Dumb Blonde Ambition

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When I was bleaching my hair, I had brunette nightmares. I’d go to get a  “root touch up”  and suddenly find that an evil hair-dresser poured black dye over my cropped platinum tresses. I’d wake up in a sweat, haunted for the rest of the day, double checking that my precious locks were still intact.

Blonde women make 7% more money than women of any other hair color, according to a recent study. The Telegraph covered this and asked the president of the International Blonde Association for input (surely unbiased.)  She explained that  blondes are the most beautiful, most fun. Strangely, factors like weight, age and education didn’t matter in the study–blondes still earned more.

“Blondes are beautiful” has some weight, from the stand-point of evolutionary psychology men are attracted to blonde hair because it signifies youth and fertility. But what men also find important is glossy, healthy hair. The kind those commercial ladies swing around while someone narrates in the background. As a former box-blonde,  my hair was anything but shiny and did not have the ability to move like silk on a clothesline. It was more like cotton. In ball form.

Maybe it isn’t biology or beauty but simply behavioral. With bimbo-barbie stereotypes abound, how do women act when they are blonde? Do they act differently as brunettes?

If Elle Woods and her pink brief case weren’t telling enough (or the CBS special she inspired about blonde Harvard law students) studies have found the dumb blonde stereotype is alive. But that blonde girl at work probably isn’t dumb, and neither is the one at the bar. And while she did win her case due to a of a vast knowledge of hair products, Elle wasn’t either.

But of the first blondes that come to mind– Jessica, Britney, Madonna, Marilyn and Paris. Four out of five are seen as dumb, and made a living perpetuating that stereotype.

In another study by University of Coventry, men and women rated hair colors by viewing a model wearing different colored wigs — platinum blonde, natural blonde, brunette and red.  When wearing platinum blonde the woman was rated as “less intelligent”, especially by men. When wearing the natural blonde wig she was rated as “popular.”

Platinum is a hair-color that largely doesn’t exist in nature. Is it just women with dyed hair that receive stereotyping and are  treated differently? Is this stringent beauty-regime what contributes to making more money?

While blonde, I worked at a sushi bar in Chicago’s Gold Coast. The managers were guys; a  little machismo, a little bro-y. At times, blonde jokes were thrown around. As a woman, groomed to make everyone else feel comfortable, I let them roll off or laughed, stepping into the role. I was playing the game and in turn I felt accepted.

I knew I wasn’t dumb and in the words of Dolly Parton, I also knew I wasn’t blonde. But it was confusing. Was I a ditz? Before speaking up, I second-guessed myself. I had to be doubly sure, because what I had to say was up for grabs. I could let the jokes  cover a mistake I made, but it hurt.

Another study had blonde women test, before and after hearing blonde jokes. After being subjected to the jokes women scored significantly lower and read more slowly. So part of “perpetuating” the stereotype might be purely unconscious. Not to mention, damaging.

That summer of working at the sushi-bar turned to fall. My summer romance froze when the  hair-dresser I was dating gave me a bad Brian Molko cut. I went dark because the blonde was not gonna work. It could have been how I presented myself, but I now  felt like an outsider at that job, the guys now stepped gingerly around me. Did they not notice the drawn-on eyebrows and heavy black eyelids before?

When I had nightmares about losing my blonde hair, it was like I was losing something big, something important. Perhaps it was social beauty-acceptance, or an intuitive knowledge that I could get further and make more money. But ultimately, as a blonde, I was seen as non-threatening.


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