Redheads can thank the MC1R gene for the color of their hair, and, as it turns out, for looking younger than their age.

Is this an appropriate subject for this blog?  I think so.  It’s also a fascinating study.

Redheads have been the subject of discrimination and bullying since ancient times – but the same gene responsible for their hair color may also be responsible for their looking younger than their age.

“Redheads may endure schoolyard bullying as children and find themselves the butt of endless jokes in pop culture, but there’s a silver lining. According to research published in Current Biology, people with the MC1R gene, aka the gene that produces red hair and fair skin, tend to look several years younger than their non-ginger counterparts.”

The above quote of from an article in Bustle by Claire Warner.

Gingerism and Discrimination

In 2013, after having read a piece by Dorothy Dalton entitled “Do redheads need to be a protected minority?” I did a number of posts on “gingerism” – having red hair. She wrote that she herself has red hair, and noted that even she was “surprised to learn that there is a growing move for redheads to become a ‘protected minority’ as a result of the increased incidence of bullying and discrimination. This is not only in schools … [but also] workplace bullying, ranging from corporate settings to the NYPD. I also found a plethora of web sites set up exclusively to report such incidents and to offer support to this minority.”

Ms. Dalton said that “throughout history reactions have varied from admiration, suspicion to ridicule. Redheads were burnt at the stake in medieval England as witches. Aristotle was said to have called them ‘emotionally un-house broken’ although that has never been substantiated.   Across the globe, proverbs and warnings are centred around the negative aspects of unfortunate encounters with persons of red hair colouring.”

She concluded that such prejudice today may be explained in “a social historian contac” – “that with all other sorts of blatant discrimination now outlawed or considered politically incorrect, (colour, gender, physiology, sexual, nationality) the bullies amongst us have been left with few targets for their vicious invective. Are redheads therefore becoming one of the last unprotected minorities. …  It is almost impossible to believe that the U.S. has a “Kick a Ginger Day” a follow-up from the T.V. show South Park.”

A number of readers commented back then. James Brashear, a general counsel in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, said that:

“Red hair is a recessive trait attributed to a variation in the MC1R gene. The characteristics associated with that variation (red hair is one) are not a ‘condition,’ which makes having red hair sound like a disease.

Yes, there is discrimination against people with red hair. The South Park episode you mention is a reprehensible example. But there is discrimination against people for all sorts of physical characteristics. In the U.S., it’s common to discriminate against short people or unattractive people. In Japan, some people discriminate on the basis of blood type. This sort of discrimination isn’t morally correct or intelligent – even if it’s perfectly legal. No, we don’t need more laws to address this sort of stupidity. We already have the Golden Rule. What we need is more empathy and more education.

Racism is an unfortunate misnomer that describes discrimination against people for certain outward physical characteristics. There is no legitimate justification for categorizing people on such bases – whether it’s red hair, skin color or otherwise. There is no scientific basis for the concept of race. Myriad gene variations help make each of us a unique individual, but we humans are far more alike than we are different.”

Esther Fagbemiro, an employment attorney from Kent, UK, wrote that at first she was not “as sympathetic as would be the case for other victims of racism. However, having read about the historical associations, and current abuse that those blessed with the hair colour suffer, I have changed my mind … to some extent!

Any ‘ism’ that has the effect of negatively transcending an individual’s merit, character, lawful and social entitlements, etc., needs to be challenged.  All of that said, for some reason gingerism does not seem to demand recourse to the enlargement of the legal concept of racism to my mind.  I wonder if the world of media and celebrity can lend its weighty help in the effort to change perceptions – let the cult of celebrity do something useful for a change.  Perhaps I need to familiarise myself with well-established bodies of research on the phenomena to better inform my thoughts. …”

And another reader commented that gingerism may be grounded in a “racial or ethnic component.” Ralph Watzke, a lawyer and law instructor from Saskatchewan, Canada, wrote:

“I do believe that ‘gingerism,’ especially in the UK, may indeed have a racial or ethnic component, as red hair is by far more prevalent among the Celtic peoples (Scots, Irish, Welsh) than among the English. People who have red hair are perceived to be of Celtic origin and thus targets for a disguised form of racism. …

Redheads are found in all European ethnic groups (especially Finno-Ugric, most prevalent among the Udmurts in the Russian Urals), also Jewish (e.g., Danny Kaye) and Arabic peoples, even non-white ethnic groups. I personally know two Lebanese redheads (who claim Crusader descent), and a Korean woman who had an American soldier father. …  So, what do you and your readers think?  Surnames like Roth, Rossi, Rudy, etc. among Europeans and Jewish persons, are suggestive of a redhead in the family tree.”

Gingerism and Age Appearance

Now Ms. Warner writes that “According to the Telegraphresearchers at Erasmus University in the Netherlands analyzed the perceived age of more than 2,600 adults by feeding pictures of their faces and profiles into an algorithm, which estimated their age based on their appearance. … After controlling for factors like age, sex, and wrinkles, researchers found that people with a certain variation of the MC1R gene looked an average of two years younger. … they pointed to the gene’s role in inhibiting inflammation, although MC1R also plays a role in removing DNA damage caused by UV light.”

Her takeaway:   “In a culture that prizes youthfulness, it’s easy to see why this would be exciting news for cosmetic reasons However, it’s important to note that how old you appear to others has been shown to be a potentially useful measure of aging and mortality, and age discrimination can have detrimental effects on older adults, especially in women. On the other hand, perception of your own age — how old you feel, as opposed to how old you look to others — is equally important: Research has shown that people who feel younger than their chronological age tend to live significantly longer than those who felt their age.”