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How The Media Pressured Women To "Be Blonde"

Updated on February 7, 2019

Baby Boomer Girls Told: "Be Blonde"

The media pressures us to improve ourselves, Of course, the ideal they recommend requires the purchase of an 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. Here is how it happened.

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. She is a successful, influential entertainer and thus a role model. In the Baby Boomers' formative years of the 1950s and 60s, there were notable successful bleached blonde movie stars. The top on the list is the highly popular Marilyn Monroe. She was televised singing Happy Birthday to our charming President Kennedy, and married a baseball star and a, later, a play write. 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 Boomer girls were being sold. And honorable mention for fashionable blonde hair goes 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!)

Jean Harlow, Blonde movie star of the 1930s.
Jean Harlow, Blonde movie star of the 1930s. | Source

More Role Models And Influences

The 1950’s also saw a successful musical entitled “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” Is that direct 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 of America. 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. The Clairol company started in the early 1930s selling blonde hair dye for use in salons. By 1956 , Clairol developed successful at-home shampoo-in hair dyes and spun slogans which many 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. (both natural light blondes) 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 blonde person with success and romance in your future.”

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.

© 2011 Maren Elizabeth Morgan


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