Number of natural blondes in America: 1 in 20. Number of American females who dye their hair blonde: 1 in 3.
Blondeness became a prejudice in the Dark Ages, an obsession in the Renaissance, a mystique in Elizabethan England, a mythical fear in the nineteenth century, an ideology in the 1930s, a sexual invitation in the 1950s, and a doctrine of faith by the end of the twentieth century. With its powerful imagery of wealth, light, youth, and vitality, built up over thousands of years, it has woven itself into the most popular materials of the imagination. In art and literature, in history and popular culture, blonde has never been a mere color. For two and a half thousand years, it has been a blazing signal in code, signifying beauty, power, and status.
From Greek prostitutes mimicking the golden haired Aphrodite, to the Californian beach babe; from pigeon dung and saffron dyes to L'Oreal-because you're worth it-Joanna Pitman unveils the lengths to which women will go to become blonde. We watch while the blonde as erotic symbol, saintly virgin, or racial elite waxes and wanes throughout the ages, but never disappears. Why is it that blondes rose to prominence in Hollywood and in Nazi Germany at the same time? Why do young Japanese women today want to be blonde?
By looking at the world through the eyes of famous and infamous blondes and their admirers, we are drawn into an intriguing portrait of society. Weaving a story rich in drama, mystery, triumph, deception, disaster and curiosity, Joanna Pitman effortlessly combines the wealth of her knowledge with a sharp and clear-sighted view of the power of the blonde throughout the ages.
entwined with the excitement of temptation and denial. Just as in the Victorian age, when the glimpse of a finely turned ankle beneath weighty layers of petticoats could send men into a frenzy of sexual excitement, in the Middle Ages the near-total concealment of hair further enhanced its seductive powers. Fear and fascination existed as one in the licentiously flowing blonde hair that haunted men’s dreams. All across England and across Europe, too, preachers, parsons, monks and friars were
Hollywood star at a movie premiere, preceded by several pages and manservants, surrounded by her admirers and with her hand on the arm of her current favourite. Such a scene is described in a dialogue, thought to have been written by Aretino, between two women, Maddalena and Giulia. ‘Did you see La Tortora’s wonderful clothes when she went into S. Agostino? I didn’t know her, I thought she was a baroness . . . And did you see the way her hair was done? It looked like one mass of curled gold on
to tell us that his brother had been bitten by a highly venomous snake. I was to come and save him. ‘The blonde! The blonde!’ he jabbered. ‘She must come!’ He shouted again, pointing at me with his spear, and then came over and touched my head, turning to the others and gesturing frantically at my hair as if this was all that was needed to patch up his brother. Plenty of Samburus had already mistaken me for a missionary or a nurse, but I now realised that some bizarre association of blonde hair,
lived for a while in the sort of Cinderella-like poverty necessary to her spectacular story. Her outstanding beauty, however, soon allowed her to make a living by taking lovers and she was quickly elevated to the status of hetaira, which classed her as a superior ‘companion’ to men. Within only a few years of arriving in Athens she had become a top-class courtesan and had learned to play men like puppets. Phryne clearly had a talent for personal image-making and she soon turned herself into a
living, people were drawn to the idea of a reformed life. They focused on new diets (including vegetarianism), outdoor exercise, gymnastics, natural healing and fresh air. Nudism, too, became a popular way of linking the body more closely to nature. In Germany the term Nacktkultur was coined in 1903 in a book by Heinrich Scham which established an enduring if questionable link between nudism, vegetarianism, social reform and ‘racial hygiene’, in particular anti-Semitism. Nudism had been used in