Do (Black) Blondes Have More Fun?

Photo by Shandi-Lee CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Photo by Shandi-Lee, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

While Black women have been on a continual quest to achieve straight hair, I’ve learned that most White women long to be blonde.  The joke is, I used to think that straight-haired White women had it made—they had the flowing hair that everyone else seemed to want! I had no idea that they had their own hair hierarchies and hang-ups.

This desire for blonde hair makes sense though.  While the relative popularity of brunettes vs. blondes has varied throughout history, blondes have generally epitomized beauty in mythology and literature, since flaxen hair is associated with notions of youth, fertility, and attractiveness [1].  There’s also a theory about why blondes are considered to be more desirable based on natural selection: in populations where brunettes are the majority, blondes will be the preferred pick because they stand out from the crowd (and vice-versa).

Photo by Poldavo (Alex), CC BY 2.0

Photo by Poldavo (Alex), CC BY 2.0

It was a 1960s Clairol ad campaign, however, that started suggested to us that being blonde is indeed the better choice for the modern-day woman: “Is it true that blondes have more fun?”, their commercials asked [2]. Fifty decades later, the idea that blondes are preferable is still ingrained in our culture; and based on what we see in the media today, it seems that golden-haired ladies still live “the good life”. But is the same true when a blonde is Black?

Photo by dorofofoto - CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Photo by dorofofoto – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Earlier this month, Farryn Johnson, an African-American woman from Baltimore, was awarded $250,000 in damages, after winning a racial discrimination lawsuit against her former employer, Hooters. Apparently, she was fired from Hooters for wearing blond streaks in her hair, because “Black people don’t have blonde hair,” according to her ex-supervisor.

Photo by, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Photo by, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Although “Black” people are usually not expected to have natural blonde hair, contrary to Ms. Johnson’s boss’ belief, there are dark-skinned people from various ethnic groups who do have natural blonde or light brown hair, like people from the Melanesian Islands in the South Pacific and persons in the African Diaspora with European ancestry.  That’s the power of genes!  In any case, many Black women—just like many women of other ethnicities—opt to go blonde, whether by dye or using hair pieces. Take Beyoncé, Mary J. Blige and Queen Latifah, for example. (I guess Ms. Johnson’s supervisor didn’t get out much).

Photo by LG 전자, CC BY 2.0

That being said, there does seem to be an unwritten rule that women with darker skin are “not supposed to” wear lightly-coloured hair: it is either frowned upon or is just not considered to be a good look.For example, when Gabrielle Union dyed her hair blonde for her role in Top Five, she received backlash—she was accused of trying to be White.  Meanwhile, my sister, Sarah, and I, as mocha-shaded girls, grew up thinking that blonde was simply a no-no for us—we were told that we were too dark.  This month, however, Sarah decided to that she wanted to “have more fun” too: she defied the odds by throwing some blond highlights into her latest ‘do.

Sarah goes blonde!

Sarah goes blonde!

So far, her bold choice has been met with raving reviews.

What do you think? Should women of colour stick with their “natural” hair hues, or is it okay for them to “have more fun” too?

Notes [1] and [2]: The Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History by Victoria Sherrow, Greenwood Press, 2006.