The Blonde Mystique

The Blonde Mystique

The Blonde Mystique is a 52 minute documentary on how hair color affects the way women are perceived. Specifically it’s about trying to better understand the stereotype of the blonde.

It is hosted by three young women in their 20s and early 30s—two brunettes and a blonde—who talk about their experiences and their beliefs about this topic, and also go out into the field for various experiments and interviews. There are also a few talking heads interview clips with academics as well as Hugh Hefner, introducing research results and various sociological and evolutionary theories about why people respond the way they do to women’s hair color.

The film has a self-consciously light, fun feel to it, with the hosts engaging in faux spontaneous bubbly conversation with each other throughout. That’s not quite as cloying as it could be; they’re all likable enough.

A lot of the evidence concerning blondes being preferred by men and treated certain ways is anecdotal, the theories to explain it (mostly blonde hair being associated with youth and thereby providing an evolutionary advantage in mate selection) are interesting and have some prima facie plausibility but I don’t know if they’d stand up to scrutiny, and the experiments are far from scientifically rigorous yet certainly carry some small weight and are thought-provoking. Put it all together, and substantively this is at least as good as what I would realistically expect from a typical documentary of less than an hour. Despite the tone, there’s a respectable amount of meat here.

I liked the background interviews maybe slightly better than the adventures of the hosts. I’d like to have seen the academics given more of a chance to elaborate on their ideas. And while I would imagine Hefner is just dismissed as a pornographer in some circles, he’s a bright, articulate, reasonable guy, and always has been from what I’ve seen of him.

But the little experiments and such by the hosts—which are the bulk of the film—are pretty good too. When people on the street are asked to guess their ages, the brunettes are guessed fairly well, while the blonde is imagined to be several years younger than she really is. Until they die their hair, after which the results are roughly reversed, with the (former) blonde “aging” from 22 to 30, for instance.

When (individually) they pretend to be stuck by the side of the highway with car trouble, far more guys stop to help when they have blonde hair. They also are more likely to talk down to the blondes and keep their comments and questions simple, like asking if they remembered to put gas in the car.

As blondes they get hit on more in bars. And in man on the street interviews, guys almost invariably openly state they prefer blondes. (Some of this of course can be manipulated with the editing. You’re only seeing the clips the filmmaker chose to include to support whatever she wanted to support after all.)

Of course the subject matter of the film calls so much attention to their looks that one can’t help but focus considerably on that. (Not that I normally wouldn’t be focused on that with women of this age.)

All of them are more good looking than not, but none are spectacular. Probably one of the brunettes is the best looking to me, with the blonde a whisker behind but very close, and the other brunette (who looks like she’s maybe half black) a little bit behind her but still decent.

The problem with their switching hair colors is I was already used to them looking a certain way by then, so it just comes across as phony and distracting. (Though it needn’t. It could be interestingly different to change what I’m familiar with, but for whatever psychological reason I didn’t react that way.)

Once I got over the initial slightly negative general reaction to the changes, I’d say the blonde is a small step down, the one brunette is about the same—maybe a tiny bit better as a blonde if I really try to look at it objectively and ignore the fact that she’s a natural brunette—and the black girl frankly looks kind of silly with blonde hair and is a bigger step down.

I really wonder about having her as one of the principles for this documentary in the first place. Whatever messages having blonde hair sends, whatever buttons it pushes, certainly it functions much differently for different races. Sociologically, culturally, I have to think a black woman dying her hair blonde (or wearing a wig, as in this case) means something very different from a white woman having blonde hair. It’s so transparently artificial, the way someone with a really obvious boob job differs from someone with a naturally large bust. But they never address that. They just treat her as a (Caucasian) brunette for the purposes of the film.

Imagine two black women and a white woman doing a film about how people react to afros, and whether they associate them with the black power movement or sexuality or what, and then all three get afros and check people’s reactions. The white woman just doesn’t fit in that experiment.

I did learn certain interesting tidbits from this movie that probably a lot of other people already knew. One is that blonde hair darkens considerably with age. I suppose I knew that at some level, but I never imagined the degree to which that’s true.

