Blond (male) or blonde (female), also referred to as 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 yellowish color. The color can be from the very pale blond (caused by a patchy, scarce distribution of pigment) to reddish "strawberry" blond or golden-brownish ("sandy") blond colors (the latter with more eumelanin). Occasionally, the state of being blond, and specifically the occurrence of blond traits in a predominantly dark or colored population are referred to as blondism.
Because hair color tends to darken with age, natural blond hair is significantly less common in adulthood. Naturally-occurring blond hair is primarily found in people living in or descended from people who lived in the northern half of Europe, and may have evolved alongside the development of light skin that enables more efficient synthesis of vitamin D, due to northern Europe's lower levels of sunlight. Blond hair has also developed in other populations, although it is usually not as common, and can be found among natives of the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Fiji, among the Berbers of North Africa, and among some Asians.
In Western culture, blonde hair has long been associated with beauty and vitality. Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty, was described as having blonde hair. In ancient Greece and Rome, blonde hair was frequently associated with prostitutes, who dyed their hair using saffron dyes in order to attract customers. The Greeks stereotyped Thracians and slaves as blond and the Romans associated blondness with the Celts and the Germans to the north. In the ancient Greek world, Homer's Iliad presented Achilles as what was then the ideal male warrior: handsome, tall, strong, and blond. In western Europe during the Middle Ages, long, blonde hair was idealized as the paragon of female beauty. The Norse goddess Sif and the medieval heroine Iseult were both significantly portrayed as blonde and, in medieval artwork, Eve, Mary Magdalene, and the Virgin Mary are often shown with blonde hair. In contemporary Western culture, blonde women are often negatively stereotyped as beautiful, but unintelligent.
Etymology, spelling, and grammar
Origins and meanings
The word blond is first documented 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 word blond has two possible origins. Some linguists[who?] 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' (compare: blend). Also, Old English beblonden meant 'dyed', as ancient Germanic warriors were noted for dyeing 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 to 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 lexical genders. The two forms, however, are 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 in the 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, brunette (from the same Germanic root that gave brown), 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. 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", a breed of ray, lager beer, and pale wood.
Various subcategories of blond hair have been defined to describe the different shades and sources of the hair color more accurately. Common examples include the following:
- ash-blond: ashen or grayish blond.
- 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".
- dirty blond or dishwater blond: dark blond with flecks of golden blond and brown.
- golden blond: a darker to rich yellow blond.
- honey blond: dark iridescent blond.
- platinum blond or towheaded: whitish-blond.
- sandy blond: grayish-hazel or cream-colored blond.
- strawberry blond or Venetian blond: reddish blond
Biology of blond hair
A typical explanation found in the scientific literature for the adaptation of light hair is related to the adaptation of light skin, and in turn the requirement for vitamin D synthesis and northern Europe's seasonally reduced solar radiation.
Ancient DNA analysis (ADNA) has revealed that the oldest fossil known to carry the derived KITLG allele, which is responsible for blond hair in modern Europeans, is a 17,000 year old Ancient North Eurasian specimen from eastern Siberia.[a 1]
Geneticist David Reich said that the hundreds of millions of copies of this SNP, the classic European blond hair mutation, entered continental Europe by way of a massive population migration from the Eurasian steppe, by a people who had substantial Ancient North Eurasian ancestry.[a 2]
Gavin Evans analyzed several years of research on the origin of European blond hair, and concluded that the widespread presence of blond hair in Europe is largely due to the territorial expansions of the "all-conquering" Western Steppe Herders; who carried the genes for blond hair.[a 3]
A review article published in 2020 analyzes fossil data from a wide variety of published sources. The authors affirm the previous statements, noting that Ancient North Eurasian-derived populations carried the derived blond hair allele to Europe, and that the "massive spread" of Yamnaya steppe pastoralists likely caused the "rapid selective sweep in European populations toward light skin and hair."
