The Vagenda

The Beasts and the Blonde

What’s my blonde ambition? For people to shut up about my sodding hair, for starters.
Saw a Q&A with Gwynnie Paltrow in Stylist last week. She’s been plugging her new cook book/manifesto for food fascists and got to talking about life and stuff, as one is want to do when one is a mega famous celeb person. 
Now, far be it from me to go agreeing with anyone that has loadsa dollar and too much time but she did say something that made me nibble the end of my pen (I was in the process of giving her a luxuriant moustache, a la Kaiser Wilhelm I) in pregnant thought. “I don’t understand the whole idea of blondes having more fun. I’d say brunettes have more fun as they can go under the radar a little bit more. People are just waiting for blondes to get drunk and fall down, because we’re so visible.”
My hair is also blonde; bale-of-hay blonde rather than ray-of-sunshine blonde but, yellow it nevertheless is. I dyed it all in one session after an unfortunate dalliance with auburn (it came out aubergine) and, after five and a half hours in the chair, I was totally (to quote the hairdresser) ‘transformed’. Though I would argue that I looked much the same it did take some getting used to. I’d walk past shiny surfaces, catch a glimpse of myself and do a double take, not recognising my own reflection. Or notice out of the corner of my eye someone’s blonde hair near my face, go to swat it away, only to find that it was MY HAIR. 
The suddenness of it also meant that I was more aware of the reactions I was getting: in the first week a builder called me slut, a barista gave me a free coffee and a colleague announced that from now on he would be calling me ‘Barbie’, to which I replied, ‘yeah, well at least I have hair!’…not out loud though. In one five hour bleaching frenzy I had become the butt of a thousand jokes and a beacon for every leery passer-by who cared to comment. 
Would I have gotten a similar reaction if I were a dude? Not likely. I mean, Boris Johnson espouses all manner of shit and isn’t called a bimbo. For women, blonde is Playboy Bunny, ditzy giggles and dumb moments, stereotypes that exist only in relation to women. As a society we’re expected to laugh at the jokes and as women we’re expected to giggle at the proverbial bottom slap that is being told our hair colour proves how silly or slutty we are. 
Blonde is as blonde does you might argue (if you’re a twat) and god knows there are some stupid blondes (men and women alike) in the world but then there are also stupid brunettes and gingers. I’ve been one of each and my intelligence has remained unaffected. But that’s not really the point, is it? 
The point is – hold on to your chairs lads and ladies, I’m about make a profound statement – hair is only hair. It is the dead stuff that grows out of your head. Not only is it reductive to have to sit in a presentation where the speaker, to fill some time, makes a dumb blonde joke but it is also a massive confidence killer when the room erupts into guffaws of delight. 
It is an insidious form of putdownery; flippant, silly sexism that creeps into society masquerading as humour and means that someone like me has to be on the defensive about my choice of hair colour, which is probably one of the most painfully ridiculous things I’ve ever had to be on the defensive about, like EVER. 
Was I taken more seriously when I was aubergine-hued? Reason dictates that I should have been laughed out of any serious business-y stuff I was doing, because my hair was the colour of an aubergine, which is odd. But no, it was all good. A dye job later and I’m not listened to quite as intently or asked to participate quiet as often. In bars I’m a magnet for rogue arse grabbers and sleazy bump-n-grinders and in a library last week I was asked (sympathetic head tilt) if I needed help finding the right section. 
See, I sort of think that Paltrow, flaxen haired Yoda that she is, said the right thing, just the wrong way round. For me, it’s not really about visibility so much as the fact that a mop of yellow hair means that people are immediately expecting you say or do something stupid, to ‘get drunk and fall down’, to topple forwards and land flat on your face, just like the Barbie they think you are. 
- AJ

16 thoughts on “The Beasts and the Blonde

  1. My very blonde friend has a t-shirt saying “I’m too blonde to do maths”. She also has a first class honours degree in astrophysics from Cambridge and a keen sense of irony, but surely that’s not exactly something which should be printed on a t-shirt – as if hair colour somehow equates to a dearth of logic and reasoning?

  2. The part of life where you start making character differentiations based on whether a person is blonde/brunette has totally passed me by, so it’s utterly bizarre to me that such assumptions would be made on hair colour. It’s just mind bogglingly weird to me!!! It’s only hair!

    I would say that Boris is the only man I can think of who is reduced to a blob of blonde hair at times. I rarely read anything about him which doesn’t refer to his hair.

    I might also argue that red haired girls are seen more favourably than boys? Red head girls are seen as passionate/pre-Raphaelite whereas ginger guys can be really bullied and mocked.

    • That’s so true, I have a beautiful new newphew, and his hair is starting to change colour, shock horror, looking like it might turn ginger. His Dad, who is one of the most doting, proud fathers I’ve ever seen flat out refuse to acknowledge that his new son might be ginger because “it’s just too horrible to contemplate”

    • The ginger thing is just weird. My ex boyfriend grew up in Scotland where there’s the largest proportion of redheads in the world, and yet was bullied for it! For my part I have always loved red hair on both genders, it’s just so beautiful!

  3. This post rings true for me. I’ve heard so many different versions of “I didn’t expect you to be like this” over the years because I’m a googly blue eyed blonde girl and when I hear people talk about their preferences for other hair colours it’s like they want an award for some abstract imagined depth that they possess. Imagine if Zooey Deschanel was blonde? Do you think she’d still be considered the indie guy’s fantasy? She wouldn’t be called kooky, she’d be called dumb. I know it seems frivolous but the whole blonde stereotype is definitely an annoyance. All of this bullshit just because I dye my hair something that suits a pale complexion. I should thank my lucky stars that I have a 32A chest I can rest books on like a coffee table.

  4. I used to dye my blonde hair red as I found people treated me with far more respect/caution – still stereotyping from blonde = stupid to redhead = ‘fiery’. Now I’m older I’m just invisible to the naked eye. Thatcher was blonde…

  5. During my 20s (1980s), I went through every hair colour & style under the sun. My favourite street harassment was when I went overnight from blonde backcombed mess to sleek black bob & immediately got a shouted ‘witch!’ So I put a spell on them.

  6. I’m the colour of blonde that you see quite often on young children, but rarely on adults. And I’m now much darker than I was as a child. I work in Events while I’m studying for my PhD and I once had a relatively eminent Professor of Art and Film, whom I’d spoken to on the phone prior to his lecture, tell me that he had ‘for some reason’ imagined me as a brunette when we’d spoken. The implication that I often hear when this happens (and it does frequently) is that they are surprised that I’m blonde because I’m intelligent. It also happens the other way around where people are surprised that I’m intelligent because I’m blonde, and I can’t help but wonder where this culturally pervasive idea comes from that certain hair colours indicate aspects of an individual’s personality. It happens to all hair colours in different ways (my friend with very black hair has had similar experiences to Catherine above) and it’s utterly baffling.

  7. I’m an assistant at a film and television agency and I do an awful lot of admin work for our clients. I’m efficient and (I hope) intelligent. But mostly we make contact over the phone and via email so in many cases it took several months, even a year or two before I met each of them . . . and more often than not, when we finally saw each other in the flesh, I would inevitably receive the reaction “I didn’t expect you to look like that”! Eventually I realised that the thing they were surprised by was my hair, when several of them actually explained that they’d assumed I were brunette and were shocked to discover that I’m not. It seemed that my efficiency and intelligence couldn’t exist under the (natural, but highlighted) blonde mane I possess. Bizarre.

    • Saw your comment after I posted my own, and as you work in the industry I’m hoping to break into you seem like a great person to ask: do you find it harder to get people to take you or your ideas seriously because of your blonde hair, when applying for jobs for instance, or working with new people face to face for the first time? It is a real concern of mine that when applying for jobs my hair colour will work against me.

    • I’d say you’ll be absolutely fine. For an industry which is so dependent on appearance, at least in front of the camera, behind it is a different matter entirely. I’ve never felt anyone critiqued me based on my hair colour, quirky clothing choices, or anything else physical, at least not by my boss or any interviewers. As long as you turn up for meetings/interviews dressed smartly (not a suit! I’d just avoid the Converses for the interview stage) and brushed hair (colour irrelevant), you’ll be fine. It was more the assumption my clients had made that I’d be brunette because I’m not ditzy that I wanted to raise here. But don’t worry, if you can come across as intelligent in your interviews, follow up on requests, be proactive (and above all make an excellent cup of tea) then you’ll be absolutely fine :) Good luck!

  8. I have naturally pale blonde hair, and I have a theory about the way I am treated. People usually assume that I have dyed my hair this colour, and because people who dye their hair blonde must know the connotations it possesses, must be welcoming some of those connotations and the attention blonde hair attracts (I’m not saying this is true, just this is how I think it appears). Therefore people assume my hair is dyed, and assume I have dyed it in order to attract attention, so feel justified in treating me in a certain way. Sometime I go out wearing a brown wig and it’s like wearing an invisibility cloak. The first time was so unlike anything I had ever experienced that I found it really odd, but now I quite enjoy the feeling of not being stared at.

    I’m about to graduate university though and am genuinely concerned about not being taken seriously as a job applicant because of my appearance.

  9. As a blonde all my life I’ve never really been able to actually tell a difference between how people treat me due to my hair colour. However, people do tend to treat me with more respect when they learn that I don’t dye my hair and that apart from a few winter highlights, which is odd. As a student at the moment though I am genuinely worried after reading these comments that I won’t be taken seriously in the ‘big bad world’ due to my hair colour.

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