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The Big Redhead Book: Inside the Secret Society of Red Hair - Book Review

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by Jennifer Muirhead (subscribe)
I am learning all the time. The tombstone will be my diploma. ~ Eartha Kitt
Published November 25th 2017
We are the Two Percent
the big redhead book, inside the secret society of red hair, redheads, books about redheads, popular science, Erin La Rosa, beautiful unicorns who walk among us


Whether you're a redhead yourself or simply an admirer of those magical unicorns who walk among is, who will find Erin La Rosa's book full of interesting facts about the science of what causes red hair, and the other effects of this glorious mutation, intermingled with the author's personal reflections about growing up ginger.

I should probably add at the outset a disclaimer that I may be a teensy bit biased, being a redhead myself. I think my current profile picture shows me with barely "a tinge of ginge", but as famous fellow redhead Catherine Tate once said, even if dye it "at the end of the day I've still got freckly arms!" Since red hair is something I have to live with, for better or worse, I enjoyed reading this book full of positive red-haired role-models and nifty comebacks for the inevitable rude and silly comments those we two percenters hear about our locks.

catherine tate, redhead, funny redheads
My hero, Catherine Tate, of Doctor Who and and The Catherine Tate Show. Photo by Joeylamb88 - Own work, CC BY-SA .3.0.


La Rosa discusses the various stereotypes (both positive and negative) about redheads in popular culture, such as the funny redhead (eg. Lucille Ball), the fiery redhead (Ginny Weasley in Harry Potter), the redheaded vixen (Rita Haywood, Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman), and the evil redhead (Judas). She talks about how these tropes came about and what they mean for actual redheads today. This section, and some of the others, felt like the author was padding a bit, and could have conveyed what she wanted to say in half the number of pages, but at least there were some solid points in there.


A large chunk of the book is devoted to talking about MC1R, the gene that controls the production of melanin, the protein that determines the pigmentation of hair and skin. A mutation in this gene means that in some people, instead of producing melanin, it produces a different protein called pheomelanin, which is responsible for our red hair and can influence other things like fair skin and freckles. It also gives us what La Rosa jokingly refers to as superpowers, such as requiring less sun exposure to produce the same amount of vitamin D than people with different hair colours and, at least in the case of redhaired women, getting better pain relief from opiates.


This book also addresses the irritating myth that keeps popping up about how redheads are supposedly "going extinct". The short version is that no, we aren't, because that's not how genetics works. You couldn't get rid of us even if you tried.


La Rosa devotes a whole chapter to the beauty of red headed men, including some gratuitous eye candy for those who are into that sort of thing. There is also a section on beauty tips, which I found a little hard to take seriously since it contains lines like "eyebrows are so crucial", but if you're a redhead looking for makeup tips you may find it handy. I'm also 100% in agreement with the author that it's fine to ignore the 'rules' about which colours we can and can't wear. Just wear whatever colour makes you happy. If you feel good in it, odds are you will look good in it.

redhead, red hair, the big redhead book
A close-up of red hair. Photo by Sunny Ripert - Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.


There is a section on red hair through the ages and some of the negative connotations red hair has had over time, such as being associated with slaves in Ancient Greece, and later with antisemitism, and the present day nonsense, courtesy of the (brunette) creators of South Park about us 'having no souls'. La Rosa points out that while this sort of thing may seem like a bit of harmless fun, there have been cases of children committing suicide after being bullied for having red hair. Bullying is never okay, and inappropriate questions like "does the carpet match the drapes?" get old fast.

The Big Redhead Book
is a fun, easy read about the pros and cons of having red hair. It was a little longer than it needed to be, but did contain some fascinating information about the science behind red hair and how redheads are, and have been treated in popular culture. There are even plenty of suggested positive role models to help redheads, especially red haired children, learn to love our unusual hair and freckles. I recommend fellow redheads and the people who love us have a read of it. In the meantime you might enjoy this song on the subject performed by Tim Minchin and Ed Sheeran.

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Why? To learn more about what makes redheads unique
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