Blond or blonde (see below), or fair hair, is a hair color characterized by low levels of the dark pigment eumelanin. The resultant visible hue depends on various factors, but always has some sort of yellowish color. The color can be from the very pale blond (caused by a patchy, scarce distribution of pigment) to reddish "strawberry" blond colors or golden-brownish ("sandy") blond colors (the latter with more eumelanin). On the Fischer–Saller scale blond color ranges from A to J (blond brown).
- 1 Etymology, spelling, and grammar
- 2 Varieties
- 3 Evolution of blond hair
- 4 Geographic distribution
- 5 Relation to age
- 6 Folklore and mythology
- 7 Contemporary popular culture
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 External links
Etymology, spelling, and grammar
The word "blond" is first attested in English in 1481 and derives from Old French blund, blont meaning "a colour midway between golden and light chestnut". It gradually eclipsed the native term "fair", of same meaning, from Old English fæġer, causing "fair" later to become a general term for "light complexioned". This earlier use of "fair" survives in the proper name Fairfax, from Old English fæġer-feahs meaning "blond hair".
The French (and thus also the English) word "blond" has two possible origins. Some linguists say it comes from Medieval Latin blundus, meaning "yellow", from Old Frankish blund which would relate it to Old English blonden-feax meaning "grey-haired", from blondan/blandan meaning "to mix" (Cf. blend). Also, Old English beblonden meant "dyed" as ancient Germanic warriors were noted for dying their hair. However, linguists who favor a Latin origin for the word say that Medieval Latin blundus was a vulgar pronunciation of Latin flavus, also meaning yellow. Most authorities, especially French, attest the Frankish origin. The word was reintroduced into English in the 17th century from French, and was for some time considered French; in French, "blonde" is a feminine adjective; it describes a woman with blond hair.
"Blond", with its continued gender-varied usage, is one of few adjectives in written English to retain separate masculine and feminine grammatical genders. Each of the two forms, however, is pronounced identically. American Heritage's Book of English Usage propounds that, insofar as "a blonde" can be used to describe a woman but not a man who is merely said to possess blond(e) hair, the term is an example of a "sexist stereotype [whereby] women are primarily defined by their physical characteristics." The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) records that the phrase "big blond beast" was used in the 20th century to refer specifically to men "of the Nordic type" (that is to say, blond-haired). The OED also records that blond as an adjective is especially used with reference to women, in which case it is likely to be spelt "blonde", citing three Victorian usages of the term. The masculine version is used to describe a plural, in "blonds of the European race", in a citation from 1833 Penny cyclopedia, which distinguishes genuine blondness as a Caucasian feature distinct from albinism.
By the early 1990s, "blonde moment" or being a "dumb blonde" had come into common parlance to mean "an instance of a person, esp. a woman... being foolish or scatter-brained." Another hair color word of French origin, brunet(te) (from the same Germanic root that gave "brown"), also functions in the same way in orthodox English. The OED gives "brunet" as meaning "dark-complexioned" or a "dark-complexioned person", citing a comparative usage of brunet and blond to Thomas Henry Huxley in saying, "The present contrast of blonds and brunets existed among them". "Brunette" can be used, however, like "blonde", to describe a mixed-gender populace. The OED quotes Grant Allen, "The nation which resulted... being sometimes blonde, sometimes brunette."
"Blond" and "blonde" are also occasionally used to refer to objects that have a color reminiscent of fair hair. Examples include pale wood and lager beer. For example, the OED records its use in 19th century poetic diction to describe flowers, "a variety of clay ironstone of the coal measures", "the colour of raw silk", and a breed of ray.
Various subcategories of blond hair have been defined to describe someone with blond hair more accurately. Common examples include the following:
- blond/flaxen: when distinguished from other varieties, "blond" by itself refers to a light but not whitish blond with no traces of red, gold, or brown; this color is often described as "flaxen".
- yellow: yellow-blond ("yellow" can also be used to refer to hair which has been dyed yellow).
- platinum blond or towheaded: whitish-blond; almost all platinum blonds are children. Although it is found on people in Northern Europe. "Platinum blond" is often used to describe bleached hair, while "towheaded" generally refers to natural hair color.
- sandy blond: grayish-hazel or cream-colored blond.
- golden blond: a darker to rich, golden-yellow blond.
