Authors: Selena Coppock
For my parents: Susan and Mike.
Your combined DNA gave me a phenomenal head of hair and your strong values, unconditional love, and unending support gave me a great head on my shoulders. Thank you and I love you, Mud and Pud.
ow old were you when your heard your first blonde joke? Usually indoctrination happens in childhood, when towheaded tykes are taught that their hair color makes them stupid and hundreds of jokes exist to support that premise.
How do you know that a blonde was just using the computer? Because the screen is covered in whiteout. Why did the blonde tiptoe past the medicine cabinet? So she wouldn’t wake up the sleeping pills. Why did the blonde return the scarf? She said it was too tight.
How many of these classic blonde jokes have you heard before? How many other blonde jokes?
Light-haired ladies have faced patronizing prejudgment since time immemorial. Historically, society has embraced old rules of blondeness that characterize all blonde-haired ladies as either clueless, naïve simpletons or gold-digging, unrepentant sexpots. If you’re a blonde, you must be one or the other. Either you’re Sandra Dee or you’re Marilyn Monroe. The old rules of blondeness reinforced this limiting, narrow dichotomy of the Madonna/whore identity, and for that reason, the old rules are obsolete. We are living in an age of intelligent, self-sufficient, gutsy blondes such as Hillary Clinton and Lady Gaga, and the blondes of today need not be defined and inhibited by the tired blonde stereotypes of yesteryear.
To my fellow blondes, I decree that it’s time for new rules. It’s time to laugh in the face of those retrograde, inaccurate stereotypes (or at least giggle while we toss our amazing hair). If there’s one thing that blondes are not, it’s shrinking violets (though we often use violet shampoo). Leave that act to other hair colors—blondes won’t do it. Just as fresh highlights mix both whitish and yellowish tones, every blonde possesses a fascinating mix of experiences, personality traits, and opinions. She’s not just an ignorant prude or a hypersexual knockout. She can’t be reduced to a black-and-white stereotype of a Sandra Dee or a Marilyn Monroe. She’s multifaceted, unpredictable, and wholly unique.
As a natural-born blonde who now has to see a colorist to maintain that hue, I’ll admit my blonde color is a bit of an obsession. At the end of high school when I was given the senior superlative of “Best Hair” in my graduating class, I knew that the hair on my head was something special. In the years since then, I have been stopped on the street and asked about my voluminous locks by complete strangers. I have listened to pals’ stories of follicle frustration and guided those friends to the land of deep conditioning and root boost spray. I have crusaded for healthy golden tresses and given my colorist many referrals. In short, hair is of utmost importance in my life, and good hair is an integral part of my identity.
Are you in the same boat? Are you unable to watch the groundbreaking miniseries
without thinking about the last time that you saw your colorist? Are you unsure of how to answer that ultrainvasive question “Do you dye your hair?” When blonde celebrities dye their hair red or brown, do you take it as a personal affront? Are you tired of people assuming that you can’t read a map because your hair is platinum and fantastic? Then you need
The New Rules for Blondes
Let’s explore all facets of blondeness: the history, evolution, stereotypes, references in popular culture, and more. In this journey of self-discovery and blondeness, we’ll explore the ups (the staying power of iconic blondes, blonde anthems, platinum friendship, catching eyes wherever you go) and the downs (botched color, tears, catching eyes wherever you go) and establish new rules for the twenty-first century. I will address those tired stereotypes head-on, impart crucial hair care and hair color tips, explore representations of blondeness in popular culture, and share my personal triumphs and trials from blonde life. In this
of the blonde artist, I will even encourage you to experience life as a nonblonde (hear me out!) as a blonde
of sorts. See what it’s like out there in the dark-haired world, and you’ll come back to the community with a renewed appreciation for blondeness. With all of that, you, dear reader, are embarking on a crash course for the modern blonde. Let’s be bold blondes! This will be a journey to your roots (be they brown, black, blonde, or nonexistent) and back again, but I promise that all of it will be fun. After all, that’s what blondes have more of.
