The “Blonde” Myth

ELLE gave Jo Piazza a platform to publish one of the flat-out dumbest essays I’ve had to read on the internet in the last few months, an ode to her dyed-blonde hair. It’s not that her dyed-blonde hair is dumb; it looks great. It’s stuff like this that’s dumb:

“One year ago I was fat, miserable, single, and brunette. Today I am skinny, happy, engaged, and I have the loveliest honey blonde hair you have ever seen north of the Mason-Dixon line.”

That’s the first paragraph.

She goes on to expound upon a number of mythical qualities imbued to her by her blonde hair: “People liked me more. They were warmer and kinder. They were more likely to offer to do things for me. This wasn’t just creepy men with a stripper complex. It was women, too. They smiled at me more often and struck up conversations about reality television.”

And there’s this, a pretty stunning blow to blondes everywhere, a theory that blondes have more fun or whatever because the bar for intelligence is set so low for us: “I never knew that I wanted to be underestimated, but it turns out that is exactly what I wanted.” Simultaneously, though, she says she has more confidence. “The confidence boost I’ve gotten from my blonde hair is completely worth it. I feel more assured as a blonde, more outgoing, more assertive.”

So she wants to be underestimated, but she has more confidence? Does she just have more confidence that she can clear a low bar? Did she not have the confidence that she could clear the bar set for brunettes, which is apparently higher, in her perception? Is it possible, maybe, that Jo Piazza believes blondes are unintelligent, is herself a little less intelligent than she wants to admit, and now feels more confident because she feels her hair color and the perceptions she’s attached to it correspond more closely to her intellectual capability? Is that a low blow? So many questions.

Piazza claims that women who have been blonde all their lives tell her that “People have been opening their doors and carrying their bags and offering them seats on the subway their entire life.” Au contraire, madame. I’m naturally blond – blond without an “e” because I have principles about uselessly feminizing descriptors, just like how I’ve banished the word “actress” from my vocabulary – and it’s not about being blond(e). It’s about who you are as a person. People haven’t held doors for me more than they’ve held doors for my brown-haired sister, nor were they more polite or accommodating to me when I had red hair, brown hair, or stark-white-and-black hair.

I think the key is really self-perception, because if you believe that your hair color has a meaning, if your hair color is meaningful to you, then you will start to live up to those meanings. And if being blond(e), to Jo Piazza, always meant being confident and cheerful, then she will be confident and cheerful with blonde hair. And good for her! If changing her hair color changes her self-perception and impacts her life positively, then she should keep doing it.

But it’s incorrect to apply that concept universally, because on the other hand, if you believe your hair color is absolutely meaningless, then you will pretty much act the same way regardless of your hair color. Hair color isn’t magic, and it doesn’t innately impact your personality. That’s why there are a ton of very happy, confident brown-haired women who have people open doors for them all the time. That’s why Angela Merkel isn’t writing thinkpieces about how her blond hair has been the key to her success as a head of state. That’s why there’s a huge swath of –women – most women, I would think – who do not pay attention to their hair color because it’s a low-priority concern in their lives who are happy, sad, confident, insecure, tired, energetic, polite, rude, and everything else regardless of their hair color.

It bugs me because the mythology about “blonde” hair in America really does come along with a low bar for intelligence. So while I was finishing my homework for the day before half the school day was over in grade school, scoring consistently in 99th percentiles, and reading five years ahead of my grade level, I also had to listen while both children and adults performed the passive-aggressive act of diminishing my intelligence because they saw that I had blond hair and thought it’d be funny to tell a “dumb blonde” joke. This was one of a few things that made me surly and resentful about the way my appearance was treated, starting when I was probably four or five years old, and I’m sure it was incredibly disappointing to the joke-tellers that even at that young age I didn’t laugh but instead responded to them by telling the joke back with a blond man in place of what was always a blond woman in the joke, or with a brown-haired woman in place of the blond.

Because, you see, that’s my personality. I’ve always felt confident in my work and in my intelligence because they’ve served me consistently. but insecure in my social skills because I have to make a tremendous effort to be socially graceful. I’ve always felt happy when I do things like go to museums or write or make art, and sad when I feel isolated and alone. I’ve always tried to be polite and I have had my fair share of failure. Sometimes I’ve felt like striking up conversations with strangers, or being receptive to the conversations they try to strike up with me, sometimes I haven’t. It has had nothing to do with the follicles that grow out of my head. That’s just me. Every other person on Earth also has a unique personality that’s shaped by their experiences and the messaging and socialization they receive, as well as by their self-perception, and it’s really not that it was the blond hair that did the trick fo Jo Piazza, it’s that she wanted her life to be different, telling us: “I didn’t have anything to lose. This” – her hair and her life – “wasn’t working for me.” The color of her hair, and the pop cultural meanings associated with it, provided her with a way to change it. The blond “version” of her was always there, it just took making an outward change to access it.

And while that’s awesome, meanwhile, I’d love it if we’d stop associating blondness with stupidity, consistent cheerfulness, and low expectations, especially for girls. We’re so much more than our physical attributes, and reducing blond girls to their hair and then consciously or unconsciously assuming they’re stupid because of it – or even just telling them that blond women are stupid – is just one of many ways that we tear girls down before they even have a chance to grow.

[ELLE]

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