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ISSUE 116 VOL 15 PUBLISHED 3/21/2003

Brunettes ponder roles

By Tiffany Ayres
Staff Writer

Friday, March 21, 2003

Ah, the age old question, blonde or brunette? The question can pertain to anything from a man's taste in women to asking about someone's natural hair color. Why the big fuss over hair color? Particularly, why the big fuss over women's hair color?

One of the reasons why society is so obsessed with hair color is that people use it as a major factor in making a first impression. Believe it or not, someone is probably trying to assess your major characteristics based on your hair color as you read this paper. An article in the March issue of Cosmo titled "What Your Hair Color Says About You," addressed this matter. Using information from surveys conducted by a group called Harris Interactive, the article listed several stereotypes and general perceptions that people have of women with brunette or black hair.

Brown is the most common hair color across cultures and is associated with earthiness, so women with brown hair are seen as more dependable, truthful and natural. The general consensus on the St. Olaf campus does not stray a great deal from this perception. In fact, St. Olaf students surveyed attributed even more characteristics to brunettes, including intelligence, naturalness, low maintenance, and the idea that brunettes are more reserved and more trustworthy than blondes. One student even mentioned the idea that brunettes are more exotic than blondes. Survey results from Harris Interactive support the fact that these are all commonly held ideas about brunettes. For example, 59 percent of women believe that a CEO would hire a brunette over a blonde, and the majority of the surveyed population predicts that the first female president will be a brunette.

Another commonly held idea, at least on the St. Olaf campus, is that of the "Blonde Personality," which accounts for those brunettes and blondes who do not fit into the commonly held stereotypes. The "Blonde Personality," which describes blondes as ditzy, airheads, "easy,” and "valley girls," to list a few, does not always correlate to one's actual hair color; therefore, brunettes could be blondes at heart. The term also includes the idea of a person having "blonde moments.”

All of these generalizations about hair color can be seen in our media. On “Friends,” Monica is the intelligent and well-organized brunette, while Phoebe is the flighty and outrageous blond. In “Legally Blonde,” Reese Witherspoon plays the flirty fashion-obsessed blond law school student who nobody takes seriously, while Selma Blair plays the sophisticated, intelligent, more reserved brunette rival. An interesting twist on the stereotypes can be seen in “Cruel Intentions.” According to Harris Interactive, women are less likely to trust their significant other alone with a blonde than with a brunette, and women felt that a brunette would be less likely to attract their husband's attention than a blonde. In “Cruel Intentions,” however, a brunette, Sarah Michelle Gellar, portrays a character with all of the negative stereotypical characteristics usually attributed to blondes.

The moral of the story is that society as a whole has stereotyped ideals for hair color, yet at the same time admits that there are a vast number of exceptions. St. Olaf students asked to name a famous brunette responded with such varied answers as Monica Lewinsky, Oprah Winfrey, Sandra Bullock, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Julia Roberts and Audrey Hepburn. All of these women have characteristics from both sets of hair color-based stereotypes.

The question remains: blonde or brunette?

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