- strawberry blond, Venetian blond or honey blond: reddish blond.
- dirty blond or dishwater blond: dark blond with flecks of golden blond and brown.
- ash-blond: ashen or grayish blond.
- bleached blond, bottle blond, or peroxide blond terms used to refer to artificially coloured blond hair.
Evolution of blond hair
Natural lighter hair colors occur most often in Europe and less frequently in other areas. In Northern European populations, the occurrence of blond hair is very frequent. The hair color gene MC1R has at least seven variants in Europe giving the continent a wide range of hair and eye shades. Based on recent genetic research carried out at three Japanese universities, the date of the genetic mutation that resulted in blond hair in Europe has been isolated to about 11,000 years ago during the last ice age.
A typical explanation found in the scientific literature for the evolution of light hair is related to the requirement for vitamin D synthesis and northern Europe's seasonal deficiency of sunlight. Lighter skin is due to a low concentration in pigmentation, thus allowing more sunlight to trigger the production of vitamin D. In this way, high frequencies of light hair in northern latitudes are a result of the light skin adaptation to lower levels of sunlight, which reduces the prevalence of rickets caused by vitamin D deficiency. The darker pigmentation at higher latitudes in certain ethnic groups such as the Inuit is explained by a greater proportion of seafood in their diet. As seafood is high in vitamin D, vitamin D deficiency would not create a selective pressure for lighter pigmentation in that population.
An alternative hypothesis was presented by Canadian anthropologist Peter Frost, who claims blond hair evolved very quickly in a specific area at the end of the last ice age by means of sexual selection. According to Frost, the appearance of blond hair and blue eyes in some northern European women made them stand out from their rivals at a time of fierce competition for scarce males.
A theory propounded in The History and Geography of Human Genes (1994), says blond hair became predominant in Northern Europe beginning about 3,000 BC, in the area now known as Lithuania, among the recently arrived Proto-Indo-European settlers (according to the Kurgan hypothesis), and the trait spread quickly through sexual selection into Scandinavia. As above, the theory assumes that men found women with blond hair more attractive.
It is now hypothesized by researchers that blond hair evolved more than once. Published in May 2012 in Science, a study of people from the Solomon Islands in Melanesia found that an amino acid change in TYRP1 produced blonde hair.
Blond hair is most common in Scandinavia and Baltic Sea countries, where true blondism is believed to have originated. The pigmentation of both hair and eyes is lightest around the Baltic Sea, and darkness increases regularly and almost concentrically around this region with countries such as England, Sweden, Scotland, Norway, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, Finland, Ukraine, Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, etc. generally having larger proportions of blond people than countries further south in Europe. In France, blondism is more common in Normandy, and less common in the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean seacoast; 26% of French population has blond or light brown hair. In Portugal, 11% of the population shows traces of blondism, peaking at 14.3–15.1% in Povoa de Varzim in Northern Portugal. In northern Spain, 17% of the population is blond, but in southern Spain just 2% is blond. In Italy, according to 20th century geneticist Biasutti, 12% of Italians exhibit various shades of blond, but regional contrasts are pronounced with a greater occurrence in the northern and central regions (Veneto, Friuli, Valle d'Aosta and Bolzano) where the figure can reach 15%-20% and a lesser occurrence in the south such as Sardinia where only 1.7% exhibited blondism and, with the exception of Benevento and surrounding area where blondism reaches 10-14.9%, compared to other southern regions where it averages around 2-7%.
The United States, Canada, Argentina and Uruguay (along with Australia and New Zealand) are overall considered as the only countries with a great majority of White population outside Eurasia because a great majority of their population has European origins. Because of it, these countries have the highest frequency of naturally blonds in the Americas:
- Canada: 25%
- United States: 18% (28% among Non-Hispanic Whites)
- Argentina: 14%
- Uruguay: 12%
There are other American countries with a lower but noticeable frequency, such as Brazil (3%), Chile (3%), Cuba (3%) and Costa Rica (2%). Blonds are also found (but rarely) in the rest of the American countries, where they account for 1% or less of the population.
Blonde hair can be found in any region of Asia, including West Asia, East Asia, Central Asia, and South Asia. In these parts of Asia blond hair is generally seen among children that usually turns into a shade of dark brown in adulthood. Environmental factors, for example, sun exposure and nutrition status often contributes to change in hair color in Asia.
