About 2% of the world has natural red hair. Yes, we are rare. Red hair is rare and usually viewed as “something different”. And because humans often fear the unknown, redheads have faced many stigmas throughout history. In today’s world, still, many people express biases against red hair or have prejudices. For example, red hair in men equals unattractive, but red hair in women equals attractive.
I was interested to find out why and where these stigmas come from. After reading Jacky Colliss Harvey’s book Red, A History of the Redhead, I found 5 fascinating facts that I’d like to share with you.
1. The gene for red hair originated in Africa and Asia
The first carrier of the redhead gene among early humans appeared ca. 60,000 years ago. These early humans migrated from Africa towards Asia and have created populations in the Middle East and Central Asia. They explored the coastlines of the Indian subcontinent and reached as far across the Pacific as Australia and as high as arctic Russia and the rest of Europe. Through migration from Asia towards Europe a younger variant of the redhead gene originated later in Europe around 30,000 years ago.
2. Scotland has the highest number of redheads and gene carriers
Today the highest population of redheads (and redhead gene carriers) are found in Scotland. Scientists believe Scotland’s darkish, rainy weather may be partially responsible for the proliferation of redheads.
Fun Fact: If you walk the streets of sunny Cape Town in South Africa, you will be surprised to see quite a few redheads. One of the reasons for this is that in the 17th century Scottish people emigrated to South Africa, the USA, New Zealand, and elsewhere in the British Isles. By the late 18th and early 19th centuries, emigration increased due to unrest and due to Scottish Universities overproducing, thus the prospects of jobs was not easy. The climate on the Cape Frontier was an attractive alternative as the harsh living conditions in the Cape would be a good match for the Scots – and so they came.
3. Ancient Greeks were fascinated and scared by redheads
The recessive red hair in ancient Greece was mysterious and ambiguous at the same time. This phenomenon was beautiful but had a rather bad stigma. Ancient Greeks were afraid of those with naturally red hair, believing that they would become vampires after death. Redheaded slaves imported from northern territories were the others, different and wild ones, so red hair equaled “barbarian”.
The ancient theatre created a new stigma: red hair equaled “clown”. Those actors playing the fool had to wear a red-haired wig. You can trace a line of development from a character of the greek stage to the modern red-haired circus clown and Ronald McDonald.
Fun Fact: The comic characters Asterix and Obelix by Goscinny and Uderzo still portray two redhead archetypes (strawberry blonde and red), the ungovernable savage, and the comic fool.
4. In medieval art, red-haired men are the baddies
Especially in combination with weather-beaten skin, red-haired men appear in nastily caricatured depictions in medieval art. This is the uncouth barbarian again and the portrayal of the “otherness”. Medieval art presented especially men with red hair as freaks. This notion of redheaded men as traitors spawns from anti-Semitic beliefs in medieval Europe, where Jews were seen as Christ-killers. Red hair was heavily associated with Judas in the medieval period. This prejudice against Jews became a prejudice against red hair.
5. Redheads are vampires, witches and fiery women cause sensual havoc
The association between red hair and vampires go far back to an Indo-European tribe (they might have been Celts) near the Black Sea. Today the Black Sea is bordered by Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia, and Russia and in this region, Slavic mythology believes that red hair and grey eyes are regarded as vampires. Because: red is the color of blood, therefore redness must predispose one to vampirism.
Later, during the time of the Spanish Inquisition (1478 – 1834), people believed that redheads were witches and had stolen the fire of Hell, which was considered a serious crime.
In 15th-century Germany, ‘extreme gingerism’ caused the death of over a hundred thousand redheads. Red-haired women were seen as witches, even more, evil if they happened to be educated and/or had knowledge about plant medicine. Their red appearance was undesirable in religious eyes. Or were they actually desirable? The fact was, that red was the Devil’s color. Anyone involved to some extent was tortured and murdered.
Interested in more facts? Adrienne + Stephanie, the co-founder’s of How to be a Redhead, interviewed Jacky Colliss Harvey and talked about redhead facts! Listen to the How to be a Redhead podcast below:
We redheads might always be considered beautiful or barbaric. And our rare gingerness will always be noticed! Today, we know, that we won’t turn into vampires or are the clowns of our (life-) stage. We know, we have souls, and won’t hide. Instead, we will show off and show our real beauty. The magic is in you, redhead beauty.
Rock it like a Redhead!
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