View Full Version : Blondes Through the Ages

Storm Saxon
Thursday, February 16th, 2012, 12:04 PM
Blondes Through the Ages
Review by H. A. Scott Trask, 2012

Blonde women, both natural and contrived, are disproportionately represented in film, fashion, advertising, and television. Blonde women are generally thought of as the ideal of beauty, not only in Northern Europe and North America where many natural blondes live, but also in those parts of the world where blondes are very rare. Tens of millions of women — and not just in America and Europe — lighten their hair, while relatively few darken it.

Many would dismiss this almost universal passion for blondeness as a recent fashion, or as a consequence of the power of Western mass culture, but Joanna Pitman’s new book On Blondes disproves this. Mrs. Pitman, who is the photography critic for the Times of London, reports that brunettes have wanted to be blondes since at least Classical times.

The Ancient Greeks, who were predominantly dark-haired, clearly believed blonde women were the most beautiful. The poet Homer described the goddess Athena as having gray eyes and Aphrodite, the goddess of love, as having golden hair. One of the most famous sculptures of the ancient world was the Aphrodite statue, sculpted by Praxiteles in 360 B.C. She had blonde hair — the Greeks always painted their statues, so there was no mistake about this — as did the myriad copies of this statue that decorated the great temples, gardens, and villas of the Greek city-states. Praxiteles is said to have modeled Aphrodite after his own mistress Phryne, who was said to be the most beautiful woman in Greece. She had long, flowing blonde hair, and she was the star attraction at the festival of Poseidon in which she emerged from the sea god’s temple, disrobed, and waded into the ocean to offer the god a sacrifice.

The Greek’s longing for blondeness is revealed in Aethiopica, a tale about a royal couple who gave birth to a blonde girl, Charicleia, because they conceived under a painting of the naked blonde demi-goddess Andromeda. This tale represents what may be the near-universal desire of parents to have children with lighter hair and eyes than their own. How many parents, of any race, hope for darker-skinned children?

Mrs. Pitman reports that the Romans were no less enamored of blonde hair than the Greeks. They, too, portrayed their goddess of love, Venus, with pale skin and blonde hair. The Romans had long known about the fair-haired Celts, and military conquests in Gaul brought them in contact with even more Celtic and Germanic tribes. The result was a wave of blondeness envy among the aristocratic ladies of the Roman empire. Many Roman women began wearing blonde wigs as a fashion, made from the light hair of captured or killed North European women, or dyed their own hair blonde with expensive saffron dyes. Other bleaching agents included such things as sapo (goat’s fat mixed with beechwood ashes), Batavian pomade (a dying soap), and lees (sediment of wine or vinegar).

This passion for blondes offended the pride and patriotism of some Romans. Mrs. Pitman quotes the poet Ovid, who scolded the wealthy Roman women for always using “rinses” and dangerous “concoctions” in their quest for blondeness. There were safer ways to seek beauty: “After our German conquests, a blonde wig is easily come by — a captive Mädchen’s hair will see you through...eliciting admiration galore.” However, he warns the Roman women to remember, “The praise, like the hair, has been bought. Once, you really deserved it. Now, each compliment belongs to some Rhine maiden, not to you.”

The epigrammatist Martial wrote of a Roman lady: “Her toilet table contained a hundred lies, and while she was in Rome, her hair was blushing by the Rhine.” Tertullian, a later Christian theologian, complained that Roman women “are even ashamed of their country, sorry that they were not born in Germania or in Gaul. Thus, as far as their hair is concerned, they give up their country.”

It is understandable that women might want to look more like rulers or conquerors, but the women of Rome wanted to look like their weaker enemies who had been defeated and enslaved. Surely, only blondes have been envied and imitated even in defeat. Southern belles had no desire to resemble their African slaves, nor did English lasses imitate the features of the subject races of the British Empire. Nor did American girls during the 1940s ever try to look Japanese. The old Roman preference for blondes seems to have been more than a matter of fashion or a mere passing desire for the exotic.