n old friend once told me, “There are two types of people in this world: people who get the joke and people who don’t get the joke.” Once I stopped laughing at his comment (to thwart any doubt as to whether I’m part of the elite team who gets the joke—oh, I get the joke, I sure as hell get the joke), I thought about his odd way of dividing
people into two neat categories. I must admit, though, that I see the blonde world in a similarly dichotomous fashion. There are two types of blondes in this world: Ashy Blondes and Brassy Blondes. I didn’t make up these categories, either—there’s science behind this. Two types of pigment give hair its color: pheomelanin (which colors the hair orange and yellow) and eumelanin (which determines the darkness of hair color). Blonde hair can have almost any proportion of pheomelanin and eumelanin, but in small quantities. More pheomelanin creates a more golden, brassy blonde color, and more eumelanin creates an ashier blonde. It’s the split of the century: ashy or brassy.
To the uninitiated, these categories might sound confusing and nebulous, so let me break it down for you. Contrary to what you might be thinking, ashy blondes aren’t ashy in that they need to apply lotion (the more common use of “ashy” as a descriptor). This category has nothing to do with Howard Stern’s sidekick Ashy Larry (now
guy should get some lotion). Ashy blondes are sometimes known as Hitchcock blondes after the gorgeous Grace Kelly, who was seen in several of Alfred Hitchcock’s films (
Dial M for Murder
To Catch a Thief
). They have platinum, almost grayish-blonde hair. Their hair hue isn’t yellowish at all—it’s closer to platinum—and ashy blondes must use a lot of purple shampoo to keep the color from getting brassy. (More on brassy later.) This shade is favored in salons on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and with the older blonde set. It’s not a bold, bright blonde—rather, it’s an understated, regal, country club blonde. It’s popular among WASPs (not the insect). Ashy blondes are often seen wearing preppy clothing or pashmina shawls with pearls. This shade is often paired with a bit of an attitude, or at least a wicked poker face. Think Tinsley Mortimer, Princess Diana, Paris Hilton, LeAnn Rimes, Reese Witherspoon, Dakota Fanning, Gwyneth Paltrow.
On the other extreme of the blonde continuum is the brassy blonde. This is the more stereotypically “blonde” blonde. Her hair is bright, bold, and almost yellowish. The wearer of brassy blonde might wear it with pride, or might be the unfortunate victim of a bad colorist who was shooting for ashy but ended up at brassy because her original hair color featured red or brown undertones (more on that in Chapter 7). Hair coloring is an intricate dance, and you can’t always get
. The brassy blonde who treads into that realm deliberately is usually outspoken, fun, and opinionated. She’s not as preppy as the ashy blonde—the brassy blonde is more funky, spunky, and playful. Think Pamela Anderson, Kelly Ripa, Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson, and Chelsea Handler.
Let’s break it down, Jeff Foxworthy style:
|YOU MIGHT BE AN ASHY BLONDE IF . . .||YOU MIGHT BE A BRASSY BLONDE IF . . .|
|your friends would describe you as demure, subdued, and subtle.||your friends would describe you as tons of fun, pretty wild, and spontaneous.|
|you refer to a platter of vegetables and dip as “crudités.”||you refer to a platter of vegetables and dip as a “veggie platter” or simply “a step closer to my dream of drinking ranch dressing.”|
|your nickname is Ice Queen.||your nickname is Sunshine.|
|you’ve been known to wear a silk scarf with a plain T-shirt to “jazz it up.”||you’ve been known to mercilessly mock people who use phrases like “jazz it up.”|
|you live by the mantra “Before you leave the house, take off one piece of jewelry to avoid overaccessorizing.”||you live by the mantra “When it comes to accessories, less isn’t more—|
|upon first impression, people have told you, “You act a lot like Amanda Woodward from the original|
|upon first impression, people have told you, “You act a lot like Kelly Bundy from|
Married with Children
|when you’re shopping and a pair of pants is only available in a size a bit too large for you or a bit too small for you, you go with too large so that you don’t look tawdry.||when you’re shopping and a pair of pants is only available in a size a bit too large for you or a bit too small for you, you go with too small so that you don’t look dumpy.|
|you wear pearls without irony (and often with cardigans).||you once wore pearls to a 1980s-themed party.|
|you date around but have one cardinal rule: no tattoos and no piercings.||you date around but have one cardinal rule: If the person has no tattoos and no piercings, you say no thank you.|
|you have a pretty standard routine with your colorist, and that’s generally light ashy/platinum in the summertime and some lowlights in the wintertime.||your colorist never knows what you’ll be in the mood for. Reddish lowlights in wintertime? Bold streaks of blonde in summer? It all sounds good to you.|
|you appreciate a nice glass of Malbec.||you appreciate a beer + shot deal.|
|you shop at the Loft.||you’re only familiar with lofts as party venues.|
|you often find yourself saying, “Everything in moderation.”||you often find yourself saying, “I’ll try anything once!”|
|when you see a guy make the hand gesture known as “Hook ’em Horns” or the international sign of rock and roll, you probably think,|
Does that guy worship the devil?