A 2009 study found that light hair colors were already present as far as southern Siberia during the Bronze Age. Blond children are found at comparatively high frequency among the Nuristani people. Tajik children can also have blond hair, more prevalent in the Pamir region. An estimate of 75% of Russia is geographically considered North Asia, however, the Asian portion of Russia contributes to only an estimate of 20% of Russia's total population. North Asia's population has an estimate of 1-19% with light hair.
The country India had numerous invasions and foreign rulers that can date back to prehistoric Neolithic Era during the early civilizations that have introduced genetic variations to the country. Among the most noted invasions occurred during India's association with the Roman Empire in 50 AD and during the British Empire from the 1600s to 1947. The British rule in India involved many European nations, specifically the United Kingdom, Portugal, France, and the Netherlands. These nations set up trade and settled along the East and West water ports of India and many have since integrated with local communities. From the 1960s through 1970s Hippie trails from Europe to India allowed the settlers to reside along the coastlines of India that further brought genetic variations, including blond hair.
In the Russian Empire and Soviet Union during the 19th and 20th centuries many Europeans (especially ethnic Russians, Ukrainians and Germans) settled in, or were exiled, to Siberia and Central Asia. Blond hair is often seen in these groups, whereas the indigenous peoples are more likely to be dark haired. Their descendants currently contribute to, for instance, an estimated 25% of Kazakhstan's total population.
Aboriginal Australians, especially in the west-central parts of the continent, have a high frequency of natural blond-to-brown hair, with as many as 90–100% of children having blond hair in some areas. The trait among Indigenous Australians is primarily associated with children. In maturity the hair usually turns a darker brown color, but sometimes remains blond. Blondness is also found in some other parts of the South Pacific, such as the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and Fiji, again with higher incidences in children.
As in all human populations, natural blond hair is more common among young children than adults, as blond hair usually darkens to a brown shade with age. Natural blond hair is rare in adulthood, with some reports that only about 2% of the world's population is naturally blond.
Relation to age
Blond hair is most common in light-skinned infants and children, so much so that the term "baby blond" is often used for very light colored hair. Babies may be born with blond hair even among groups where adults rarely have blond hair although such natural hair usually falls out quickly. Blond hair tends to turn darker with age, and many children's blond hair turns light, medium, dark brown or black before or during their adult years. As blond hair tends to turn brunette with age, natural blonde hair is rare and makes up approximately 2% of the world's population.
Folklore and mythology
The Greek gods are cited as varying in their appearances. While Poseidon was described as having a blue-black beard, and Zeus blue-black eyebrows, Pindar described Athena as fair-haired, and Pheidas described her as golden-haired. Hera, Apollo and Aphrodite were also described as blonds. Pindar collectively described the Homeric Danaans of the time of the war between Argos and Thebes as fair-haired. The Spartans are described as fair-haired by Bacchylides. In the work of Homer, Menelaus the king of the Spartans is, together with other Achaean leaders, portrayed as blond. Although dark hair colours were predominant in the works of Homer, there is only one case of a dark hero, and that is when the blond Odysseus is transformed by Athena and his beard becomes blue-black. Other blond characters in Homer are Peleus, Achilles, Meleager, Agamede, and Rhadamanthys.
According to Francis Owens, Roman literary records describe a large number of well-known Roman historical personalities as blond. In addition, 250 individuals are recorded to have had the name Flavius, meaning blond, and there are various people named Rufus and Rutilius, meaning red haired and reddish-haired, respectively. The following Roman gods are said to have had blond hair: Amor, Apollo, Aurora, Bacchus, Ceres, Diana, Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, Minerva and Venus. An emperor, Nero, descended from an aristocratic family, is by the historian Suetonius described as: "... his hair light blond,... his eyes blue..."
According to Victoria Sherrow, those Romans who were fair-haired preferred to dye their hair dark in the early period of Ancient Rome; at one point in time blond hair was even associated with prostitutes. The preference changed to bleaching the hair blond when Greek culture, which practiced bleaching, reached Rome, and was reinforced when the legions that conquered Gaul returned with blond slaves. Roman women tried to lighten their hair, but the substances often caused hair loss, so they resorted to wigs made from the captives’ hair.
