Kermit the Frog should step off the lily pad of self pity and stop croaking that, “It’s not easy being green.” Redheads dwell in a gene pool that’s far less hospitable. Sperm banks worldwide politely decline “donations” from ginger gents because the demand for their signature trait is so low. Scientists persistently produce data showing how redheads run a higher risk of developing skin cancers. The gossip media feasts on celebrities’ decisions to dye their hair red; denouncing the choice as a plea for attention. Meanwhile, the advertising industry floods our attention with an exaggerated stream of models with red hair because their rare existence – in reality – is so titillating to the eye. Some historians trace redheads’ scorn and allure back as far as the 11th Century, when Nordic Vikings pillaged the British isles. They may be dwindling in numbers, but redheads command our attention as much as the beasts of “Jurassic Park.”
The advertising industry blatantly fosters the false impression that redheads are far more prevalent in society than they actually are. While researchers generally concur that only two percent of Americans are redheads, an extensive study conducted by Upstream Analysis showed that one-third of the 1,700 commercials aired during prime time in a five-day stretch on ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox featured red-headed characters, and more than half of those ads cast redheads as the main character. The study concluded that advertisers rely on the fact that consumers tend to act on impulse when exposed to visual novelties.
Researchers agree that red hair is a mutation that comes from the rare MC1R pigmentation gene. And the journal LiveScience has identified five distinct health risks that those who carry the gene have in common.
1) People with red hair have twice the likelihood of developing Parkinson’s disease than their black-haired counterparts.
2) Carriers of the MC1R gene may suffer a higher rate of tooth decay and gum disease due to their lower tolerance for pain and requirements for larger doses of anesthesia at the dentist’s office.
3) Endometriosis – the painful growth of tissue outside of the uterus – afflicts women with red hair at rates of up to 30 percent more than it does other women between ages 25 to 42.
4) Lab experiments on mice bred with the MC1R gene showed a higher propensity for skin cancer.
5) One out of every 20,000 carriers of the MC1R gene is at risk of developing Congenital Melanocytic Naevi skin discolorations.
Other research indicates that as children, redheads suffer from diminished self-esteem and high rates of self-imposed isolation from their peers.
While the general consensus among researchers is that redheads represent two percent of the worldwide population, there is rampant speculation over whether their genetic mutation could be wiped off the face of the earth entirely over time. Some analysts, like those at the gene-tracing firm ScotlandsDNA, say climate change could be blamed if redheads go the way of the dinosaur. Their reasoning: Global warming could drastically reduce the number of cloudy days, leaving carriers of the MC1R gene defenseless against ultra-violet sun rays over time.
Ever since one of the world’s pre-eminent sperm banks Cryos International stopped accepting donations from male carriers of the MC1R gene five years ago, there’s been an outcry from redheads who resent being pushed to the fringe of desirability. Sperm suppliers reason that – with the exception of Ireland, where 10 percent of the population has red hair – the existing supply worldwide already far exceeds demand. Even in Scandinavian countries where blonde hair and blue/green eyes are most prevalent, sperm recipients show a distinct preference for genes associated with dark hair and brown eyes.