From Blonde to Brunette

Blondes aren't dumb, even if you think so.

Blondes aren’t dumb, even if you think so.

By Erica Dalton

My brunette, Jewish mom was happy to have a blonde, blue-eyed daughter.

But then, she grew up being told that what’s desirable was the opposite of her. Sexy was blonde, from Cinderella to Grace Kelly to Marilyn Monroe.

Even though my mom grew to love herself, I guess she was glad that I would not have to feel unsexy.

Sure, men are privileged by being male, but attractive females are privileged, too. You are noticed more. You’re more popular. You get attractive guys.

If you don’t mind the stigmas attached to “sexy” you can milk it for all it’s worth.

But even the upsides are downsides.

When I’d done well in class or gotten a high test score I’d hear, “But you’re a dumb blonde!” I learned to laugh about it because girls are sexier when they joke around as much as guys.

So I was seen as an airhead. I was also expected to be unnaturally hot.

But I am neither of those things. And I didn’t want to be rewarded just because I looked pretty. I didn’t want to feel like my value lay just in my looks.

So I looked into myself and realized I had two choices. Either spend loads of time worrying about my outside. Or just be me.

I chose to be me. So I dyed my hair darker to wash away the stereotypes.

Hair color seems to merge with gender roles, with blonde being thought more feminine — sexy, lacking intelligence, and hence, more passive and accepting. And I had let those things go.

I got less flack. But I also got lesbian-baited. Because I was now a woman who didn’t wear make-up, had red or brown hair, and hung out with guys.

I am not a lesbian but I have no problem with them so I just didn’t care. But it baffled me that men would bait me just because I wasn’t following their lead or letting my boobs fall out of my shirt…

… Just because my life was not about pleasing them.

At the same time, I’ve found other men who respect me and appreciate me for who I am — who I REALLY am. It’s a great trade, if you ask me.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on October 8, 2014, in body image, feminism, objectification, psychology, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 24 Comments.

  1. The politics of hair fascinate me. Hardly the only aspect of living under kyriarchy in which “even the upsides are downsides,” but I do find hair an interesting reminder of the way social power dynamics permeate even the most seemingly innocuous choices we make.
    Most of my adult life I have worn my hair short, sometimes extremely so. Because it doesn’t grow easily, and because short is simple to style. When I lived in Texas, this was rarely commented on (my lack of makeup marked me as a “weirdo” woman already, and basically sexless). Once I moved to the Northeast, I started getting “hey dyke!” catcalls. The street harassment would jump to another level if I’m walking with another shorthaired woman. And now that I’m older–with hair gone prematurely gray–the most frequent comment from strangers are compliments on how “brave” I am *not* to dye it.
    “Blonde to brunette” wasn’t an option I had, to try out. Thanks for letting me know how it mighta turned out!

  2. “Sure, men are privileged by being male, but attractive females are privileged, too. You are noticed more. You’re more popular. You get attractive guys.”

    Thanks for acknowledging that there are some areas where women are privileged. But, then all attractive people are privileged to a certain extent….

    When you decided to “just be me” you made the best decision of your life. In essence, you decided to be free! Free to be you.

    I am Black. In the Black community hair is even more of an issue than in the rest of America. Hence, Black women spend billions (yes billions) on weaves and other hair products in a futile attempt to imitate White standards of beauty.

    “… Just because my life was not about pleasing them.”

    Kudos to you! When more and more young women (all women really) make the hard choice(s) as you, I think more women will be happier, more confident, and not be so driven by body image perceptions. It will be difficult in this increasing narcissistic and shallow culture her in America today.

  3. An interesting perspective for sure. it’s funny how culture will think certain types ” blondes, big breasted folk, or whoever” have these advantages and while that may be true, like every other type there are disadvantages. I really appreciate Erica so honestly sharing.

  4. When I studied abroad, there was an another exchange student from Finland, who has perfect and gorgeous blonde hair. I had never cared about my hair color before since most of people were born with dark hair so there is no stereotypes or prejudice on hair color. Being with her, however, made me realized that hair color is one of the tools to judge people in the United States. Every time I hung out with her, some guys came to us and talked to her. I got jealous and it made me kind of miserable for not being attractive. A few months later, she dyed her hair to brunette since she felt that what all the guys who talked to her wanted was just to hook up. She said that she felt lonely seeing me with a steady boyfriend. This is my experience which made me think about hair color and stereotypes.

