Is life fair to those fair of hair?

Fashion: If blondes don't actually have more fun, they do get more attention.

April 30, 2000|By Greg Morago | Greg Morago,Hartford Courant

All blondes are not created equal. But they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are a charmed life, the liberty to jump to the head of the line and the pursuit of happiness unencumbered by dark roots.

Blondes will always enjoy a privileged place in our society. A culture fixated on yellow hair will have it no other way. Blondes are the pampered, pursued and praised beings of an indifferently tressed world that bows and bends in their gleaming wake.

Self-evident truths, right? Or are these stereotypical observations of the fair-haired?

Are they wrongheaded notions fostered by generations of blonde worship? Tired cliches foisted on innocent sisters golden-haired?

Absolutely. And we can't get enough. The blondometer is fairly throbbing these days. The raising of blonde consciousness seems to be everywhere: Joyce Carol Oates has written "Blonde: A Novel," a fictional retelling of the life of the world's most famous blonde, Marilyn Monroe; in February, cultural theorist Natalia Ilyin issued a humorous examination of blondness, "Blonde Like Me: The Roots of the Blonde Myth in Our Culture"; and Broadway is priming for "Dirty Blonde," a comedy about the life of saucy seductress Mae West.

Not limited to the Utne Reader set, the national discourse on blondness also plays out in the pop-culture realm. Would teeny-boppers be as smitten with flaxen-haired songbirds Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera were they not naughty young blondes? Rappers Mary J. Blige and Lil' Kim caught a taste of honey for the new MAC lipstick campaign that shows the ebony beauties tressed as Goldilocks twins.

Darva Conger was only playing out blonde inevitability when she was chosen to wed Rick Rockwell on the infamous "Who Wants To Marry a Multi-Millionaire?" Cameron Diaz, Charlize Theron, Chloe Sevigny and Cate Blanchett continue to fascinate not just for their acting abilities, but also for their sexy, golden-goddess turns on the fashion pages.

Portia de Rossi's almost frightening amount of platinum hair caused her less-blond sisters to bristle on "Ally McBeal" and was more than enough to secure a hair-coloring contract.

Color of youth

Blond is, after all, a color found naturally almost exclusively in the very young; those older than 30 are, by and large, slaves to the bottle or the box.

Speaking of hair coloring, the post-millennial names of blond wash are to, um, dye for. No longer content with sun-kissed blond or baby blond or ash blond, hair-color makers are getting into deep, almost metaphysical territory. Names like "Moon Goddess," "Innocents," "Spiritual" and "Philosophy" elevate blondness to deity level.

Streaky blondes like Sarah Jessica Parker on "Sex and the City" are going even blonder in the new season, suggesting that "Sex and the City" author Candace Bushnell's blondes absolutely must have more fun. (Bushnell, by the way, is completing a new novel, "Four Blondes," about, well, four blond New Yorkers.)

Even guys are getting into streaking and highlighting. Last year, L'Oreal's Feria line for men gave a new generation of Adams the same beauty advantages as Eves.

Our cultural obsession with blondes began long before Harlow and her ilk. Ilyin suggests that our modern fixation with blondes has primeval roots and crosses all boundaries of ethnicity, economics and age. Her meditation on blondes, however, is centered on the iconic blondes of American society: trophy blondes, California blondes, innocent blondes, heroic blondes, tragic blondes, untouchable blondes. Martha Stewart, Gloria Steinem, Farrah Fawcett, Nicole Simpson, Barbie, Diane Sawyer and Marilyn Monroe all fit persuasively into Ilyin's blonde categories.

Memorable ones

Monroe, history's most famous blonde, provides Oates with a stage for some of her juiciest writing to date. In the 700-plus-page tome, the prolific author concludes (somewhat unshockingly) that Monroe was done in by peroxide, a victim of her own provocative blondness.

And yet we will continue to read about Monroe because her platinum allure is so strong. Quite simply, blondness sells. Witness the still-strong hunger for photos of the doomed princess of Wales. Would we be so attracted to Diana's sainted blond countenance if she had been mousy brown? Hardly. Last year's "The Talented Mr. Ripley" proved so fascinating because its luminous characters, dipped in European gold, were studies in unattainable, almost unimaginable blondness.

Madonna seems less interesting as a brunette than a mythic blonde (we'll forgive her, in her current pregnancy, for restraining her bleaching impulses).

In a memorable Salon online magazine piece, Camille Paglia, who has studied blondness from Botticelli's "Venus" to the "Material Girl," wrote that blonde worship is both inevitable and tragic.

"Thanks to the metamorphic magic of Hollywood, 20th century blondness has become freighted with its present associations of luxury and desirability. Blondness as a trophy seems to awaken passions of the hunt," Paglia wrote. "However, as I have pointed out in my elegiac encomia to the blond sorority queens who ruled my adolescence, blond beauty doesn't last -- unless strong facial structure goes with it. It's precisely the glowing, translucent-skinned nymphets, delicate as morning frost, who need those emergency surgical tucks at midlife."

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