During the Middle Ages women continued to dye their hair blonde, despite exhortations to the contrary by Catholic clerics, who pointed to the blonde hair of the sinful temptress Eve (perhaps thereby making blonde hair even more attractive). For the Europeans of this period, blonde hair represented dangerous eroticism, sexual temptation, and sinful beauty, but also sexual purity and spirituality. In Christian artworks, angels were usually blonde, as were the chaste heroines of the chivalric romance. The French court poet Chrétien de Troyes of the twelfth century filled his Arthurian legends with beautiful blondes like Guinevere and Soredamor, who had flowing hair and blue or green eyes. Likewise, the fair-haired Iseult from the twelfth-century chivalric tale, Tristan and Iseult, was described as “the most beautiful woman from here to the Spanish Marches.” In Roman de la Rose, a thirteenth-century French poem, the hero encounters a bewitching beauty with grey-blue eyes, a straight nose, snowy breasts, and blonde hair — features that represented the pinnacle of ideal female beauty in the Middle Ages.

Mrs. Pitman has found that if European men of the Middle Ages had a passion for fair-haired women, so did the Muslim Arabs who were their principal enemy. During the Crusades, the twelfth-century Arab historian Imad ad-Din records the arrival of “three hundred lovely Frankish women, full of youth and beauty, loving and passionate, blue-eyed and grey-eyed,” who had come to offer comfort and companionship to the male Franks. Mrs. Pitman also cites the account of Ibrahim ibn Jaqub, a tenth-century Jew who converted to Islam, and traveled in Eastern Europe. He wrote that one of the purposes of his journeys was to purchase blonde prisoners for his Turkish and Arab customers. By contrast, European knights did not ever bring home dark-skinned Middle-Eastern brides.

Renaissance Italy and England continued to admire blonde hair. When the famous Italian painters depicted what they conceived to be the highest female beauty, they chose slender blondes, as in Botticelli’s “Venus” (1486) and Carpaccio’s “The Two Courtesans” (1495). The upper-class Venetian ladies devoted their Saturday afternoons to blonding their hair (they could choose from at least 36 recipes for bleach), and a contemporary Italian historian noted that just as “the women of older times did most love yellow hair...the Venetian women at this day, and the Paduan, and those of Verona, and other parts of Italy, practice the same vanity.”

Mrs. Pitman writes that the next 200 years were an anomaly in an otherwise blonde millennium, as dark hair came into fashion, at least among the upper classes. This may have reflected the rise of Spain and France as the major superpowers. The ideal beauty now had dark brown or black hair with a milk-white complexion. During this period, many natural blondes actually sought to conceal their true hair color by wearing black wigs or dying their hair. The sign of an aristocrat was dark hair and pale skin. Women from poor families could not afford these artifices, and the aristocracy and upper-middle class often associated blonde hair with lower-class promiscuity.

During the Romantic age of the nineteenth century, blonde hair began to win back its former ascendancy, helped in part by the popularization of fairy tales. The Grimm brothers in Germany wrote stories based on the ancient folklore of the common peasant folk, in which the heroines were blue-eyed blondes with rosy cheeks. The growing prestige throughout Europe of the Germanic culture also encouraged a greater appreciation of the Nordic look.

More encouragement for blondness came from the poetic and artistic fascination with the early Middle Ages. Artists and authors revived the old Arthurian romances, Germanic mythology, Scandinavian epic poetry, and the history of the ancient Germans and Celts. Sir Walter Scott wrote the novel Ivanhoe (1819) to celebrate the virtues of the ancient Saxons. His hero and heroine, Ivanhoe and Rowena, both have blue eyes and fair hair. In Coningsby (1844), the author Benjamin Disraeli, who later became Prime Minister, praised the Saxons for their strength and handsome Nordic features: “You come from the shores of the Northern Sea, land of the blue eye, and the golden hair.” In his next novel, Tancred (1847), he ascribed England’s greatness to its predominant Anglo-Saxon race. “All is race,” Disraeli wrote; “there is no other truth.”

