If I’d been alive in the 16th Century I would have been dunked into a river. If I sank to the bottom, I would have been saved. If I floated, I would have been declared a witch and murdered. Why? Because I was born ginger and freckly. Which is obviously a mark of the devil. If I was born in ancient Greece, people would have given me a wide berth because I’d have turned into a vampire once dead. Or maybe they’d have been super nice to me for the same reason. In the medieval times I would probably have been compared to Satan, whose red hair was an indication of sexual desire and moral degradation. I’d probably have felt ok about this one to be honest. But I’d have been really pissed off with the amount of crap gingers had to put up with.
You don’t have to look back hundreds of years to understand that redheads have always had a hard time. We’ve always been bullied. By the time I got to the age when kids were really vicious, my ginger had dulled a lot. In the winter, you couldn’t really tell. In the summer, there were flashes of it. After a holiday it returned with force. Sometimes the only sign I was ginger-inclined was the fact I am covered in freckles. But despite not being as ginge as some of the other kids in school, I still didn’t escape without comment. I won’t bother rehashing these comments. You all know them. For a ginger, getting through school unscathed is pretty much a miracle.
Kids are savage. A few years ago, after a satirical episode of South Park that hated on gingers, school kids decided to introduce ‘Kick a Ginger Day.’ WTF. Anti-bullying initiatives are springing up all over the place, and schools are introducing much stricter policies to try and combat it, which is a great thing. But these initiatives also show that bullying is still a massive problem. And that kids (and many adult-humans, too) are still dumb when it comes to difference. Being a victim of bullying doesn’t just wreck your school years, it carries through to adulthood. It results in low confidence and depression. It can even turn a nice person into a complete asshole. And we don’t need any more of those.
Which brings me to the point of all this. In 2014, a photographer named Thomas Knights started an amazing project that specifically drew attention to the bullying of gingers. The project, called Red Hot, challenges the ridiculous stereotype that ginger people are somehow less beautiful. Knights photographed 100 super-hot ginger men against a bright blue background, and exhibited the photographs in London, New York, Berlin, Sydney and Amsterdam. It quickly became a global phenomenon receiving worldwide press, from The Sunday Times to GQ to the BBC and the New York Times to name just a few. The project culminated in a book called Red Hot 100, published by Bruno Gmuender, and it initially raised over £20,000 for anti-bullying charities. Basically, it was awesome.
Two years later Knights is back, with UK fashion designer Elliott James Frieze, for Red Hot II, which is out this September. It has a totally different look to the first book, this time focusing on pale skin and freckles as well as red hair. It features both male and female models, including musicians, actors, models and other very attractive ginger humans from across the globe. The book will benefit the Diana Awards’ anti-bullying initiative, and has already attracted loads of attention, with features set to run in Vice, Vogue, Elle and Buzzfeed.
Over the past four years, the Red Hot project has contributed £45,000 towards raising awareness of bullying. And Knights isn’t finished. His aim for the project is to continue taking photographs of other bullied minorities, of all the dreamboats that so far haven’t had their place in the spotlight. It’s such an incredible idea and that fact it has been so well received is testament to that.
If you are team-ginger, I’d say grab a copy of the Red Hot books and be sure to show them to everyone you know! You can also keep up to date with the project on the Red Hot Twitter and Facebook accounts. And if you want more information about the project, click here.
Red Hot 100 was published by Bruno Gmuender in 2014 (9783959850223, £39.99, hardback)
Red Hot II was published on 1 September by Bruno Gmuender (9783959852173, £59.99, hardback)