    I think media is one of the most powerful resources which builds this kind of stereotype; from Disney princess to women in the movie. It would be hard if you make a film by not considering hair color of the actress since you will not be able to describe a girl with her hair color. I found that a thing always has advantages and disadvantages from this article.

  5. I’m surprised that she changed her hair color for because of how others thought about her. Yes it’s understandable that the blonde jokes are still around but from what I observe that any female that’s beautiful, sexy, and wore a lot of makeup were seen as someone that isn’t intelligent because others believe their focus is always on their looks and not educating themselves with the outside world. This also applies to the blondes because their pretty too. These stereotypes are caused mostly by the media movies like mean girls (the plastics) to the movie click, where one of the aunt is blonde and busty acts like she’s dumb and pays attention to her looks. There is many advantages to it like getting an attractive boyfriend but there’s also disadvantage such as others thinking you’re a dumb blonde.

  6. People always find something to judge a women either by the hair of her color or the color of their skin. And it’s ironic that even when a women is not blond she is called blond base on her actions, for example, one time when I was out with my guy friends and they were trying to explain something to me that I didn’t get the first time they said if i was half blond. When really I fully black hair and dark skin. Also, men in my opinion like to put us down as dumb to make them self feel better about as a person or feel suproir. Why don’t we say the same thing about blond men? Cause it’s not about having blond hair but being a female with blond hair. Simple men are disrespectful.

  7. Stephanie Masina

    Accept who you are and stop trying to fit in with what the world wants ! I understand that hair is an issue and i am even serious about my hair but i have learned to just love my hair and accept what is mine and how i am presented if it affects other people thats there problem NOT MINE !

  8. Ya know? Maybe it’s just me, but my looks definitely impact the way I feel about myself. When I was a kid, I had super blonde hair and super green eyes. And I loved it! I was super confident and outgoing and all kinds of stuff! As I got older, my hair went from bleach blonde to a dark, dirty blonde. And my eyes went to dark hazel. And as I got older, I realized that my confidence level didn’t necessarily go DOWN, but it did in a way. I wasn’t as confident and I wasn’t as outgoing with my darker blonde hair. I also got made fun of more, and the boys I went to middle school with TEASED me and told me I looked like a lesbian, even though I was the only girl in my entire school with light hair. And I definitely realized by reading this that my appearance does matter, and I am definitely treated differently based upon it. Very eye opening from my perspective.

  9. This is very interesting how she dyed her hair from blonde to brown. This just shows us how guys really do go with the stereotypes and flirt with the blonde girl and think the blond girl doesn’t know anything because she is good looking. When she changed the color of her hair it changed how men looked at her and I bet men didn’t try talking to her as much as they did before. This also shows that men think that blonde women don’t want to talk they just want to have sex and men don’t notice the brunette girls because they just want to talk and they are nothing but trouble. This is what I have heard in the past. It takes courage to just change the way you look due to how people treat you.

  10. The unintended consequence of dyeing ones hair blonde, is that one comes to realize how blondes are perceived and treated by society. Blonde hair and blue or green eyes are the world over perceived as desirable & beautiful. The dumb blonde remarks have a basis in a cultural perception of Scandinavians. Even northern Europeans perceive their Scandinavian cousins as aloof. It is from this perceived aloofness, in the melting pot of America that such derogatory generalizations are born. When blonde locks, regardless of eye color, are a women’s; then the remarks become sexist.

    My father’s mother was a fin-swede in Wisconsin, I can only guess that when my dad left WI and joined the Navy during WWII that he learned just how much his cultural upbringing was the butt of jokes. Most of my life my dad made fun of the accents of the various Scandinavians inflections that persist in parts of the Midwest. It wasn’t until 5 years before he died that I found out he spoke perfect Swedish. It probably doesn’t help that a great many jokes told by Scandinavians about Scandinavians revolve around a lack of intelligence.

    I don’t know how many times I have been told I was “stuck-up” or something of that nature. It wasn’t until I delved into to my Scandinavian heritage that I had an A-ha moment and realized it didn’t have anything to do with me. It’s just the genes I wearing.

    • It’s kind of funny that so many people today think blondes are dumb when the Nazis of yesterday thought blondes were the smartest of everyone.

      And when the truth is that our coloring only indicates how close our ancestors lived to the sun.

