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The dumb blonde and her origin

She’s attractive. She’s fun. She’s flirty. She’s…dumb?

The concept of the dumb blonde, a common stereotype placed on fair-haired women, continues to pervade society through today. Its origin, however, like many popular-cultural stereotypes, is clouded.

The 1925 Anita Loos novel, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: The Illuminating Diary of a Professional Lady (later used as source for a film by the same name made by Howard Hawks and starring Marilyn Monroe) featured the character Lorelei Lee, a beautiful but empty-headed singer.

While some look to this as the source for the concept, in fact, it might be far older.

Since the days of ancient Rome, women who took the time to lighten their hair have been looked at as “bimbos…without serious intentions,” according to a recent article in USA Today.

One explanation dates back to medieval Europe when members of the upper class tended to be darker-haired than the peasantry. This was because the lower classes spent more time outside in the sun. Since peasants were often considered less intelligent than the upper class, an association between fair-haired persons and a lack of intelligence surfaced.

Though origins of this negative stereotype date back hundreds of years, possibly millennia, the concept has gained momentum in recent years.

Numerous actresses of the 20th century have played characters labeled as “dumb blondes.” These include Marilyn Monroe, Jean Harlow, Suzanne Somers, and Goldie Hawn. Of course these films have only further brought the stereotype into the limelight.

The stereotype makes many think back to the 1960s with Hugh Heffner and his Playboy Bunnies. It’s true that the Bunnies were fashioned after the pin-up models of the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s, girls made famous based solely on their physical appearance. Perhaps this fact has carried some of the damaging weight in through today.

One of the most recent examples of this is the character Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, played by Reese Witherspoon. The film features the stereotype as the centerpiece of its plot.

With the notoriety this stereotype has gathered, serious concerns arise regarding its possible implications.

Many girls who are blonde cite the fact that since so many people are familiar with the stereotype they worry about how they are perceived by others, especially with regard to first impressions. Job interviews are an excellent example of this as some blondes say they are uncomfortable about their hair color in interview situations, specifically that they don’t want a potential employer to automatically judge them based on their hair color.

Some evidence suggests that men might be responsible for this common stereotype, according to a study conducted by the British Psychological Society in which 60 male participants and 60 female participants were asked to look at pictures of a female model wearing different colored wigs. They were asked to rate them for traits such as intelligence and popularity. The platinum blonde was rated as popular by both male and female participants, but as less intelligent by male raters only.

Certainly, and no matter what the origin, the dumb blonde stereotype makes it harder for blondes who must work against its often negative effects. As with most stereotypes, it’s simply unfair.

2 comments so far

The whole “upper class, lower class” thing really makes a lot of sense. It seems that we get a lot of sayings and social slurs from those times. It is amazing that the ideas that were around then are still floating around today.

It blows me away that phrases and stereotypes are floating around and we have no idea where they came from. The fact that we can’t even think up good reasons for half of the stereotypes that we have should be an instant warning for us that they are almost never accurate.

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