My friend Laurie posted a picture of Barbara Eden’s “I Dream of Jeannie” character online, prompting comparisons between her and Elizabeth Montgomery’s “Bewitched” character — also a blond beauty who was magically inclined. Laurie made the observation that on both television shows these nice, sweet characters had evil, manipulative sisters, comically played by the lead actresses wearing dark wigs.
“Nice bit of cultural indoctrination there,” she said. “Just as bad as Disney and other fairy tales.”
It immediately had me thinking of additional characters that fit that good-versus-bad stereotype. Betty and Veronica from the Archie comics, Krystle and Alexis Carrington from Dynasty, and Aurora and her evil stepmother from Sleeping Beauty were the first few that popped to mind.
“It’s a constant theme throughout Western European-based mythology,” Laurie said.
I couldn’t help but agree, and I had noticed this before, but I wondered if her being a brunette made her more conscious of that particular typecasting, while I was more in tune with another one: the dumb blond cliché.
I can’t even begin to count how many blonde jokes I’ve heard in my life. I used to tell them myself just to beat people to the punch. Some are funny, but in reality when someone insinuates that I lack intelligence because of my hair color, it’s annoying.
I guess that’s why it can irritate Laurie when someone jokes about brunettes being bitter or less attractive — yet another ridiculous stereotype.
The concept that hair colour can actually affect the perception people have regarding women’s characters, brain power or beauty is astonishing. But it can.
In my twenties, I dyed my naturally dirty blond hair to a beautiful, dark rich brown. I loved the colour. Unfortunately it didn’t love me and I looked terrible. I had to wear heavy make-up so my face wouldn’t look washed out. Despite this, I had several people tell me I looked better and smarter after the change. One friend said that it was an improvement over my “fake, blond bimbo image.”
Ironically, my former self was far more natural than this transformed version of me that she preferred.
To prevent damaging my hair too much, I lived as a brunette for longer than I wanted to and felt relief when I returned to my original colour. It felt as though I was able to take off an uncomfortable Halloween wig and finally be myself again. If someone didn’t like my reversal, I no longer cared.
It felt absurd to be judged on something so insignificant. Does the colour of a man’s hair impact the way people perceive him? Not to the same degree as a woman, I’m sure.
There are so many ludicrous stereotypes about many different things that can affect men, as well. Sweeping over-simplified generalizations are made about people all the time. Sometimes with horrific results.
What I learned as a child, and now teach my own kids, is that regardless of one’s ethnicity, faith, profession, gender, age, income, appearance, sexual preference or whatever, there are wonderful and horrible people within each group.
Judging people based on stereotypes is dumb. Being a blond is not.