As a red-haired boy, Robert Knaus never got compared to pop stars or royalty. Instead he got insults.
“I’d get called ‘carrot top,’ ‘fire head’ and all that stuff,” the 22-year-old Shawnee musician and salesman said. “I have a brother who has red hair, too, and we got called pumpkin-haired freaks.”
But now, more than a few flame-haired celebs are making the gingers red-hot:
Prince Harry’s bad-boy antics and blue-blood status made him a lust-worthy redhead.
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Rupert Grint, as Ron Weasley, won the heart of Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter franchise.
Damian Lewis stirred passions in the Showtime hit “Homeland.”
“X-Man” Michael Fassbender (more of an auburn, really) appeared in movies and magazines in various states of muscled undress.
And, perhaps more than anyone, singer/songwriter Ed Sheeran, with his mop of cantaloupe-colored hair and multiple nominations for this Sunday’s Grammy Awards, is helping to heat up perceptions of ginger men.
One British psychologist even coined the phrase “The Ed Sheeran Effect.”
Knaus is living it.
“I have girls come up to me saying, ‘Oh, you look like Ed Sheeran,’” he said. “It’s kind of neat. I’m flattered. And there’s a woman at my work who says, ‘You look like that Prince Harry.’ Getting compared to royalty? That’s pretty good. Finally being a pale redhead pays off.”
It’s a new experience.
“A couple years ago you’d never see anything about being (a red-haired man)” he said. “And a lot of people spoke negative about it. But now you are seeing all this stuff about how ginger males are more attractive.”
Case in point: British photographer Thomas Knights’ online film and photo exhibit of 100 strikingly attractive and shirtless red-haired men called “Red Hot.” Knights, a redhead himself, says he is trying to “rebrand” gingers as “ultra males,” — sexy, heroic and desirable.
Since the initial exhibition in London more than a year ago, a lot has changed for the men in the exhibit. Fashion editorials have begun featuring more redheaded models. And the cover model for the Red Hot book, Kenneth Beck, has gone on to modeling full time.
Now Knights reportedly plans to expand his project into a full, marketable brand for redheads. He has already developed a hair product that enhances the luster of red hair and has plans for additional products.
“I am all over myself when it comes to red-head dudes,” wrote one woman who viewed the exhibit on thegloss.com. “I find them insanely attractive.”
It’s about time, red-haired men say. Through the years no other hair color has been so polarizing. While red-headed women were often portrayed as sexy, fiery, exotic and beautiful (think Ann-Margret or Christina Hendricks), red-headed men were too often teased, seen as unattractive or portrayed on the screen as freckle-faced goofballs.
And now: After red-haired English long-jumper David Rutherford won gold in the London 2012 Olympics, he received an outpouring of Twitter love. He was dubbed “One hot ginger” and “Ginger sex on a stick.”
And consider Australian actor David Wenham, best known for playing Faramir in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. The natural redhead has been voted Australia’s Sexiest Man Alive. And just last month we saw International Kiss a Ginger Day.
Pat Westerhoff, a 41-year-old red-haired retail store manager in Lenexa, says the transition from teasing to pleasing has been real, but subtle. In grade school and junior high, boys called him “Opie,” after Ron Howard’s character in “The Andy Griffith Show.”
“I’ve had women tell me I look like David Caruso on ‘CSI,’” he said. “I can’t quite figure out how to snap my sunglasses off like he does, though.”
When he was young he didn’t like his hair.
“But later on in life it kind of gave me an advantage because I am different,” he said. “At a public place or restaurant, a woman will look over, and maybe she’s looking for something different. Redheads are unique and rare, so people are going to pay attention.”
Madison Avenue already has figured that out. A study by Upstream Analysis, a Washington, D.C.,-based communications company, shows that 30 percent of TV commercials feature at least one redhead, despite the fact that only 2 percent of Americans have red hair.
Austin Chuning, a science teacher at Truman High School in Independence, doesn’t have many of the problems that men with brighter red hair have. He has darker auburn hair and can tan. Still, the 28-year-old is glad perceptions are changing, especially if he has children one day.
“You never want your child to be ridiculed, especially if it’s something that is essentially your fault,” he said. “But I’m definitely happy to have red hair. It’s not something I see as a burden. It makes me unique.”
Once in college, when he had longer hair, he even got compared to Jon Bon Jovi.
But there’s more good news for red-haired men that goes beyond changed perceptions. For instance, according to a study in the British Journal of Cancer, natural redheads are 54 percent less likely to develop prostate cancer.
Scholars say red-haired men have influenced history out of proportion to their numbers: Roman emperor Nero, Napoleon Bonaparte, Oliver Cromwell, Antonio Vivaldi, Thomas Jefferson, Vincent Van Gogh, Mark Twain, James Joyce, Winston Churchill, Galileo and King David.
And then there’s the sex thing. Yes, redheads have a lot of it — statistically more than blondes, said a study at the University of Hamburg.
At least red-haired women do.
Are ginger-haired men poised to catch up?
That might be a long shot. But at least one redheaded man — Michael Fassbender — is confident that it won’t be his hair that holds him back.
As he told the celebrity PopSugar.com, “There’s not much more fun you can get (than) as a ginger. (We’re) like Vikings.”