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Who are you calling a carrot top, Tesco? JANE ASHER speaks out in defence of redheads

Tesco has withdrawn a Christmas card from sale after the mother of three children with red hair claimed it was offensive. The card showed a child with red hair sitting on the lap of Santa Claus under the banner: ‘Santa loves all kids. Even ginger ones.’ I haven’t come across the card myself – but […]

Written by haircentre

Posted on: December 17, 2009

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Tesco has withdrawn a Christmas card from sale after the mother of three children with red hair claimed it was offensive.

The card showed a child with red hair sitting on the lap of Santa Claus under the banner: ‘Santa loves all kids. Even ginger ones.’

I haven’t come across the card myself – but I did see the supermarket giant’s apology.


Caused offence: The Tesco card which pokes fun at redheads

And I must confess to being rather torn between sighing as I rolled my eyes in disbelief at people’s oversensitivity – and raging around the house, pounding my silent, balled fists in the air in fury at another slight on gingers.

Yet again, we redheads have been abused and maligned!

Those of you lesser mortals, with so-called ‘ordinary’ or ‘normal’ hair colouring, have no idea of the torments and prejudice that we of the redhead gene have to undergo on a regular basis.
At an early age, when I desperately wanted to be like everyone else, I quickly learned that I was different, and that, unlike most physical peculiarities, people felt no need whatsoever to refrain from letting me know it. Why did they feel they had the right to call out names in the street (‘Oi Ginger!’ ‘Wotcher Carrot-top!’ as well as other not so funny witticisms) or to pull my long red locks in the classroom and laugh at my freckles?

On a list of factors that put off potential employers, red hair comes alarmingly high on the list.

Without any justification we are considered unreliable and bad-tempered (well, wouldn’t you be if you were constantly battling such misconceptions?).

The truth is that the qualities of stubbornness, resolve and sheer bloody-mindedness that are admired as leadership qualities in those with dark-hair are interpreted entirely differently in us carrot-tops.

But what fools! Because what is so painstakingly obvious – and yet so consistently ignored – is that the continual barracking we endure all through our lives has created a magnificent strain of tough, forthright and dependable beings who have a far larger capacity to withstand the wear and tear of everyday life than the boringly monochrome-topped majority.


 Proud to be ginger: Jane Asher

The snide comments and crass nicknames that we hear from the moment we are old enough to understand language soon toughen our ginger-haired hides until very little can hurt us.

Research has even shown that we feel pain more acutely than others (a seventh more, apparently) – simply because of the excess production of a particular molecule (pheomelanin) that stimulates pain receptors in the brain – so just see how brave we have to be as we battle through life!

Blondes, brunettes and greys can sure dish it out – but can they take it? Not on your life!

Look at what happened when a crown princess of our number – the magnificent Anne Robinson – made a few derogatory remarks some years ago about the Welsh.

The wimps went scurrying back to their hills in distress. Not that it’s just the colour we have to cope with. The texture of our hair is as wayward as our personalities.

As a teenager, I spent many dangerous hours with my bushy hair spread on the ironing board as I attempted to press it straight under strips of newspaper – and I tried every patent smoothing remedy then available.

On one special date – when I was about 15 – I even tried glueing the ends of my fringe into what I hoped was a seductive little quiff across my forehead. I still squirm when I remember the terrible moment when the poor young man tried to push the hair out of my eyes in a fond gesture – and found the hair attached immovably to my head. I never did explain.

As for our skin – little do you know the torments and misery those of us with red hair suffer. We just can’t take the heat.

Memories of childhood holidays are dominated by problems with the sun: I was always the only child on the beach with a shirt and trousers over their swimsuit.
I’d fight against it, ripping them off and building my sandcastle with white shoulders bared to the feeble rays of a wind-swept Essex beach just so I could look like the rest.

I paid for it of course, spending much of the time covered in itchy weals and calamine lotion.

In those days it was essential to get tanned. While friends turned glorious shades of honey, I simply added freckles to a dead-white background. My redheaded son once dyed his hair jet black while on holiday and was stopped by the authorities at the airport on his way home for looking suspicious.

The orange roots and pale eyelashes coupled with the raven locks just didn’t fit any of the passport officials’ normal parameters.

Lily ColeNicole Kidman

Red beauties: Lily Cole, left, and Nicole Kidman

A certain amount of colouring, however, is a part of my life. Before making up my face each morning, my pale lashes, brows and ghostwhite face can make it quite hard for me to pinpoint my whereabouts in the mirror. (After one of my regular lash-dyes, my husband says I look like a ‘restored painting’.)
And nowadays my hair itself is, of course, boosted by the bottle.

Redheads fare no better in fiction than in real life. As soon as you see that redhead in a TV drama, you just know he’s going to be the weasly, suspicious character, and despite the fabulous efforts of both Nicole Kidman and Lily Cole, the flame-headed girl in a film is still likely to be a temptress and ‘no better than she should be’, as my mother would put it.

Incidentally, you may have noticed how much redder Nicole Kidman’s hair was allowed to be when she starred in Moulin Rouge – perfectly acceptable for a prostitute, of course.

So this latest travesty of justice – courtesy of the country’s biggest retailer which, frankly, should know better – doesn’t surprise me one bit.

It’s just one more insult against this exciting dynamic minority who frighten people so much for being different.

Fellow gingers, don’t let them get you down: if there’s one thing we have in bucket-loads, it’s a sense of humour.

So you can stuff your apology, Tesco – one little card is nothing in our history of vilification: we can take it. Until global warming causes us all to become extinct – Vive la Rouge!

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