I’m allowed to write this article only because I’m a 7. I don’t mean that I’m a 7 the way Bo Derek was supposedly a 10. I mean that I’m a 7 on the Natural Color Scale for hair, which indicates that I’m officially a blond.
Color scales were invented by hair companies so that we might artificially color our hair more accurately. On one company’s Natural Colors line, 1 is Dark Brown, 6 looks Dark Blonde, and 10 means Ultra Light Blonde. This is the scale upon which I am a 7, a Medium Blond. This is the scale that implies that I am able to think with only 30 percent of my pigment.
So although I’m a male blond, I’ve decided to mention my own intimacy with the subject of Blondness because this article is about Blondeness, and I’m hoping that my hair color may pardon me for any politically incorrect observations that I have just made, and for all the politically incorrect observations that I am about to make.
Now if my own Blondness is not credential or justification enough for you, or if you are given to being offended by broad generalizing statements about diverse groups of people, then get ready to set your ire in an uproar. I apologize in advance. And I urge you to recognize that down beneath it all, beneath the cruel insinuations and the patronizing jokes, I’m sincerely searching for some solid facts, for some grounded truth at the roots of the blonde myth.
One fact is this: here in San Diego, we bathe and breathe in the land of the blonde. (Incidentally, the word itself, “blond,” is French in origin, which explains the gender sensitivity: it’s one of the few English words that change their spellings to refer to a man or to a woman, either a blond or a blonde.) Look all around you, blondes here, blonds there, blondes and blonds are everywhere. It’s either something in the air or something in a bottle. Natural or not, San Diego’s got lots of fair locks on top.
Yes…diaphanous flaxen tresses, golden waves of mane…but soon, they may be gone?
Fact or folly, the BBC reported that people with blonde hair are an endangered species. The rumors alleged that natural blondes will die out within the next 200 years. Is it an inherent inanity, I wondered, some kind of “ditz gene” that has placed our precious blondes in jeopardy? Perhaps flakiness works against life’s most fundamental goal: survival.
Apparently blonde hair is caused by a recessive gene that must be present on both sides of a child’s family in the grandparents’ generation. According to the study, this condition is growing increasingly rare. The researchers believe that so-called bottle blondes may be to blame for the demise of their natural rivals. They suggest that dyed blondes are more attractive to men, who choose them as partners over true blondes.
In nature, this phenomenon is called “mimicry.” Mimicry is defined by the Encyclopedia Britannica as a biological occurrence “characterized by the superficial resemblance of two or more organisms that are not closely related taxonomically.” This resemblance is supposed to “confer an advantage — such as protection from predation — upon one or both organisms through some form of ‘information flow’ that passes between the organisms” (the real blonde and the fake blonde) and the “animate agent of selection” (the unwitting male); for instance, “that blonde’s hair makes her hot.”
But what makes blondes more attractive in the first place? Do gentlemen genuinely prefer them?
My theory (as a gentleman) is that blondes are more attractive for the same reason that moths like light: bright and sparkly things are more attractive. (The moth thinks that bright light means heat, and it usually does. The man thinks that bright hair means hot, and it usually does.) I think the sex drive of a man really does render his taste that simple. Bright and sparkly equals good.
And let’s face it, the blonde myth, such as it stands — that men favor them, that they have more fun, that they’re ditzy and dreamy, that they’re softer in some way — is a guy thing, mostly, a fairy tale that men invented to balance out the power these brightest and sparkliest women have over them. Perhaps this myth was once about scarcity as well, about the relative value of rare things. But hydrogen peroxide should have trimmed that trouble a bit. Now we read estimates that as many as 70 percent of American women are or have been or will spend at least some of their lives as blondes.
True blonde or fake blonde…aside from whether “the carpet matches the drapes,” really, what’s the difference?
To help answer this question, I invoke a dead German philosopher who was not particularly blond. Walter Benjamin had a theory about the “aura” of objects. It’s a theory about originality versus commodity, about the genuine as opposed to copies, and Benjamin came up with it many years before the invention of Xerox or implants. For Benjamin, “aura” is what surrounds a thing’s unique existence — its originality and authenticity. The idea is that reproduction withers the aura, detaching the object from its tradition and “liquidating the traditional value of the cultural heritage.” In other words, by now, in our cultural situation, we don’t much care any longer whether she’s a real blonde or just some highlighted imitation, so long as she really looks blonde.
And this is because Blondeness (true or fake) is more than just a hair color. It’s a context. It’s something you’re in, even when you’re only near it. It’s an energy that pervades. A kind of influence. A weather.
My good friend Anne Bacon is a blonde. I’m surprised to think of her this way, because she’s also one of the most thoughtful and contemplative people I know. She stands about five foot nothing, has one of the biggest smiles I’ve ever seen, and when I met her years ago she had very light hair cascading all the way down past her waist. When I started working on this article, I called her up (she lives in San Francisco now), and I told her that I wanted to ask her a few questions.