When Did We All Turn Blond?

When Did We All Turn Blond?

Story tools

A A AResize



SAN FRANCISCO--We’re all blonds now. Among Caucasian women, blonde is the ruling style—blond hair tied back in a ponytail.

It’s gotten so that they, uh, sort of all look alike. Sales of blond hair dye have skyrocketed in recent years. Surveys have shown that women think blondes attract more men and are happier than non-blondes. In fact, a teenager who won Miss Teen Wanganui in New Zealand made world news when she was stripped of her crown recently when she dyed her blond hair brown.

More and more of our fellow non-whites are ditching their natural hair colors and turning into Barbies and Kens. It’s a global phenomenon, widespread in these United States and ascendant in capitals like Rio, Manila, and Tokyo. 

There are now more fake blonds among blacks, Latinos, Filipinos, Japanese, and Chinese of both sexes than ever before, especially among the young. I see Chinese girls in Starbucks with buzz cuts dyed platinum blond or Viking red. In the Filipino newspaper, I’m reading there’s a photo of a morena starlet in Manila with strawberry blond hair and possibly a Vicky Belo nose job. Even my friend’s flat-nosed grandfather dyes his white hair light brown.

What happened? It wasn’t always like this. There was a time the fake blond syndrome among non-whites was a no-no, seen as a sign of Uncle Tomism and colonial mentality. But now it’s apparently permissible to openly commit tonsorial treason by abandoning one’s roots. Combing through the past may help tease out the truth.

It’s been argued that Charles Darwin himself first investigated the theorem B=MF, or “blondes have more fun.” He probed a theory that dark hair was predominant in the general British population, because dark-haired women were more likely to get married and have dark-haired offspring, while blondes tended to stay single and childless—or in the popular translation, had more fun.
Just as subsequent generations of physicists modified Einstein’s E=mc2 to overcome his cosmological constant, the writer Anita Loos in 1953 sharpened B=MF to the singularity G=PB, or “gentlemen prefer blondes.” (A certain Bruce Wehr on the Internet cruelly reduced this further to MF=MTL, or More Fun=Male Testosterone Level.) And so, before the mid-60s the world went on worshipping blondly.

It was then acceptable for black Americans to straighten their hair—there were ads for straightening formulas. Nat King Cole had a straight pompadour, so did The Platters and various doo-wop hit-makers. Even a hint of brown was okay. But only working girls and their pimps dared dye their hair radically blond because they didn’t care. They were already outliers anyway. In the Philippines, we of course followed Western fashion—the crew cut, flat-top, Elvis’s sideburns, Jackie’s bouffant. But some men and women began a love affair with peroxide. You could get a professionally done Grace Park, a hairdo of brown hair cooked to a frizzy perm. The mestizo look was favored.

But after percolating politically in the first half of the decade, the world exploded in 1968: Paris burned, and youth rebellions spread all across Europe and the Americas; Mao became a superstar; the Tet Offensive doomed America’s fate in Vietnam and Americans awakened from the previous year’s Summer of Love and rushed headlong into the antiwar movement; ghettos exploded upon Martin Luther King’s assassination; the Black Panther flourished; Robert Kennedy’s murder further stripped away the golden glow of the ‘50s. Black was beautiful. It’s not “Oriental” or “Asiatic”—it’s Asian or Asian American, got that?

As a non-Caucasian, you wouldn’t be caught dead with bottled-blond locks or a Grace Park on either side of the Pacific. It was just not respectable; it was downright offensive, a symptom of cultural self-nihilism. You could be called an Oreo or a coconut—black or brown on the outside, white inside. In the Philippines, there was the First Quarter Storm, and nationalism possessed even the tisoys. Brown-skinned, black-haired movie icons, ascended to her impermanent thrones.

The big chill came in the mid-‘70s, after the traumas of Vietnam and Watergate, and in the Philippines, under the enforced quiet of martial law. It’s possible that Tina Turner signaled the first break from follicular correctness by rolling on stage in big blonde tresses, a stark departure from the sensual primness of the black-beehived Supremes. “I’m in command,” she seemed to be saying, “So I look like a hoochie mama, ain’t nothin’ you can do about it.” It was still a case of empowerment, and acceptable to the children of the ‘60s. 

Other divas soon accented their negritude and independence with incongruous hair styles and colors: The line from red-haired Aretha Franklin and Patti Labelle would lead directly to today’s tinted Beyonce and Rihanna. But a strong undercurrent of lumpen styles has also seized America’s youth culture and so, also the globe’s. White Southern rock brought tattoos out of prisons into the mainstream just as rap did with beltless, low-slung, oversize convict pants. The multibillion-dollar Internet-delivered porn industry has made cleavage, thongs, bare midriffs, lingerie outerwear, and tramp stamps fashionable.

Are we now really freed of all false consciousness that all this is okay? The message could still be empowerment, but I really can’t tell. Help me. It seems more like anything goes. 

So, in the streets of San Francisco today, European tourists—with their topless sunbathing, uncensored television nudity, and sexually-explicit billboards—look positively conservative in fashion compared with some of the vampy natives of all ethnic backgrounds. Young Japanese tourists, desperately cool, could blend in, being invariably blond or multicolored of hair. Clearly, the pendulum has swung back. The Panthers are a fading memory. Somewhere in the mix, black may still be beautiful, brown may still wear the crown. But I really don’t know. The world has grown weary of the ‘60s generation, and we just watch in passive acceptance.