While looking up some data for this post, I found a great site chock full of fun-facts: Neoteny.org. The site has a scientific theory to sell you, but his data is what really caught my attention.
Check this out:
Of the 50 subjects with learning disabilities, 10 (20%) were blond. In contrast, 121 of 1067 subjects without learning disabilities were blond (11%)… subjects with learning disabilities were nearly twice as likely to be blond compared with non-LD subjects…. These results raise the possibility that melanin may be involved both in the development of motor dominance and independently in the devilment of neural systems which, when maldeveloped, result in learning disabilities. (Schachter, Ransel & Geschwind (1987) Associations of Handedness with hair color and learning disabilities Neuropsychologia 25: pp. 275)
Not conclusive (the sample with learning disabilities is hell-of-small), but some more information which indicated that blondes had higher rates learning disabilities and were more likely to be left-handed was very interesting. I don’t really know what to make of this. But food for thought (the idea that “blondes are dumb” might come from learning disabilities perhaps?).
Diane of Letter From Gotham (soon to be in new digs) took up the baton that I received from Cut on the Bias on the whole black-women-angry-at-white-women-for-stealing-their-men-schtick. Diane brought up the issue of “blondeism,” the lower bar that fair-haired women have to jump in attractiveness (thanks for the correction Diane). The data is light on the ground and speculation rife in the air. So I’ll pile on.
Blonde hair dye outsells other colors by five to one. Only a small minority of American women are natural blondes as adults, but look at Playboy or watch television and blondes are far more prominent. A roommate of mine back in college, who had a marketing minor, told me that blondes sell 5% more on a magazine cover, so they are more of a safe bet. Ancient Roman women wore blonde wigs. It seems that there is a natural preference for blondes. If it was cultural, one would find at least one European culture where there is a preference for dark hair among women, but I know of none (readers can correct me here). I think it is clear that there is sexual selection for blondism because it is a childish trait that accentuates a woman’s youth (the one other region of the world where blondism is common, among the central Australian tribes, the trait is associated with women and children).
On the other hand, is the blonde preference cross-racial? Is it part of a “peacock” effect where humans have no natural speed limit but gorge their eyes on golden hair if possible? I am not so sure about this. I would like to see data on whether isolated tribal people prefer blondes to non-blondes. I read in
Journal of Ethnic Studies years ago that though Asian people admired the light skin of Europeans, they were less impressed by blonde hair and blue eyes . In fact, the people of east Asia often portrayed people with red hair and green eyes as witches and trolls (European hair is as red as Chinese skin is
yellow remember). The Chinese did have some knowledge of people with European features, the barbarians of Eastern Turkestan were often portrayed as having Western features and red hair (some of them still do even after centuries of intermarriage with Mongoloid people from the north and east). My
own personal experience from my cultural background (South Asian Muslim) is similar in that though the light skin of Europeans is admired, the blonde hair and blue eyes are considered less interesting. It seems to me that not having black hair is associated more with sickliness than anything else . This implies that the peacock effect is not at play, that people tend to prefer those who are lighter than the mean of their population, but not as light as can be (makes sense, otherwise albinos would all be supermodels).
In the context of American culture this preference for blondes favors white women. Blacks and Asians who bleach their hair blonde look ridiculous. I know, I’ve done it twice (I did it for the ridiculousness of it, but don’t plan on it anytime in the future). On the other hand, most whites can become bottle blondes and if it is done well can pass as one of the fair-haired elite (ever take a look at pictures of mouse-brown haired Norma Jean?).
When I was in 8th grade one of the classes I took was about social interaction and public issues. We split up into groups. I happened to have the token black girl at our school (her father was black, her mother white) in my group. There were about six groups, and only our group did not include “blonde” as a physical feature of the “perfect girl.” I don’t suspect this was a coincidence, because it is not a large leap in logic to conclude that because non-white women can never look naturally blonde they can never aspire toward physical perfection. And let’s be honest, for young men physical perfection is the only type there is for women.
What can I say? Life sucks.
 The modern vogue in Japan for brown hair and eye surgery to mimic the Western look is very much going against historical norms. It is a classic case of cultural emulation. On the other hand, light skin has always been associated with beauty and class.
 My sister has very dark reddish-brown hair (obviously more brown than red). In a crowd of white people her hair looks basically black, but when set next to the blue-black hair of my brothers & I, the difference is instantly noticeable. My mother hoped it was a childhood related condition, but her hair
color remains stubbornly “abnormal,” despite all my mothers attempts to mitigate it with ointments (both my parents dye their grey hair black-I have mild premature greying and might have more showing now than my father).