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, or dark brown, before or during their adult years. Because blond hair tends to turn brown with age, natural blond hair is significantly less common in adulthood; according to the sociologist Christie Davies, only around five percent of adults in Europe and North America are naturally blond. A study conducted in 2003 concluded that only four percent of American adults are naturally blond. A significant number of Caucasian women dye their hair blonde, perhaps a higher percentage than for any other hair color.
In France, according to a source published 1939, blondism is more common in Normandy, and less common in the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean seacoast; 26% of the French population have blond or light brown hair. A 2007 study of French females showed that by then roughly 20% were blonde, although half of these blondes were fully fake. Roughly ten percent of French females are natural blondes, of which 60% bleach their hair to a lighter tone of blond.
In Portugal, the national average of the population shows 11% of varying traces of blondism, peaking at 15% blond people in Póvoa de Varzim in northern Portugal. In Italy, a study of Italian men conducted by Ridolfo Livi between 1859 and 1863 on the records of the National Conscription Service showed that 8.2% of Italian men exhibited blond hair; blondism frequency displayed a wide degree of regional variation, ranging from around 12.6% in Veneto to 1.7% among the Sardinians. In a more detailed study from the 20th-century geneticist Renato Biasutti, the regional contrasts of blondism frequency are better shown, with a greater occurrence in the northern regions, where the figure may be over 20%, and a lesser occurrence in Sardinia, where the frequency in many of its districts was 0.5%. With the exception of Benevento and the surrounding area in Campania, where various shades of blond hair were present in 10–15% of the population, Southern Italy as a whole averaged between 2.5% and 7.4%.
A number of blond naturally mummified bodies of common people (i.e. not proper mummies) dating to Roman times have been found in the Fagg El Gamous cemetery in Egypt. "Of those whose hair was preserved 54% were blondes or redheads, and the percentage grows to 87% when light-brown hair color is added." Excavations have been ongoing since the 1980s. Burials seem to be clustered by hair-colour.
Blonde hair are also found in some other parts of the South Pacific, such as the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and Fiji, again with higher incidences in children. Blond hair in Melanesians is caused by an amino acid change in the gene TYRP1. This mutation is at a frequency of 26% in the Solomon Islands and is absent outside of Oceania.
Even though currently, there is no accepted theory regarding the true origins of blond hair, according to geneticist David Reich, blond hair has ancient roots in Asia. The derived allele responsible for blond hair in Europeans likely evolved first among the Ancient North Eurasians. The earliest known individual with this allele is a Siberian fossil from Afontova Gora, in south-central Siberia. Reich has written that the derived SNP for blond hair entered continental Europe by way of a massive population migration from the Eurasian steppe, by a people who had substantial Ancient North Eurasian ancestry. Blond hair has been discovered in human burial sites in north-western China and Mongolia dating to the Iron Age.
Chinese historical documents describe blond haired, blue-eyed warriors among the Xiongnu, a nomadic equestrian culture from Mongolia, who practiced Tengriism. The Shiwei people were a Mongolic-speaking ethnic group who were blond-haired and blue eyed. Blond hair can still be seen among people from the region they inhabited, even today. Some Xianbei were described with blond hair and blue eyes according to Chinese historical chronicles.
The ethnic Miao people of Guizhou province from China, a subgroup of Hmong people, have been described as having blue eyes and blonde hair. F.M Savina of the Paris Foreign missionary society wrote that the Miao are "pale yellow in complexion, almost white, their hair is often light or dark brown, sometimes even red or corn-silk blond, and a few even have pale blue eyes."
Historical cultural perceptions
Most people in ancient Greece had dark hair and, as a result of this, the Greeks found blond hair immensely fascinating. In the Homeric epics, Menelaus the king of the Spartans is, together with some other Achaean leaders, portrayed as blond. Other blond characters in the Homeric poems are Peleus, Achilles, Meleager, Agamede, and Rhadamanthys. Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty, was often described as golden-haired and portrayed with this color hair in art. Aphrodite's master epithet in the Homeric epics is χρυσέη (khruséē), which means "golden". The traces of hair color on Greek korai probably reflect the colors the artists saw in natural hair; these colors include a broad diversity of shades of blond, red and brown. The minority of statues with blond hair range from strawberry blond up to platinum blond.
