For some undefinable reason, blondes and brunettes have been rivals for well over 500 years. Generally, blondes had the upper hand. Fairness was beautiful, a sign of purity and grace, whereas dark complexions were not favoured and darker toned women often tried re-colouring their hair.
Blondes dominated society and literature, and soon legend became that all heroines were of honey-coloured hair. We have Cinderella, Rapunzel, Isolde (of Tristan & Isolde), Guinevere, the Valkyries (Norse myth), and other iconic, blonde women. Tradition dictates blondes are the most gorgeous — because, ya know, they’re the only ones we know of. Yes, there are exceptions like Snow White and Jo March (one of my favourite characters of all time), but there is an image in our heads that golden locks are attached to the scalps of the girls who get the princes.
I don’t know about you, but even despite the recent amount of rather insulting blonde jokes, I still automatically picture classical women in literature with flaxen hair. Example: whilst reading Romeo & Juliet, Juliet was most definitely blonde. It was only until I watched 1968’s Romeo & Juliet that it even occurred to me that she could be anything other than fair-haired. Rosalind was brunette in my mind — and Juliet wasn’t. Huh. How brainwashed am I?
When I began the earliest drafts of brainstorming for my manuscript on the margins of grocery lists, I knew right away that my heroine was not going to be blonde. She was going to be brunette. Part of it was that I am brunette, and I love it. The more major influence for her hair colour, however, was avoiding that traditional stereotype. Having a female protagonist, blonde? Geez, cliché much, Libby? So she had brown hair. Simple. Easy. Familiar.
A friend and I discussed this yesterday. She mentioned that she made her heroine blonde to escape the stereotype of female main characters with dark hair. At first I didn’t understand what she was saying. What are you talking about? Blonde heroines are the stereotype.
But I thought about it.
In YA novels, especially in recent years, the leading woman is brunette. Hermione Granger of Harry Potter, Arya of The Inheritance Cycle, Katsa of Graceling, Katniss of The Hunger Games, Calwyn of The Singer of All Songs, Bella Swan of Twilight (I only include her to prove my point), Aislinn, Leslie, and Ani of Wicked Lovely, Bitterblue of, er, Bitterblue…Need I continue?* It’d be fascinating to ask these
authors if the hair colour of these women was to avoid the blonde stereotype. If so, then it seems that in avoiding the golden stereotype, we’ve only created a new one.
And, I really have to say this (my body isn’t allowing me another choice): Anne Boleyn, while famous for her beautiful eyes and elegance, was not considered traditionally attractive by the standards of her time. Dark-haired with darker toned skin, her predecessor, Catherine of Aragon, was generally acknowledged to be more beautiful with her fair hair and blue eyes (or, more conventionally beautiful.), and her successor, Jane Seymour, was a more traditional English Rose with her almost-extreme paleness. The ways of the world are strange. The Victorians, the romanticists they were, often portrayed Anne in art as a blonde, trying to add conventional beauty to enhance her already-tragic end. There. I said it.
Do you think, that in ten years or so, writers will be making their protagonists blonde to escape the brunette stereotype? Have you contributed to this new stereotype? Have you noticed this before?
*I realize that these are all fantasy or urban fantasy characters. As I generally only read fantasy and historical nonfiction, my variety of dark-haired ladies from other genres is lacking.