In the twentieth century, blonde hair has reigned supreme as the pinnacle of beauty. During the Second World War, even the Third Reich’s enemies shared certain Nazi ideals. As the author notes, “The top wartime box office female film stars in all three belligerent countries were blonde”— Kristina Soderbaum in Nazi Germany, Lyubov Orolova in Russia, and Betty Grable in America. Soviet propaganda art, both before and during the war, always portrayed the Soviet heroes as blonde and tall. “Stalin’s ideal citizen was definitely an Aryan,” writes the author. The American bomber pilots decorated their Flying Fortresses and B-29s with images of Betty Grable and other sultry Hollywood blondes, as well as with Vargas girls (famous later in Playboy magazine), most of whom were blondes. (Alberto Vargas painted stylized watercolors of beautiful women for calendars and posters).

Regrettably, Mrs. Pitman devotes only a little space to the last several decades. The triumph of multiculturalism and anti-national ideologies has failed to displace blondes from their pre-eminence in fashion, film, and even pornography. The blonde woman continues to be sought after by men worldwide. In Brazil, for example, the provinces in the southeast that have large German populations are those which supply the vast majority of models for the Brazilian fashion industry.

Mrs. Pitman notes that even in so successful a country as Japan, light skin and European features are at a high premium. In the streets of Tokyo, every fourth or fifth woman seems to lighten her hair — some going all the way to full yellow — and even men are beginning to dye their hair as a fashion statement. As one orange-haired Japanese woman explains, “It’s a form of rebellion, rejecting my Japaneseness in order to look more Western.” It is fashionable for Japanese film actresses to have their epicanthic folds removed surgically, to take the “slant” out of their eyes and make them look rounder and more Caucasian.

Although Mrs. Pitman does not mention this, Africa and the Caribbean are large markets for hair dyes and skin bleaches, even for crude products that harm users. Likewise, most of the women who appear on Mexican television could almost be mistaken for Germans, and do not resemble the vast majority of Mexicans.

Mrs. Pitman, herself an attractive English blonde, draws few lessons from her illuminating study but she does ask a few tantalizing questions. She notes that many whites who are not natural blondes dye their hair in the hope of “passing,” and wonders: “Are those who blonde themselves still subconsciously seeking to distinguish themselves from darker and less powerful ethnic groups?” Mrs. Pitman concedes that non-white women have often turned themselves blonde but never permits herself to wonder whether at some level they may wish they were white.

Mrs. Pitman disapproves of the “racialist belief that the blonde and fair-skinned should not marry a member of a darker race.” Yet how else are Nordics, whose hair color ranges from red and brown to blonde, whose physical traits are generally recessive, and who make up only a small percentage of the world population, to survive in a world of mass migrations? Mrs. Pitman’s book suggests that blonde women will continue to be sought after as wives by successful men of all races. Without strong sanctions against miscegenation, the natural blonde will disappear.

We would do well to remember the wisdom of the English racialist G. P. Mudge who wrote in the aftermath of the terrible European Civil War of 1914–18: “England still contains a large percentage of the tall, well-built, blond, light-eyed type...this is the racial type that must at all costs not only preserve itself against extinction, but must multiply until all the needs of the Empire are met.”

Wolf in the West
Thursday, February 16th, 2012, 12:48 PM
I thought it was more of a womans thing to die there hair, im more then happy with my brown hair. my mother is natural blond but i have always liked pale skinned dark haired women.

Thursday, February 16th, 2012, 05:11 PM
I like when people, particuarly women show off their natural hair colors. Not out of bottle interpretations of what they want their hair to look like. I've yet to hear a good reason from hair dyers as to why exactly they have to do this.

Thursday, February 16th, 2012, 05:54 PM
Tertullian, a later Christian theologian, complained that Roman women “are even ashamed of their country, sorry that they were not born in Germania or in Gaul. Thus, as far as their hair is concerned, they give up their country.”

So for women their hair really is the most important thing in the world:D

This doesn't surprise me, as much as people would like to believe beauty is subjective, to a large degree it simply isn't. There is always an ideal, this is why gold is more popular than silver, why certain colours and shades have more meaning to us. It also probably has to do with the fact that gold signifies wealth and what better way to show your wealth and nobility by having golden hair.

Thursday, February 16th, 2012, 11:31 PM
Roman women wearing blond wigs. This is happening even in modern times. You should see all the negro women wearing blond wigs in the U.S. They really look weird. It dosen't make them look any less ugly.