Like most people with a pulse and a healthy fear of humiliation, I’ve never been keen on putting myself out there when it comes to dating. But a few years ago, I met Nick at a mutual friend’s party and decided to be brave.
I didn’t make this move lightly — he’d given all the classic signs of being interested. He laughed at my dumb jokes, asked a lot of questions and kept putting his hand on my shoulder as if to say, Don’t worry, you’re not imaging this, unlike that time you thought you’d actually marry JC Chasez. Plus, he was tall, blond and his smile revealed an adorable little gap between his front teeth. So when I decided to leave, my hopeful heart opened and I asked for his number.
I didn’t text until the next night. I thought I’d make him sweat a bit. “Great meeting you, want to hang soon? ;),” I typed. To which he responded, a day later, with, “Definitely, so long as we can just be friends,” Friends? So long as we can just be friends? I had to reread it several times. Then I wrote, “Just friends?” hoping I’d somehow misunderstood. “Didn’t mean to give you the wrong impression,” he said, “I just don’t date redheads.”
As a natural redhead, this wasn’t my first time at the bash-my-hair rodeo. I’d been called firecrotch all through high school by some jocks whose names I now repeat like Arya in Game of Thrones. I’d been told I had no soul after a very special episode of South Park called “Gingervitus” and been accused of being crazy on several occasions all because of the color of my hair.
I’d even had friends who’d casually told me they “would never date a ginger guy,” which of course made me wonder if people had the same thought about me, a ginger woman. But this was the first time someone had been so direct as to say they wouldn’t date anyone who looked like me. So, to be honest, it hurt my damn feelings.
Nick’s response didn’t deter me from dating, but it did force me to acknowledge that as someone who isn’t the norm — even if it is just a hair color — I’ll always be looked at under a separate lens. Redheads are only 2 percent of the world’s population, so you don’t see us in the wild as frequently. And because of that, you don’t see us represented as much in pop culture either (and pop culture, for better or worse, often dictates what we find attractive).
The bigger problem isn’t that some guy wasn’t into me, it’s that stereotypes about redheads continue to be perpetuated on screen and affect how other people view us. A 2012 study published in Psychological Studies asked men and women to wear different-colored wigs to see which hair color was psychologically the most attractive. In both cases, red hair was associated with less attractiveness, and according to the study, “Scarcity of red-haired individuals in the population and negative stereotypes associated with red hair […] explain the negative effect of red hair.”
The fact that a random average person may not find me attractive doesn’t bother me. But the idea that people have certain assumptions because of the way I look does. When we’re on screen, the way redheads tend to be depicted are by the stereotypes we fall into; gingers can be fiery (Joan from Mad Men, Lydia on Teen Wolf, Merida in Brave, Rose in Titanic), downright evil (the red priestess Melisandre in Game of Thrones, Victoria in Twilight, Syndrome in The Incredibles) and redheaded stepchildren (just remember Ron Weasley in Harry Potter, Mallory Pike in The Baby-Sitters Club or Willow on Buffy), among other things. Those stereotypes don’t just live on screen — they dictate what a person assumes when a redhead walks into a room.
I’m not the norm. I’m the exception, and not all guys are going to see the beauty in that. Because people like me, who are different, need something distinctive too. I saw this segment on Planet Earth where two very rare birds of paradise perform an elaborate dance for each other, flaunting the colors that make them unique in the hopes of mating. If they both like the unusualness they see, it works.
Similarly, people who don’t fit neatly into the mold need partners who can spot our bird-of-paradise quality, people who can look beyond the current stereotypes and see us for what we really are — goddamn gorgeous gingers (GGGs, if I may). Eroding the pre-existing notions people have about redheads will take time, and in the interim finding partners who accept us may take an elaborate mating dance or two… or more.
But if you’re one of those who recognize the natural beauty of red hair, don’t be afraid to flaunt that — Planet Earth style. We’ll be waiting and ready to reciprocate.