|when you see a guy make the hand gesture known as “Hook ’em Horns” or the international sign of rock and roll, you probably think,|
Rock and roll, buddy!
magazine are your guilty pleasures, but you wouldn’t be caught dead reading them in public.
|you’re comfortable reading|
magazine in public. Who cares?
|you’re hard to read, so friends sometimes say, “Tell me what you really think.”||Friends sometimes sarcastically say to you, “Tell me what you|
Now that I have regaled you with broad generalizations about blondes, let me get a bit more nuanced in my summation of light-haired ladies. Most blondes aren’t actually 100 percent ashy or 100 percent brassy—most of us are a mix. Painting in broad strokes is fun but rarely representative of how people actually are. Most blondes are a bit brassy and a bit ashy simultaneously, and that combination makes for a good shade with depth and dimension. There’s a little bit of ashiness and a little bit of brassiness in each of us, and we can call on either of these sides when the situation is appropriate. Going out to the opera with your new crush’s parents? Perhaps it’s time to put on a Grace Kelly–style steely reserve and pull the ashy card. Going to a rodeo with your cousins from Arkansas? Break out the good-times, Kelly Ripa enthusiasm, and embrace your inner brassy gal.
Whichever shade of blonde you choose (or with which you are naturally blessed), you are probably painfully aware of the preconceived notions heaped upon the golden-headed populace. The human instinct to judge a book by its cover is inevitable, despite what people say to the contrary. Every skin color, hair color, and aesthetic comes with a set of baggage that can help others form judgments. But no hair color is the dumping ground for as many stereotypes, preconceived notions, jokes, and negative assumptions as blonde.
There’s a reason that city cabs are painted bright yellow: It catches the eye. A head of yellow-blonde hair acts like a lighthouse, drawing attention, reflecting light, and stopping sailors from crashing into the beach (well, two out of three ain’t bad). The color yellow (and blonde) stimulates mental processes, activates memory, and encourages communication. School buses are yellow because that color jumps out, visually, so drivers will be careful around the children getting on and off and crossing the street.
Combine this tendency to stick out with the stereotypes heaped upon blondes, and now a yellow-haired lady might feel like she is a moving target. Based on hair color alone, strangers make myriad assumptions about her, the first of which is that she’s stupid. The earliest suggestions of blonde as a negative thing date back to medieval Europe, when members of the upper class tended to be paler and darker-haired than the peasantry. Lower classes toiled away outdoors, acquiring sunburns or tans and (probably) natural highlights (which women now pay top dollar to mimic). Since peasants were uneducated laborers and considered less intelligent than the upper classes, a link between light hair and presumed idiocy was born.
Some scholars trace the emergence of the dumb-blonde archetype to blonde French courtesan Rosalie Duthé, who lived during the eighteenth century. You’ve got to be a pretty huge moron to inspire a negative hair color reputation that will persist for centuries. She inspired the satirical play
Les Curiosités de la Foire
(1775), which highlighted her habit of taking long pauses before speaking, thus appearing not only stupid but also quite literally dumb (as in mute). After that, the dumb-blonde characterization cropped up again in vaudeville theater of the 1870s and 1880s, when a troupe of women known as the Dizzy Blondes toured the United States. It is believed that the “dizzy blonde” of this era was the precursor to the “dumb blonde” that would emerge only a few decades later and continue to this day.