Sappho of Lesbos (c. 630–570 BC) wrote that purple-colored wraps as headdress were good enough, except if the hair was blond: "...for the girl who has hair that is yellower than a torch [it is better to decorate it] with wreaths of flowers in bloom." Sappho also praises Aphrodite for her golden hair, stating that since gold metal is free from rust, the goddess' golden hair represents her freedom from ritual pollution. Sappho's contemporary Alcman of Sparta praised golden hair as one of the most desirable qualities of a beautiful woman, describing in various poems "the girl with the yellow hair" and a girl "with the hair like purest gold".
In the fifth century BC, the sculptor Pheidias may have depicted the Greek goddess of wisdom Athena's hair using gold in his famous statue of Athena Parthenos, which was displayed inside the Parthenon. The Greeks thought of the Thracians who lived to the north as having reddish-blond hair. Because many Greek slaves were captured from Thrace, slaves were stereotyped as blond or red-headed. "Xanthias" (Ξανθίας), meaning "reddish blond", was a common name for slaves in ancient Greece and a slave by this name appears in many of the comedies of Aristophanes.
The most famous statue of Aphrodite, the Aphrodite of Knidos, sculpted in the fourth century BC by Praxiteles, represented the goddess' hair using gold leaf and contributed to the popularity of the image of Aphrodite as a blonde goddess. Greek prostitutes frequently dyed their hair blond using saffron dyes or colored powders. Blond dye was highly expensive, took great effort to apply, and smelled repugnant, but none of these factors inhibited Greek prostitutes from dying their hair. As a result of this and the natural rarity of blond hair in the Mediterranean region, by the fourth century BC, blond hair was inextricably associated with prostitutes. The comic playwright Menander (c. 342/41–c. 290 BC) protests that "no chaste woman ought to make her hair yellow". At another point, he deplores blond hair dye as dangerous: "What can we women do wise or brilliant, who sit with hair dyed yellow, outraging the character of gentlewomen, causing the overthrow of houses, the ruin of nuptials, and accusations on the part of children?" Historian and Egyptologist Joann Fletcher asserts that the Macedonian ruler Alexander the Great and members of the Macedonian-Greek Ptolemaic dynasty of Hellenistic Egypt had blond hair, such as Arsinoe II and Berenice II. In Greece Blondism was also seen as carrying a connotation of hyper-masculine adventurism: Alexander the Great in particular was seen as embodying Western masculinity with his “blond, rugged good looks.”
During the early years of the Roman Empire, blond hair was 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. Sherrow also states that Roman women tried to lighten their hair, but the substances often caused hair loss, so they resorted to wigs made from the captives' hair. According to Francis Owen, Roman literary records describe a large number of well-known Roman historical personalities as blond.
Juvenal wrote in a satirical poem that Messalina, Roman empress of 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 blonde. 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. Emperor Lucius Verus (r. 161–169 AD) was said to sprinkle gold-dust on his already "golden" blond hair to make it even blonder and brighter.
From an ethnic point of view, Roman authors associated blond and red 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". Celtic and Germanic peoples of the provinces, among the free subjects called peregrini, served in Rome's armies as auxilia, such as the cavalry contingents in the army of Julius Caesar. Some became Roman citizens as far back as the 1st century BC, following a policy of Romanization of Gaul and Lesser Germania. Sometimes entire Celtic and Germanic tribes were granted citizenship, such as when emperor Otho granted citizenship to all of the Lingones in 69 AD.
