Updated: Sep 1, 2018
By Shruthi Sailesh, Ambivert. Bibliophile. Aspiring renaissance woman.
I’ve always been fascinated by the supposed rivalry between blondes and brunettes, even though as someone who isn’t white, I’m kind ‘brunette by default’ and as such, don’t really have a dog in this fight. (See, Does the term 'brunette' only apply to white women?).
Firstly, I’d question the assumption that blondes are universally considered to be more desirable. A certain iconic 1950s film aside, both blonde and dark hair (in women) have powerful cultural connotations regarding desirability, intelligence, and other facets of personality. Blonde characters are often defined by their beauty, which can potentially be attributed to the statistical rarity of blondes in real life, but they’re also often portrayed as agreeable, gregarious, and naive (I hesitate to use the word “unintelligent” — there are blonde characters who make straight A’s but who nevertheless retain a sense of innocence, but more on that later). Brunettes, on the other hand, are more likely to be portrayed as cold, moody, and “complicated”, but also more academically focused and ambitious.
In terms of sex appeal, it gets a bit more complicated. There is research to support the idea that blonde women are perceived as more attractive than women of other hair colors (and presumably other races, since blonde hair is found almost exclusively in people of European descent). Yet in popular culture, brunettes are more likely to be depicted as sexually experienced; vixens, temptresses, and femme fatales are almost always dark-haired. Blondes are generally thought of as childlike and innocent, and there’s a strong association between light coloration and sexual “purity” (i.e, virginity). To take the classic example of the Archie comics, it’s clear that raven-haired Veronica, with her revealing clothing and (alluded to) promiscuity, is meant to be the whore to wholesome, girl-next-door Betty’s Madonna.
The teen soap opera Gossip Girl featured a similar dynamic, with driven, manipulative queen bee Blair and spirited, carefree Serena, who really does seem to have more fun than her neurotic best friend/frenemy. Gossip Girl does challenge (or corroborate, depending on your view) the trope; Serena is simultaneously a “slut” and the unsuspecting victim of social sabotage. Blair, meanwhile, is often consumed with jealousy regarding Serena’s genuine popularity — “I’m sick of always looking like Darth Vader next to sunshine Barbie!”
This bias against brunettes can also be seen in fairy tales. Take Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Rapunzel, to name a few. The princesses have blonde hair and blue/green eyes, while the evil stepmothers and captors always have dark hair.
(I’m aware that there are dark-haired and even dark-skinned Disney princesses, but their oppressors are never correspondingly fair and blonde, which suggests how deeply ingrained the dark/sinister association is).
And speaking of Maleficent, who was condemned as a “homewrecker” and seductress in arguably the most publicized celebrity feud of the 2000’s?
(Hint: She wasn’t a clueless and lovable character on a hit sitcom).
I don’t know how I forgot to include this, but Taylor Swift’s You Belong With Me music video is another excellent example.
Blonde Taylor is demure and unassuming. A bookworm and band geek, all she wants is true love with the boy next door (literally…he lives next door). Brunette Taylor is the classic mean girl cheerleader, who obviously doesn’t deserve her sweetheart of a boyfriend (essentially making Blonde Taylor the female equivalent of a Nice Guy™, but that’s another answer). The virgin/whore imagery is strong with this one. Brunette Taylor’s revealing scarlet dress clearly indicates her promiscuity while Blonde Taylor is the virginal good girl in white.
The show One Tree Hill is another potential, albeit more complex example.
While Brooke (the brunette) is portrayed as a borderline nymphomaniac, she also embodies many classically ‘blonde’ qualities — she’s ditzy, vivacious, and idealistic. Meanwhile, Peyton (the blonde) is a temperamental, cynical artist, a persona that is more characteristic of dark-haired characters.
Interestingly, while One Tree Hill subverted this trope with it’s leading female characters, it seems to have played it straight with the male protagonists.
As to whether I’ve personally felt less desirable because I’m not blonde, I think it’s impossible to answer that without accounting for race. My past insecurities regarding beauty had far more to do with my dark skin than dark hair, but considering my lifelong fascination with blonde hair, I think it’s safe to say that I would have experienced similar feelings if I was a dark-haired white woman. If brunettes are feeling marginalized, it’s for good reason.
So why the stereotype? Why is being a brunette so bad?
Blonde Stereotypes are bad for brunettes. Nowhere is this more clear than in the media and specifically in children’s movies. Disney movies are perhaps the biggest culprit. Although children’s movies might easily be overlooked or disregarded as irrelevant to how adults view blondes, all adults were once children socialized through various sources including the media as to the norms and values of their culture.
Media representations in children’s movies portray blondes as some combination of naive, innocent, confused, idealistic, or dumb.
A corporation like Disney uses these representations of blondes intentionally in order to make the plot of a movie easier for children to follow and digest. Children gain the association that white/light represents being virtuous and good and this is extended to include innocent, idealistic, and naive. Children know who the hero or protagonist is in a movie easily not only by the words or actions in the plot but also from something as simply as color association. Blonde = good.
In contrast to associations of blondes as good, brunettes, in their least harmful representations, are depicted as intelligent but negatively so. This intelligence is often played out as weirdness. Mary Poppins, for example, falls into the category of a weird intelligent brunette. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious! Need I say more? Another example is Belle from Beauty and the Beast who reads a lot and is considered weird as a result. She is so weird, in fact, that she falls in love with a beast!
Brunette stereotypes may be subtle compared to blonde stereotypes, but they exist, are just as negative, and are implied every time someone communicates a blonde stereotype.
If you enjoyed this read, be sure to check out our new FB group dedicated to brunette beauties just like you! Join, share your story, promote yourself and most of all have fun!