In a world where red hair shades are becoming more and more popular (just look at the dye-at-home products on supermarket shelves), many flame-heads are still sensitive about being called 'ginger' as opposed to 'redhead'.
Why so touchy?
Whether they choose to embrace it or not, redheads will be called 'ginger' at some point in their lives (or lots of points in their lives, more likely).
Copper, auburn, chestnut-red, golden, strawberry blonde; it doesn't matter. They all come under the same umbrella. You are a ginger. But you are also a redhead.
While the term 'redhead' conjures thoughts of genetic mystery and glamour, 'ginger' hits a nerve and can emit a negative vibe. Society has a heavy hand to play in this. From the playground to mainstream media, our attitude towards the nickname goes back to the way 'ginger' is used and the power we allow the word to have over us.
A lot of the time, it's no wonder it hits a sore spot. 'Ginger' is often used as an insult or joke at the redhead's expense because society allows it. From the earliest age, particularly in the UK, children grow up thinking that it's appropriate to make fun of redheads, and that 'ginger' is a fair term to use.
But because this insult relates to hair colour, rather than disability, sexuality or race, it is swiftly dismissed as a form of discrimination, and thus society continues to embed this idea that it's socially acceptable to tease redheads for their hair shade.
Where does the term 'ginger' come from?
A lot of speculation has simply put the 'ginger' nickname down to ginger root, used in cooking to give it a bit of a kick. Some think this is because redheads are believed to have a fiery temper and can pack a punch (not always literally).
Another theory follows ginger-flavoured food, which tend to show a warm, reddish tinge: ginger cake, gingerbread, and ginger snaps.
American TV has also been cited as an influencing factor towards redheads' (sometimes) reluctant nickname. Sixties' sitcom 'Gilligan's Island' followed two single attractive females: Mary Ann and Ginger. Ginger, of course, had red hair and pale skin, while Mary Ann donned a brunette mop.
But, others still believe that 'ginger' originated much earlier. In fact, it could be more than 200 years old, with 18th and 19th century references, according to OED online. During this time, Britain occupied parts of Malaysia, home to the Red Ginger plant, which could be the original namesake.
Whatever the origination, redheads must accept the nickname as a description, and instead of fearing its connotations, should embrace its individuality and genetic rarity.
Reclaiming 'ginger' as our own
Within the past few months, there has been discussion of avoiding use of the word 'ginger' in popular press, for fear of offending those who are sensitive to it. But this would only reaffirm the power that the word has over redheads when used as an insult. It would turn 'ginger' into a taboo word, and in turn, become more offensive.
Not only would this likely cause more torment, but the work that all ginger promoters, celebrities and anti-bullying organisations put in to change people's attitudes towards red hair would all be for nothing.
Instead, interchangeably using the words 'ginger' and 'redhead' is the only way that those with red hair can reclaim 'ginger' as their own.
Yes, 'ginger' can be used in hurtful ways, but instead of using it to instil fear and isolation, it should be celebrated by redheads; shouted loud and proud to empower and encourage individuality.
People will always be singled out for what makes them different. But this should be seen as a positive thing, and we should be proud of our copper-coloured locks and the individuality it gives us.
After all, being called 'ginger' is a mere observation, to which you can simply reply, "Congratulations. You have eyes".
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Emma Kelly is the Founder and Editor of Ginger Parrot (www.gingerparrot.co.uk), a website for redheads, delivering news and features on topics specific to those with ginger hair, including General News, Fashion, Music, Beauty, Film, Health and more.
The site also sells hair products, clothing and gifts for redheads and redhead lovers alike.Suggest a correction