Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, Jayne Mansfield, Goldie Hawn, Farrah Fawcett, Princess Diana, Christie Brinkley, Kate Moss, Carrie Underwood, Madonna, Britney Spears.
Eleven white women known for sporting golden locks, yet only about four of them are natural blondes. Why are such eminent women recognized for their hair color and—most importantly—why do some feel the need to have it?
We may not consciously think of blonde hair having cultural significance past their usual clichés. Blondeness may not occur to us as anything more than a type of hair color, trend, or fad. Yet a simple change of hair color has the power to change a woman’s life.
The Cut recently published an article discussing ‘blonde privilege’, the politics of light hair, and the undeniable blondness of Fox News. In her article, Larocca discusses American beauty and how blondeness—strongly attributed with ‘whiteness’—has almost always been the centerpiece of female standards. Larocca points out the connection between blondes and politics is stronger than ever.
Two thirds of Donald Trump’s wives have been blonde and many of his female appointments are, as well. Linda McMahon, Susan M. Gordon, Callista Gingrich, Sharon Day, Kay Bailey Hutchison, Mira Ricardel, Betsy DeVos, Kellyanne Conway, and—of course—Ivanka Trump. Oh, and don’t forget about Tiffany.
There has always been a certain attractiveness to blondes that plunges deeper than a “pretty” surface. Nicolas Gruéguen from the Université de Bretagne-Sud in France performed an experiment with women in different colored wigs at a nightclub and found rather unsurprisingly the women in blonde wigs were approached more frequently by men. It’s mentioned that roughly 90% of the population has dark hair, while 2% are blondes and 1% are redheads. Thus blondness is synonymous with uniqueness, and it’s been theorized that the draw for women to be blonde is linked to the desire to stand out.
One study showed blonde female door-to-door fundraisers received more donations than their darker-haired colleagues. Another study found blonde hitchhikers got more men to stop for them. At the end of Gruéguen’s nightclub experiment, 127 men approached the blondes, 84 approached the brunettes, 82 approached the women in black wigs, and only 29 approached the redheads. Clearly, the blondes were heavily favored.
Viren Swami and Seishin Barrett from the University of Westminster conducted a similar experiment. The female study sat in a nightclub with several hair colors over the course of a few months; she found that 60 men approached her when she was blonde, 42 did when she was a brunette, and 29 approached her as a redhead.
Swami and Barrett also surveyed the men in the nightclub, showing pictures of the woman with her different hair colors. The adjective men used to describe the blonde most was “needy”. So why was the “needy” one so much more attractive and the one men favored most? The answer (heavy sigh) may be the need for dominance, which has been shown time and time again in the way women are treated.
There are theories that believe men have evolved over time to prefer blondes, including the belief that Paleolithic males may have chosen blondes because they stood out from their rivals when competing for mates. Before we had the ability to manipulate hair color, the unique natural blonde represented youth, innocence, and fertility.
This sort of primal interpretation could be an explanation as to why blondes continue to be the symbol of female “rightness”. Since females are still the under-looked gender, male expectation for the opposite sex tends to be rooted in the aforementioned ideals—physical appearance, child-bearing capabilities, and weakness.
And of course you cannot discuss Blonde Appeal without mentioning Nazism. Think of the Aryan “master race”, what Adolf Hitler believed to be the highest level of racial purity. Hitler’s ideal Aryan was blue-eyed, tall, and blonde. Again, blondness is perpetually linked to whiteness, and whiteness to “pureness”. Nazi propaganda portrayed these ideals everywhere—it’s all that was seen on posters and in movies, newspapers, radio, schools—everywhere.
Someone appearing as submissive will give the onlooker a sense of dominance, a feeling largely connected with traditional masculinity. Hitler himself did not fit the Aryan bill yet it was still a look he so desired for others.
Propaganda of any kind, whether it be political or not, will reflect what is believed to be an idealized version of whatever it’s selling. Being blonde has become a marketing tool. It’s easy to sell blondness to the masses when the masses have come to prefer white meekness.
Hollywood is no stranger to criticism of whitewashing and male-driven storylines. The discussion surrounding female portrayal in the media is obviously a large one—one that includes race, intelligence, and body image as portrayed in film. And it’s no coincidence that if one were to take a hard look at the history of sexually-magnetic females in film, they would find that many of them share the trait of golden blonde hair.
Look back at the list of women at the beginning of this article; a common denominator amongst them is their role as a sex symbol. We’re told blondes are “dumb” (read: submissive) but we know they “have more fun” (read: are more desirable). Marilyn Monroe is often contrasted to her “true” self, Norma Jeane Mortenson. Norma Jeane was a simple brunette factory worker; plain and boring. But Marilyn—sexy, curvy, ditzy—was a star. Blonde made her better.
Blondes have always been in the forefront of cinema, and this idea has carried on through the ages. Lorocca states in her article that even Hitchcock, when speaking of his blonde leads, explained “The color was virgin snow that shows up the bloody footprints.”
We are products of the culture we consume, and we are being fed the idea that blondes are alluring and desirable. The biggest issue being how future generations digest and act on this information. If culture tells them thin, ditzy, blonde women are the only objects of desire, they will begin to believe it.
Half of The Plastics, the “popular” high school students, in Mean Girls are blondes. Elisha Cuthbert in The Girl Next Door and Hayden Panettiere in I Love You, Beth Cooper both play the male lead’s blonde desirable love interest.
Or Margot Robbie in The Wolf of Wall Street or Heather Graham in just about anything… and the list goes on. Even Cinderella was blonde.
We can theorize that blondes are favored based on their projection of purity and uniqueness. It’s an image men crave because a pure woman is a subdued woman, allowing them to feel their own dominance. Traditional masculinity is about strength and control, and is easily demonstrated towards a compliant woman.
Conformity to whiteness has always been the safest way of existence. Conformity to blondeness means being at peak whiteness. The draw, then, for a woman to become a blonde is simple: it will make you prettier, a more desirable partner, and it may even get you a seat in the President’s Cabinet.
Brittany K. King is a Chicago-based writer and founder of Film Daddy. She spends most of her time avoiding saying the word ‘gyro’ out loud.
Follow Brittany on Twitter @brittanykking.