The next stereotype heaped upon my blonde sisterhood is that she’s conniving and gold-digging. Seems to run completely counter to the dumb-blonde characterization, huh? This negative reputation may have emerged from the 1925 novel
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: The Illuminating Diary of a Professional Lady
by Anita Loos. Yes, it was a book before it was a movie before it was a Madonna video. In this book, the protagonist, Lorelei Lee, is a blonde Southerner—beautiful, gold-digging, and materialistic—who plays dumb brilliantly to get whatever she wants. When this novel was made into a film in 1953, iconic blonde Marilyn Monroe played the role of Lorelei and sang about how “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” Two years after the publication of
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
, author Anita Loos published
But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes
, aligning with the stereotype that blondes are frivolous and fun but not suitable for the serious contract of marriage. Brunettes (or any nonblondes, really) are a better fit for that.
Only a few years after the critical and commercial success of Loos’s
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
, another iconic blonde was born: Barbie. Barbie was invented by Ruth Handler (who named the doll after her daughter, Barbara) and later purchased, produced, and marketed by Mattel. While the original doll came in two shades, blonde and brunette, we all know which look adhered to the public consciousness. You can’t necessarily think that a doll is especially smart or stupid, but you can judge a doll by its body (umm . . . gross) and the Barbie doll was controversial because of Barbie’s tiny waist and distinct breasts. Barbie was a departure from her doll contemporaries in that she was the first doll for children that wasn’t a baby—she was an adult. Barbie’s pronounced breasts, tiny waistline, and feet stuck in high-heel position seemed to indicate one thing: Barbie was just another party girl.
Some people think that the average blonde is not only stupid but also a hypersexual vixen. The alliterative characterization of a blonde as a “blonde bimbo” dates back to the Roman Empire, when blonde hair was associated with prostitutes. Because of that association, fair-haired women in the early period of Ancient Rome used to dye their hair dark. A denial of blondeness was the trend until Greek culture (where the opposite practice—bleaching hair blonde—was popular) reached Rome. Unfortunately, blonde hair dye in that era was quite barbaric and would burn and irritate the scalp and hair. Hair color concoctions made from rock alum, quicklime, wood ash, saffron, and yellow mud were the most popular routes to blondeness, and these pastes resulted in scalp irritation and mixed results.
Religion jumped into the fray during the late fourteenth century, when Eve was usually depicted as a blonde and the Virgin Mary as a brunette. In John Milton’s
both Adam and Eve are described as having “golden tresses,” and I’m glad Adam isn’t immune from some blame here because dude got in on that apple-eating action, too. But of course the Virgin Mary is almost always shown as a brunette. Being blonde ain’t easy, I tell ya.
Whether you are ashy or brassy, you’ll face the aforementioned stereotypes and assumptions. There’s strength in merely knowing who you are and where you fit in, though. I was born of an ashy-blonde mother and a brown-haired father, and yet I’m a brassy blonde. Weird science, I know! This result is not a scientific impossibility, just as two pigmented parents can indeed produce an albino child. I wear my bright, brassy yellow hair with pride, despite the haters. I’m spunky, opinionated, and somewhat loud—the textbook brassy blonde. You should wear your color, whatever it may be, with pride and without apologies. If you get backhanded, patronizing “compliments” from coworkers or acquaintances, let them roll off your back, because your chosen color works for you and makes you happy. Trust me, I’ve gotten many a backhanded compliment in my day.
Years back, a coworker (with a horribly patronizing attitude, a wry smile that silently communicated constant disdain for others, and a head of mousy brown hair) tried to make me feel bad about my eye-catching, voluminous hair. We were standing by the copier in the oppressive law firm where we were both working as paralegals. In truth, most of my day was spent avoiding work and perfecting the “silent weep” in the bathroom stall. It was a sad time in my life—I was fresh out of college, perpetually broke, living in an unfamiliar city, and super lonely. I was too poor to afford a colorist, so I painted in my own blonde highlights at home. Very badly. But I was still blonde, and that gave me a sliver of happiness. Miserable Coworker and I were chatting about the TV show
and making small talk when I made a joke: