Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Blonde or Brunette?

Gentlemen prefer blondes. But they marry brunettes. Blondes have more fun... Etc etc etc. Many times I've wondered whether these clichéd sentences were true - or had some truth to them. When asking my blonde friends (who, for the record, are not dumb) if they did have more fun, the only answer I got was "er, I don't know... How is it like to be a brunette?". Most of the boys I know don't really have a preference between brunettes and blondes; they will not mind hair colour as long as the girl is smart, nice and cute. And I'm not married to some monocle-wearing diamond mine owner who used to prefer blondes. Is it not true then what they say about blondes and brunettes? So why do we actually give moral and narrative meanings to women's hair colour?

For Roman women, being blonde was the sign of a high social rank (which is why many of them dyed their hair with a mixture including animal's pee). Preraphaelites used strawberry blonde models to portray languid, sickening beauty. The fact that Manet's cheeky Olympia was a brunette is no coincidence: for a long time, brunette was synonym with temptress and vamp. During the XXth century, Hollywood channeled best the collective thoughts on women and their hair tones.

With bubbly blonde Ziegfeld-Follies-golddigers and Anita Loos's masterpiece Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, soon in the 1930's roles were inverted, and blonde bombshells like Jean Harlow went out and had a ball while brunettes like Barbara Stanwyck stayed in and... oh wait, Barbara Stanwyck also did go out and have a ball. Now that I think about it no one wanted to stay in playing the good little wife in the 30's. They were right.
Later, in the 40's, colour codes changed a bit: usually blondes were the seductive, ambiguous and fun ones (Veronica Lake and Marlene Dietrich) while brunettes were the mysterious, feline, evil ones (like Ann Blyth in Mildred Pierce- you just have to watch that movie!- or Gene Tierney in... most of her films). There was also a new category, the fiery redhead. And if your personality didn't match your hair colour, you could just dye it!

Rita Hayworth went from redhead to blonde for The Lady From Shanghai but nobody liked the change. So do gentlemen really prefer blondes?
In the fifties there was of course Marilyn (and a thousand Marilyn wannabees), but at the same time...

...Doris Day became a symbol of all the Peggy Sues and Sandy Olsens in America.

While the new brunette icon, Sofia Loren, was so much of a sex bomb that she actually scared men.
It seems so strange how the codes keep changing; and depending on the decade and your hair colour you're in turns supposed to be a good wife, a witch, a sex goddess and an innocent schoolgirl. And the public never fails to recognize the hair's meaning, no matter how much eras change. Ultimately, I guess the division of the world between "blondes" and "brunettes" is nothing but an aesthetic reflection of the long established (and very chauvinistic) idea that there are two types of women: the marrying kind and "the others". I'm not going to make a feminist speech here -I confess I do have a lot of fun with the whole good woman/fallen woman deal- but has anyone ever seen men divided in blondes and brunettes, each being given a set of inherent characteristics?
Anyway talking about gentlemen... there was one who very clearly preferred blondes: when asked about his leading ladies' hair colour, Alfred Hitchcock replied "blondes make the best victims. They're like virgin snow that shows up the bloody footprints". Be as it may, Hitchock's distant, regal blonde heroines are now true icons.

On the other hand, Davind Lynch, even if he often gives leading roles to stunning blondes, he always focuses his fascination on mystery brunettes, usually passionate, dangerous and dramatic.

I think after all I agree most with Mr. Lynch's opinion that "there is a blonde and a brunette inside every girl". What do you think?


Thanks for your lovely comments.