  11. I agree with the stigma placed on blonde women being as I was born bright blonde myself. I always was expected to be bright and bubbly all the time because if I wasn’t, something was equated as wrong with me based on the personality stereotype placed on blonde women. I was born with blue eyes like the author, but they turned green when I was around three years old. As I’ve gotten older, I have noticed a tremendous difference in how I am viewed now that my hair has darkened considerably over time. It still gets light on occasion, but nowhere near the same lightness as when I was a baby and young girl. I even dyed my hair blonde because I noticed that people treated me significantly more pleasant as a blonde than when I was brunette working in both shoe sales and as a cashier’]/waitress. I was expected to be nice and pleasant merely because I had blonde hair and it was a way for me to act the part of a brunette posing as a blonde, one of the most tired and outplayed ideas created by women in dying their hair in the first place. Yes, I understand that when a woman gets older, it is embarrassing that grey starts to take hold and I don’t mind women that dye their hair to combat this. It’s the thousands, maybe even millions of women like me, that are taught to believe that blonde is sexy, approachable and comforting to men when this notion has no scientific basis whatsoever. Are we not supposed to be appreciated as we are in this world? Why turn your hair from green to red if you know it’s good for you and bad for your locks?

  12. It’s insane how woman are judged on so many different levels, especially by their hair. Growing up as a male you always here dumb blonde jokes, and some people start to believe them, even though its not true, and to some extent I think its so much imbedded into society that blondes are dumb that blonde girls growing up feel forced to almost fall into the stereotype and act dumb instead of being the intelligent woman that they are to fit in because its almost what people expect. Blondes are looked at as sex objects, and brunettes are looked at as smart. A great example of how this works in the real world is this: My mothers friend and co-worker is natural blond but she discovered that out of college she couldn’t get a job anywhere because people almost wouldn’t take her seriously, and honestly were probably intimidated by her. So she decided to dye her hair brownish-black, and people looked at her in a totally different light. She got a great job, and everyone respects her. She told me that after she dyed her hair she was treated differently as a human being, and that she would never go back to being blonde for as long as she was working in her field.

  13. Blugh! I bloody HATE the blonde stereotypes. As a natural blonde myself obviously I do find them very offensive. Fortunately they don’t seem to be as popular anymore as they used to, and it seems that more and more people (or really most people) are realizing how ridiculous they are, and they know that they are not true. Hair color is just hair color, a physical appearance and nothing more. The way a person looks has absolutely nothing to do with their personality. And most people are smart enough to figure that out. It also annoys me the idea that lighter hairs means you are more attractive. Again I have blonde hair but I’m VERY plain looking and quite nerdy. My cousin on the other hand is a brunette and she is a stunning beauty! She literally looks like a super model and can pretty much get any attention she wants, whereas I and some of my other plain looking blonde haired friends are usually left to ourselves. And the other thing that kind of annoys me is the idea that blonde people “all” have light colored eyes. Nope! A lot of my blonde haired family members, and yes they are natural, have either brown or hazel eyes. It just runs in our family, I on the other hand have medium green eyes like my mother. I love the diversity within my family and friends and I wish more people could see that.

  14. Also, what’s kind of odd about Dolly Parton’s quote is that I’ve seen pictures of her as a little girl from her biographies and she had blonde hair then too…

  15. After reading the article, I realized how sad the situation was. A girl with blonde hair who just does not care about what everyone says ends up changing her hair color because of the name-callings and stereotyping; just so she won’t be bothered by anyone. It makes me realize, how society effects our emotions! Another example, I can give is from my little cousin who is a brunette and she is in the 4th grade. She comes home unhappy and tells her mom that boys in the classroom make fun of her because she has a “uni-brow”! She begs her mom to wax it! Her mom tried to explain her how beautiful she was and she should not care about what everybody says but at the end her mom gave up on it also. So, she waxed her eyebrows! I guess my point is, it does not matter if you are a blonde or a brunette, people will find something to make fun about if you do not match the examples in the media!

  16. Marissa Martinez

    I really appreciate that someone wrote an article like the one I just read. It is so hard for anyone to try and accept themselves. In society, it’s all about the new trends for hair and clothing that there is hardly any room for personality. Also I disagree with what people say about blondes. To me if you got the brains to get the grades then that because you study and want to learn. In my opinion, it is especially hard for girls. We were taught at an young age that boys were better in many ways than girls their age.

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