They state that something like one out of six people starts with blonde hair (I assume they mean white people or white Americans), but that the number of adults with naturally blonde hair is more like one in a hundred thousand. So if you see an adult with blonde hair (not light brown sort of leaning toward blonde, but clearly blonde), it’s pretty close to a hundred percent that it’s dyed, regardless of their ethnicity or what color hair they were born with.

Anyway, I might as well weigh in on this topic of whether blonde women are considered better looking, more fun to be with, more wild (and more dumb), etc., by society and then by me personally.

I’m not going to deny that there’s some preference in (American) society for blondes, so I’m not particularly surprised at the studies and polls and such they mention in passing, but I don’t know that it’s all that strong. Judging from the things I’ve read and the people I’ve talked to, it seems like there are other ethnicities besides the classic Nordic blonde that get a lot of support as the sexiest. In my experience maybe the most common “type” guys single out as the sexiest would be Latin American women. People who’ve been to Central America rave about Costa Rican women and such, and Brazilians and South Americans have a real positive reputation like that.

Or really that whole Mediterranean look, the darker skinned Caucasians, like Italian women, Spanish women, maybe some Arab women—I hear that type singled out pretty darn often as something of the female ideal. You know, their being “hot-blooded” and all that.

I would guess another non-blonde group that would get plenty of votes is Asian women. I don’t know that it’s overall looks or hair color so much as that they tend to be small and are stereotypically docile (which a lot of men really go for), but a lot of guys in my experience rave about Asian women. I remember awhile back it was something of a fad: all of a sudden a sizable percentage of guys I knew (who were socioeconomically high enough to pretty much have their choice of women, and who were status-conscious enough to know what was approved of by proper society) seemed to all have Asian girlfriends simultaneously.

But is there still something about blondes that makes them more desirable to guys? Probably to some small degree.

My guess would be if you include exotic foreign types, then I’m skeptical the Swedish blonde would fare better than the French girl or the Brazilian girl or the Thai girl. They’d all have their proponents and they’d all be considered of a really interestingly hot type. But if you limit it to conventional American women, identical in all respects except the color of their hair, then I would say blondes would win. Really not by a lot though.

I think hair color would be light years behind weight, substantially behind age, and slightly behind anatomical features like breast size in attracting guys. Heck it would likely be slightly behind hair length as well.

For me personally? The great love of my life had beautiful long blonde hair when I fell for her, and, yes, that’s one of the factors that made her incredibly attractive to me. I suppose all else being equal I am more attracted to blondes, but just like as I speculated for society in general, I don’t think it’s a big factor.

Mostly what I like is variety. Redheads are fascinatingly different looking from most women to me and tend to get my attention. Goth-type women with hair colors that don’t occur in nature might be the sexiest to me. (Which kind of flies in the face of my remark that the blonde black woman just looked silly to me, but for whatever reason the novelty didn’t work for me at all there the way it usually does.)

Beautiful women are beautiful women. They’re all different and they’re all wonderful. Hair color just isn’t something I’d single out as a big deal. Maybe if I were building the perfect woman she’d be blonde, but I’ve been extraordinarily attracted to an awful lot of non-blondes in my life.

And that factor of being used to a woman a certain way matters too. Laura Prepon is one of my top sexy women in movies and TV, but that’s because of how she looked as a redhead. As a blonde she’s decent looking to me but there’s something artificial and “off” about her, whereas I think she’s incredibly sexy as a redhead, the way I got used to her.

As far as the rest of the stereotype—of being dumb, and more free-spirited, and bubbly and all that—I never took that seriously. If I have that impression of blondes at all, it’s so slight as to be unnoticeable.

Maybe because I didn’t grow up with that, so I never internalized it. When I grew up, we all did Polack jokes, not blonde jokes. I was aware of Carol Wayne and women like that, but I never associated their bimboness with blondeness per se. I just figured a certain kind of sexy girl is really dumb; I didn’t think of it as a blonde thing. I didn’t know about the “blondes are dumb” stereotype (or the “Asians are terrible drivers” or various others) until adulthood.

The topic of The Blonde Mystique will strike some people as pretty frivolous, but really I think it touches on a lot of fascinating issues of sociology, evolutionary biology, feminism, and more. A more serious treatment that delved deeper into these areas would have appealed to me more, but this is a solid little film, thought-provoking and very watchable. Thumbs up.

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