By the 1st century BC, the Roman Republic had expanded its control into parts of western Germany, and by 85 AD the provinces of Germania Inferior and Germania Superior were formally established there. Yet as late as the 4th century AD, Ausonius, a poet and tutor from Burdigala, wrote a poem about an Alemanni slave girl named Bissula, whom he had recently freed after she'd been taken as a prisoner of war in the campaigns of Valentinian I, noting that her adopted Latin language marked her as a woman of Latium yet her blond-haired, blue-eyed appearance ultimately signified her true origins from the Rhine. Further south, the Iberian peninsula was originally inhabited by Celtiberians outside of Roman control. The gradual Roman conquest of Iberia was completed by the early 1st century AD. The Romans established provinces such as Hispania Terraconensis that were inhabited largely by Gallaeci, whose red- and blond-haired descendants (which also include those of Visigothic origins) have continued to inhabit northern areas of Spain such as Galicia and Portugal into the modern era.
Medieval Scandinavian art and literature often places emphasis on the length and color of a woman's hair, considering long, blond hair to be the ideal. In Norse mythology, the goddess Sif has famously blond hair, which some scholars have identified as representing golden wheat. In the Old Norse Gunnlaug Saga, Helga the Beautiful, described as "the most beautiful woman in the world", is said to have hair that is "as fair as beaten gold" and so long that it can "envelope her entirely". 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 blond hair in humans. Blond 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.
The Scandinavians were not the only ones to place strong emphasis on the beauty of blond hair; the French writer Christine de Pisan writes in her book The Treasure of the City of Ladies (1404) that "there is nothing in the world lovelier on a woman's head than beautiful blond hair". In medieval artwork, female saints are often shown with long, shimmering blond hair, which emphasizes their holiness and virginity. At the same time, however, Eve is often shown with long, blond hair, which frames her nude body and draws attention to her sexual attractiveness. In medieval Gothic paintings of the crucifixion of Jesus, the figure of Mary Magdalene is shown with long, blond hair, which flows down her back unbound in contrast to most of the women in the scenes, who are shown with dark hair, normally covered by a scarf. In the older versions of the story of Tristan and Iseult, Tristan falls in love with Iseult after seeing only a single lock of her long, blond hair. In fact, Iseult was so closely associated with blondness that, in the poems of Chrétien de Troyes, she is called "Iseult le Blonde". In Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (written from 1387 until 1400), the knight describes the beautiful Princess Emily in his tale, stating, "yclothed was she fressh, for to devyse:/Hir yellow heer was broided in a tresse/Behinde hir bak, a yerde long, I gesse" (lines 1048–1050).
Because of blond hair's relative commonness in northern Europe, especially among children, folk tales from these regions tend to feature large numbers of blond protagonists. Although these stories may not have been seen by their original tellers as idealizing blond hair, when they are read in cultures outside of northern Europe where blond hair "has rarity value", they may seem to connote that blond hair is a sign of special purity.
During the medieval period, Spanish ladies preferred to dye their hair black, yet by the time of the Renaissance in the 16th century the fashion (imported from Italy) was to dye their hair blond or red.
In Nazi Germany, Blond, stern-jawed men were seen as the masculine ideal as depicted in the films of Leni Riefenstahl and other propaganda. Writer R. Horrocks noted that totalitarianism reached a ludicrous extreme in Nazi society, where "men were virile blond warriors, women were breeders, and gay men were killed in the death camps".
The fact that many Nazi leaders, including Adolf Hitler, did not possess these traits was noted with irony by the Allies of World War II. The most famous joke on the subject asked: What is the ideal German? Blond like Hitler, slim like Göring, masculine like Goebbels. . . .
Senior curator at the Norwegian Museum of Science and Technology Jon Røyne Kyllingstad has written that in the early twentieth-century racialist and supremacist thinkers promulgated the theory that human features such as blond hair and blue eyes were hallmarks of a "master race". In the 1920s, the eugenicist Eugen Fischer invented a hair palette called the Fischer scale that he said could categorize racial typology—these typologies were abandoned after World War II. Kyllingstad sees classification of race based on physical characteristics such as hair color as a "flawed, pseudo-scientific relic of the past".