Juvenal wrote that Messalina, Roman empress of very noble birth, would hide her black hair with a blond wig for her nightly visits to the brothel: sed nigrum flavo crinem abscondente galero intravit calidum veteri centone lupanar. In his Commentary on the Aeneid of Virgil, Maurus Servius Honoratus noted that the respectable matron was only black haired, never blond. In the same passage, he mentioned that Cato the Elder wrote that some matrons would sprinkle golden dust on their hair to make it reddish-color.
From an ethnic point of view, Roman authors associated blond and reddish hair with the Gauls and the Germans: e.g., Virgil describes the hair of the Gauls as "golden" (aurea caesaries), Tacitus wrote that "the Germans have fierce blue eyes, red-blond hair (rutilae comae), huge (tall) frames"; in accordance with Ammianus, almost all the Gauls were "of tall stature, fair and ruddy".
In Norse mythology, the goddess Sif has famously blonde hair, which some scholars have identified as representing golden wheat. In the Poetic Edda poem Rígsþula, the blond man Jarl is considered to be the ancestor of the dominant warrior class.
In Northern European folklore, supernatural beings value blonde hair in humans. Blonde babies are more likely to be stolen and replaced with changelings, and young blonde women are more likely to be lured away to the land of the beings. Elves and fairies were often portrayed with blond hair in illustrations in children's book of fairy tales. This continues the theme that blond hair is associated with beauty and goodness.
Contemporary popular culture
In contemporary popular culture, it is often stereotyped that men find blond women more attractive than women with other hair colors. For example, Anita Loos popularized this idea in her 1925 novel Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Blondes are often assumed to have more fun; for example, in a Clairol commercial for hair colorant, they use the phrase "Is it true blondes have more fun?" Some women have reported they feel other people expect them to be more fun-loving after having lightened their hair. In North America, the "blonde stereotype" is also associated with being less serious or less intelligent. This can be seen in blonde jokes. It is believed the originator of the "dumb blonde" was an 18th-century blonde French prostitute named Rosalie Duthé whose reputation of being beautiful but dumb inspired a play about her called Les Curiosites de la Foire (Paris 1775). Blonde actresses have contributed to this perception; some of them include Marilyn Monroe, Judy Holliday, Jayne Mansfield, and Goldie Hawn during her time at Laugh-In.
Alfred Hitchcock preferred to cast blonde women for major roles in his films as he believed that the audience would suspect them the least, comparing them to "virgin snow that shows up the bloody footprints", hence the term "Hitchcock blonde". This stereotype has become so ingrained it has spawned counter-narratives, such as in the 2001 film Legally Blonde in which Reese Witherspoon succeeds at Harvard despite biases against her beauty and blonde hair, and terms developed such as cookie cutter blond (CCB), implying standardized blond looks and standard perceived social and intelligence characteristics of a blond. Many actors and actresses in Latin America and Hispanic United States seem to have Nordic features—blond hair, blue eyes, and pale skin.
In colloquial Quebec French, "ma blonde" means "my girlfriend", regardless of the color of the specific woman's hair. Such is for example the reference in the name of the still-current 17th century chanson "Auprès de ma blonde".
- Blonde vs. brunette rivalry
- Blonde stereotype
- Human eye color
- Human skin color
- Disappearing blonde gene
- Nordic race
- Red hair
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The regional distribution of hair color in France follows closely that of stature. Although the position of the French in regard to hair pigmentation is intermediate between blond and black, the diagonal line from Mont St. Michel to Orleans, Lyons, and the Italian border divides the country into a northeastern quadrant, in which the hair is somewhat lighter than medium, and a southwestern, in which it is somewhat darker. High ratios of black and very dark brown hair are found not in the typically Alpine country, but along the slope of the Pyrenees, in Catalan-speaking country, and on the Mediterranean seacoast. Blond hair is commonest along the Channel, in regions settled by Saxons and Normans, in Burgundy and the country bordering Switzerland, and down the course of the Rhône. In northern France it seems to follow upstream the rivers which empty into the Channel. The hair color of the departments occupied by Flemish speakers, and of others directly across the Channel from England in Normandy, seems to be nearly as light as that in the southern English counties; the coastal cantons of Brittany are lighter than the inland ones, and approximate a Cornish condition. In the same way, the northeastern French departments are probably as light-haired as some of the provinces of southern Germany."
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