Why red hair is now red hot for men
The stereotype of male attractiveness has always been tall, dark and handsome. But while that guy is off topping up his tan or dying over the greys that detract from his perceived allure, a pasty, freckled, fiery rival is busy usurping him.
That's right, the brunette man's monopoly on handsomeness is under siege from an unlikely candidate: the ginger.
The rise of the redhead is upon us, and not a minute too soon. There's room for more than one type up on that pedestal of desirability and now redheads - who make up 2 per cent of the population - have stepped up.
Prince Harry is arguably the leader of a pack of notable redhead men in public life that includes actors Ewan McGregor, Damian Lewis, Michael Fassbender, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Rupert Grint. Comedian Tim Minchin has been so stigmatised he wrote a song about it, aptly titled Prejudice.
Proving this rise from the ashes is model Louis Evans, who recently toured Australia after setting the modelling world abuzz. One of the most popular new faces of London's exclusive Bookings Models agency, Evans has come a long way since being the victim of anti-ginger bullying at school.
He certainly feels the tide is turning red; when asked if redheaded men have been treated differently from redheaded women, he laughs and remarks how far ginger men have come in a short time.
In the past year photographer Thomas Knights ran the RED HOT campaign - featuring a series of topless photographs of highly attractive ginger men - because "guys with red hair don't have the positive role models that girls do".
"A male with red hair is not seen as aspirational, culturally speaking. Very few leading men have red hair," Knights says.
Knights kicked off RED HOT to respond to the "laddish banter that maybe isn't so prevalent in female friendship circles", where the playground bullying of redheaded males continues into adulthood and even expects victims to take the abuse on the chin as part of the joke.
By putting ginger men in the spotlight, Knights aimed to "rebrand the ginger male stereotype as desirable, alpha males - sexual, confident, heroic".
It's a way of returning self-esteem to many of the 64 models, whose quotes next to their pictures share examples of discrimination, teasing and even bullying on the basis of their hair colour.
"No-one had ever (shown ginger men in this light) before, in the history of the world. Literally. Never," Knights says. The exhibition returns to London in the Northern summer, then heads to New York in September.
Evans - who features as one of the campaign's models - hasn't always been a proud ginger, admitting that he has previously dyed and/or shaved his hair.
"Growing up in a small town and being different was difficult," he says, adding he has noticed some promising changes in recent times.
Whereas people used to comment that he's "good looking ... for a ginger", now the statement is usually refreshingly unqualified.
Evans reflects on how the social acceptance that most people take for granted has profoundly boosted his self-worth: "I can now say I'm very proud of my hair. Of course, I would say that with all the positivity we've been getting lately. If there's such a thing as hair equality, I'd like that," he says.
I know exactly where he's coming from. Growing up ginger myself, I also grew a thick skin very early on. If I made myself the butt of the joke before others could, I'd beaten them at their own game. Playing the class clown was protective armour. Red-headed girls would be complimented by friends on their "luscious, unique hair"; meanwhile, the lads would address the ginger boys with rather less affection: "You're devil's spawn, you've got no soul and nobody will ever fancy you!"
On reflection it sounds horrendous, but I honestly didn't feel bullied at the time; everyone was picked on for something. It's perhaps the same reason I find the term "ranga" (short for orangutan and popularised by Chris Lilley's alter-ego schoolboy Jonah) endearing rather than demeaning. That said, I used to wear a lot of hats and dyed my hair blonde and then brown in my 20s.
As a 30-something, I'm finally embracing the "ginge" and I've noticed others responding well to that. Bring it on.
Hugh Macintyre, 22, was teased about his ginger hair throughout school. "It got me down heaps, trying to work out my identity and all that teen angst stuff," he says.
But there's a happy ending: "I feel there's been a generational change; people are now trying to stand out. Most compliments I receive are from women."
Simon Simpson, 39, has perceived the same shift: "I've noticed the ginger-loving trend growing stronger recently. A decade ago, my 'gingerism' wasn't as valuable."
Macintrye has grown more comfortable in his own skin - his redhead role model is Homeland actor Damian Lewis - and he's cautiously content with the sex symbol label: "Whilst I'd hope my personality is what people are most attracted to, in some experiences, it could've been my hair which stood out most."
How does he feel about the controversial 'r' word? "I definitely don't appreciate people calling me 'ranga' but it doesn't upset me. Life's far too fleeting to waste time being offended by that."
After years of being the butt of the joke, ginger men are finally being fetishized, fantasised about and hired by modelling agencies. For we carrot tops, revenge is a dish best served red-hot.
Sydney Morning Herald