’ll be booking a trip there anytime soon, but I may go to Denmark as they believe having a red haired child is an honour! (It is, to be honest.)
Have you heard any other myths or facts about us gingers? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org