“Be Blonde” Media Pressure

Baby Boomer Girls Told to Be Blonde

We know that the media pressures us to seek “self-improvement.” Of course, the ideal they define requires the purchase of the advertiser’s product or service. This is neither news nor new.  Yet, a male friend expressed total amazement at my assertion that boomer-age females in the USA were subjected to constant messages that the “best” hair color for a female is blonde.  Thus, I researched a little to confirm my memories of the message and its sources

Blonde Movie Star Cosied Up to Popular President

Marilyn Monroe pictured in film "Some Like It Hot."
Marilyn Monroe pictured in film "Some Like It Hot." | Source

Stars – Our Role Models

Picture Lady Gaga’s white-blonde, obviously artificial hair.  In my formative years, we had a few notable successful bleached blonde movie stars.  Top on the list is Marilyn Monroe.  She got to do a televised Happy Birthday sing to our charming President Kennedy, and marry a baseball star and a playwrite.  Not too shabby.  Then there was Jayne Mansfield, another fair haired star.  Bridget Bardot may have been a natural blonde, but she continued the “blonde is beautiful” mystique we were being sold.  And honorable mention goes to the “mutual, I’m sure” showgirl in the movie White Christmas.   If she didn’t exemplify the fashion for peroxide-hair, no one did.  (She probably also supported the evolution of dumb blonde jokes five decades later!)

More Subtle Role Models and Influences

The 1950’s had a successful musical entitled “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” Is that subtle enough for you? Then, the late fifties into the sixties witnessed little American girls playing with Barbie dolls. Barbie, the “star doll,” was wheat blonde. That’s the way I remember her for both my friends’ dolls and my own. (Supposedly, Barbie was available in several hair colors from inception, but my experience is that she was always a blonde.) Her friend, Midge, the “supporting actress,” was brunette. By the way, Barbie’s on- and off -boyfriend, Ken, was blonde, too. Also, the miraculous talking Chatty Cathy dolls appeared in 1960. The first ones were (guess what?) blonde. Brunettes came out two years later.

The baby boomer generation was the first television generation. We laughed at spunky half-hour shows known as “sitcoms.” In the popular shows Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie both female leads had magical powers and blonde hair. On the quirky Munsters the only “normal” (by mainstream America’s standards) family member was the attractive blonde niece, Marilyn Munster, played by Pat Priest. Again, maybe this is not so subtle after all. And in the sixties, we enjoy the Beach Boys singing group and their California girls and California dreaming and surfing. The whole mental picture is filled with sun-streaked or totally blonde surfer guys and gals.

Hard sell

Hair coloring advertising pushed blonde-ability with fervor. Clairol developed successful at-home shampoo-in hair dyes and spun slogans which many of us female baby boomers still recognize:

“Maybe the real you is blonde.”

“Is it true blondes have more fun?”

“If I’ve only one life to live, let me live it as a blonde.”

“And now! A whole new breed… a whole new speed of blondes.”

“Be a ‘Summer Blonde.’ ”

Trickle Down

The influence was tenacious. Even in the mid-1970’s, the time of women’s liberation, this notion of female beauty including blonde hair remained. My own undergrad school did a marketing-recruiting pamphlet showing real-life student boyfriend and girlfriend R. and C. enmeshed in togetherness all over campus. At the library, sports fields, students union, classes… The subliminal message was “Come to our college, and you will turn into an attractive person with success and romance in your future.” By the way, they were both light blondes.

Now What?

I certainly do not target blondes for any misfortune, and even some of my friends are blonde.  However, I have had a bellyful of sales pitches on blonde being the best, and I’d rather not have any more, thank you.  I’ll crawl into my baby-boomer retirement years coloring over my gray – but not with yellow.

Text copyright 2011 Maren Morgan

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