Ginger. (Gin∙ger.) Of Middle English etymology. Formal definition: a thickened pungent aromatic rhizome that is used as a spice and sometimes medicinally. So you can understand why I was a bit confused by what a little portly child outside the Lake Zurich Banana Republic meant when he poked his pre-pubescent friend in the side and said something about the “ginger” approaching. I quickly glanced around to look for the wild rhizome plant growing somewhere between the SUVs sitting in the parking lot. Who would have imagined that such a unique plant would be found in such an urban area? Shortly I realized he was not referring to the delicious spice, but to me and my fiery red mane blowing in the Midwestern wind. While I’m sure the cretin’s comment was made to make his friend laugh and offer him a high five on a live ginger spotting (as if I were an exclusive animal in the zoo), I did not quite understand how or why the color of my hair is so funny.
I don’t exactly remember the first time someone cracked a joke about my hair color. In fact the only distinct memories I have regarding my hair from when I was a child was when adults complimented my unique hair color. The woman who cut it would always pet me as if I were her tabby cat and say, “If only this color came in a bottle.” I’m pretty sure it does, though it is probably hard to get your hands on. Unfortunately this is not due to an overwhelming trend of people dying their hair red, but quite the contrary. Being a redhead has become so unpopular that sperm banks are literally turning down redheaded donors due to “insufficient demand.” Apparently the general populous hasn’t seen my baby pictures, because I was the cutest damn kid you’ve ever seen. I came out with a scarlet mohawk and from day one my hair grew redder and redder.
Even if everyone can’t agree that I should have been a baby shampoo model, surely they should remember the numerous redheads that have graced this earth. What if redheads never existed? We wouldn’t have the Little Mermaid, the Weasley family (of Harry Potter fame), Meredith from The Office, the psycho vampire girl from the Twilight movies who’s head gets torn off by Robert Pattison (maybe a bad example), Lucille Ball, the one guy from Rocket Power – hell even Thomas Jefferson was a natural redhead. Of course all gingers bow down to the ginger queen, Ginger Spice of the Spice Girl fame. Never has been being a ginger been as sexy as the days of the late 1990’s. Too bad I missed that boat.
Besides the obvious sex appeal, does the world really not see all of the benefits of being a redhead? Let’s start with the obvious: we are rarities. It’s a recessive trait, and sooner or later (most likely sooner thanks to our friends down at the sperm bank) redheads will meet the same fate as the dinosaurs and the unicorns and the scrunchie: extinction. This means by the time I have children, people will probably line up and down the block to see my “special” children. Let’s not forget the other clear benefits, including being a shoe-in for the part of Ariel in The Little Mermaid productions at your local theatre company, easy Halloween costumes like “a pumpkin”, “Raggedy Anne” or “Lindsey Lohan pre-drugs, hair die and DUIs”, full-body freckles (adorbs.), and the pale skin that was brought back into vogue by those adorable vampires.
Fortunately, some non-gingers are starting to recognize the magic that is the ginger. When I travelled to the majestic land of Finland this summer, everywhere I went I seemed to stand out. I’m still convinced that it wasn’t the whole “being an American” thing - it had to have been the hair. Rarely have Fins seen such hair color, according to my host family. And over there, everyone had dyed red hair! Of course their color of choice was more of a fire truck red than my strawberry blonde shade. The point is people everywhere I went during my stay knew I was different. And let’s be honest. I. Ate. It. Up. The Fins couldn’t help but stop and stare on the street as I whipped my hair back and forth like I was in a Willow Smith music video.
Even though I may sound incredibly confident in my gingerness, there have been times where I may have wished I were a brunette or a blonde, just so I could escape the ignorance of ginger-bashers. My freshman year I was horrified to learn that some idiot on Facebook had initiated a “Hug a Ginger Day.” Never in my life had more complete strangers hugged me. I suppose that was better than the ever so popular “Slap a Ginger Day”. I don’t think a day has gone by in the last few years that I haven’t heard the word ginger, and rarely has it been a term of endearment. Last week, the bubbly blonde who sits next to me in study hall announced, “Emma Stone’s hair looked super pretty in Easy A. It’s like the only time I’ve ever seen ginger hair look pretty.” Though I have to give her some credit; she did turn to me a few seconds later to add “No offence.” Now why would I take offence to someone saying that they have only once seen a person with my hair color look pretty? If it would have been ten years ago, it would have been someone else making a joke about her being a dumb blonde, but now the rules have changed. The more usual cases of ginger-offences are being asked if I have “gingervitis” or getting the friendly reminder that gingers don’t have souls (still trying to find the source of that one.)
I think what ginger-bashers don’t realize is that calling us gingers doesn’t hurt us. It’s not as derogatory as they think. If they really want to cause us to turn as red as our hair they should call us what Australians call redheads, “rangas”, derived from orangutan. I’d find it much worse to be referred to as a type of ape than as the hot chick from Gilligan’s Island. In fact, the next time another pimply prepubescent child outside a Banana Republic with some snarky comment on letting the ginger out of her cage crosses my path, I think I’ll let out a big, fat, thank you!
You can read more from Madeleine Saaf on her blog.
Feature image via.