Why Do Gentlemen Prefer Blondes?

by Steve Sailer, 10/22/1999

Steve Sailer (www.iSteve.com) is president of the Human Biodiversity Institute and Adjunct Fellow of the Hudson Institute.

       Blondes have more fun. Gentlemen prefer blondes. If I have only one life to live, why not live it as a blonde? Tens of millions of women subscribe wholeheartedly to these truisms. One study estimated that of the 30% of North American women who are blonde, 5/6ths had some help from a bottle. Why?
       As we all know, the only reason so many women want to be blonde is because they’ve been culturally conditioned to follow Anglo-Saxon standards of beauty. Since the industrial revolution happened first in Protestant Europe, a northern white male power structure runs society. They’ve brainwashed everybody into believing in their superiority. Right?
       Wrong. If true, this conventional wisdom should also apply to men. Yet, men are most admired when “tall, dark, and handsome.” So, something else must be going on. Sure, there are blonde male movie stars. (Although supposedly “blonde” actors like Kevin Costner and Arnold Schwarzenegger are actually far more brunette than blonde actresses like Meg Ryan and Merryl Streep). But, Hollywood routinely uses blondeness to imply that a man is either a nitwit (see Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels in “Dumb & Dumber”) or a soulless corporate weasel (see almost any James Spader or Jay Mohr movie).
       Filmmakers profit by pandering to the public’s desires to see darker men and fairer women. For the last 15 years, I’ve been carefully tracking nude scenes in big budget movies. (The sacrifices I make in the name of science…) In at least 90%, the man’s complexion is darker than the woman’s. That’s why I was especially anticipating the love scene in 1992’s “White Men Can’t Jump” between the café-au-lait Rosie Perez and that quintessential gravity-challenged white man, Woody Harrelson. Would that one break the streak? Well, with enough beige lighting, body makeup, and general movie magic, Rosie and Woody both came out butterscotch colored.
       This pattern is not restricted to North America. Bizarre as it may seem, brunette Hispanic actresses like Perez, Jennifer Lopez, and Salma Hayek might have a better chance of making it big in Hollywood than in blonde-bedazzled Latin America. Soap operas and variety shows on Televisa and Univision, the main Mexican-American networks, feature wall to wall blonde babes. It’s like watching Latvian TV. (The only time you’ll see models who look remotely like the mestizo women who actually watch the Mexican networks are in beer commercials made by socially conscious norteamericano firms like Busch and Miller.) In contrast, Latin America’s male stars, while of 100% European descent, are Antonio Banderas-style Latin lovers with smoldering dark looks.
       Brazil might be even more bonkers for blondes: their top female celebrity, a combination Oprah and Madonna who calls herself XuXu, is virulently Swedish-looking. That XuXu used to be an item with Brazil’s top male celebrity, black soccer god Pele, reminds us that this blonde woman-dark man pattern is highly visible in black-white relationships. In the U.S., 72% of black-white marriages consist of a black husband and a white wife, and in the U.K. 65%. And the great majority of the white wives seem to be blondes of one sort or another. Blacks themselves tend to idolize lighter women (Halle Berry, Vanessa Williams) and darker men (Michael Jordan, Wesley Snipes).
       Fortunately, an explanation has been offered by physical anthropologist Peter Frost of Université Laval in Quebec. The reason women were traditionally called “the fair sex” is because, all else being equal, they really are fairer. “Although about only a tenth of the difference separating blacks from whites, there does exist a perceptible dissimilarity in pigmentation between men and women. Male skin has more melanin and hemoglobin than does female skin, i.e., men are browner and ruddier; women, paler.” In our modern multi-racial societies, we can’t consciously remember that skin color is not just a sign of ethnicity, but also a secondary sexual characteristic. Subconsciously, though, we still associate lighter coloration with femininity.
       Frost notes, “A similar pattern came up during my fieldwork in a small French-Canadian community. The local inhabitants associated a ruddy-brown complexion with a hard (dur), quick-tempered (prompt), proud (orgueilleux), and malicious (malin) temperament; by contrast, they identified paleness with a soft (doux) and accommodating (facile) one.” Frost goes on to document that mono-racial cultures of a wide variety of skin colors associate masculinity with darker complexions: e.g., the ancient Greeks, Elizabethan English, Japanese (think of the geisha’s strikingly white makeup), Sudanese, Melanesians, Navajos and Hopis.
       Lots of questions remain, however. What about tanning? Is it true that males find tanned blondes sexier, while females find pale ones more romantic-looking? The most common exceptions to Hollywood’s light woman/dark man rule are found in cheeseball “Cheerleaders on Spring Break”-type straight-to-video projects. Here, the sex-object starlets are usually deeply-tanned, presumably because these movies are made solely for horny teenage boys. But mainstream movies that want women to identify with the female lead almost always choose a blanched leading lady. (Kim Basinger, for example, says she hasn’t been out in the sun in years.)
       And what about this recent male hair style, pioneered by gays, of frosted tips? Are trendy young men staying true to their roots to show they aren’t really blonde? As Dolly Parton says, “Blonde jokes don’t bother me because I know I’m not dumb, and I know I’m not blonde.”
       Another intriguing fact is that because children’s hair is finer, it’s also fairer. Is that why we associate blondeness with youth, as in phrases like “golden boy” and “fair-haired lad”? Blondeness seems to help endear young male actors like Leonardo DiCaprio to pubescent girls looking for nonthreatening “practice boyfriends”. Still, DiCaprio needs to move past his pretty boy image if he wants to stay on top. That’s because, in the long run, stars must appeal primarily to their own sex. With the exception of young girls, most fans go to movies more to identify with a star. Shedding the blonde tresses can help the transition from teenybopper idol to action star. For example, note how aging golden boy Brad Pitt sports brown hair in his new ultramacho “Fight Club.”
       In short, while Frost’s insight is only a first step in understanding this complex subject, it shows once again that the often-taboo subject of patterns of biological differences between types of people is crucial to understanding the world around us.