Modern cultural stereotypes
In much of contemporary Western popular culture, blonde women are stereotyped as being more sexually attractive to men than women with other hair colors. For example, Anita Loos popularized this idea in her 1925 novel Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Some women have reported they feel other people expect them to be more fun-loving after having lightened their hair.
Singer-songwriter Madonna popularized the short, bleached-blond haircut after the release of her 1986 studio album True Blue, and influenced both the 1980s fashion scene as well as many future female musicians such as Christina Aguilera, Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus.
Similarly in many eastern cultures (Asia, The Middle East) blond men are often seen as symbolizing western masculinity: excessively manly, flirtatious, and sexually attractive. Depictions of relations between blond European men and dark-haired Arab women have even been used as an allegory for European colonialism, specifically in regards to French Algeria.
Originating in Europe, the "blonde stereotype" is also associated with being less serious or less intelligent. Blonde jokes are a class of jokes based on the stereotype of blonde women as unintelligent. In Brazil, this extends to blonde women being looked down upon, as reflected in sexist jokes, as also sexually licentious. It is believed the originator of the dumb blonde was an eighteenth-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 Jean Harlow, Marilyn Monroe, Judy Holliday, Jayne Mansfield and Goldie Hawn during her time at Laugh-In.
The British filmmaker 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 Elle Woods, played by Reese Witherspoon, succeeds at Harvard despite biases against her beauty and blond hair.
In the 1950s, American actress Marilyn Monroe's screen persona centered on her blonde hair and the stereotypes associated with it, especially dumbness, naïveté, sexual availability and artificiality. She often used a breathy, childish voice in her films, and in interviews gave the impression that everything she said was "utterly innocent and uncalculated", parodying herself with double entendres that came to be known as "Monroeisms". For example, when she was asked what she had on in a 1949 nude photo shoot, she replied, "I had the radio on". Monroe often wore white to emphasize her blondeness, and drew attention by wearing revealing outfits that showed off her figure. Although Monroe's typecast screen persona as a dim-witted but sexually attractive blonde was a carefully crafted act, audiences and film critics believed it to be her real personality and did not realize that she was only acting.
The notion that blonds are less intelligent is not grounded in fact. A 2016 study of 10,878 Americans found that both women and men with natural blond hair had IQ scores similar to the average IQ of non-blond white Americans, and that white women with natural blond hair in fact had a slightly higher average IQ score (103.2) than white women with red hair (101.2), or black hair (100.5). Although many consider blonde jokes to be harmless, the author of the study stated the stereotype can have serious negative effects on hiring, promotion and other social experiences. Rhiannon Williams of The Telegraph writes that dumb blonde jokes are "one of the last 'acceptable' forms of prejudice".
- Ancient North Eurasian
- Disappearing blonde gene
- Human hair color
- Japanese research in 2006 found that the genetic mutation that prompted the evolution of blond hair dates to the ice age that happened around 11,000 years ago. Since then, the 17,000-year-old remains of a blond- haired North Eurasian hunter-gatherer have been found in eastern Siberia, suggesting an earlier origin.
- "The earliest known example of the classic European blond hair mutation is in an Ancient North Eurasian from the Lake Baikal region of eastern Siberia from seventeen thousand years ago. The hundreds of millions of copies of this mutation in central and western Europe today likely derive from a massive migration of people bearing Ancient North Eurasian ancestry, an event that is related in the next chapter."
- "But whatever the evolutionary causes of blond and red hair, their spread in Europe had little to do with their possible innate attractiveness and much to do with the success of the all-conquering herders from the steppes who carried these genes."
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France as a whole finds but 4 per cent of black and near-black hair color, 23 per cent of dark brown, 43 per cent of medium brown, 14 per cent of light brown, 12 per cent of various degrees of blond, and some 4 per cent of reddish-brown and red. […] 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 Orléans, 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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