I first thought of writing this post after reading Radiant Shadows‘ Why Do Blondes Get to Have All the Fun? which, obviously, focused on the fact that brunette (female) characters in YA tend to be portrayed as nerdy, socially-awkward, and plain while blondes are normally the popular, “pretty” girls. I really do feel bad for brunette readers – it does seem like so many YA books suggest that brown-eyed, brown-haired girls are the ugly stepsisters, or at least the ugly duckling, to the beautiful princess.
Well, neither stepsister has brown hair, but I can’t help but notice that Cinderella has blonde hair while neither of the stepsisters do…
This post isn’t about the unfair treatment of brunettes, though. Instead, I’m looking at how blondes are treated in books, because things aren’t always great for them either.
Think about some of the most popular female characters in YA right now. The very first that came to mind was Hermione Granger. Well, Harry Potter goes beyond YA, but I’m including it anyway. Some others that came to mind quickly were Katniss Everdeen and Bella Swan (there are plenty of others, but these are some of the most popular among books and movies, which means it’s easier to know what hair color they have). Do you notice a pattern among these three strong (well, I think the first two are strong) and beloved YA characters?
Yep, they’re all brunettes. Sure, Bella spends all her time talking about how plain she is (well, that’s what I’ve heard/read – I never actually read the Twilight books, other than the first half or so of the first book) and Hermione is often praised for her intelligence and good nature but rarely her looks (which is not a bad thing – in fact, it’s nice when female characters are recognized for their skills rather than their appearance), but in the end they’re the heroines of the books. They’re the smart, brave, loved girls who fight against the odds to survive or to find love, which could be seen as a battle of its own when the YA world seems to think that brunettes should be ignored in favour of the blondes.
But that’s not the point of this post.
Instead, I want to point out that blonde characters, though normally portrayed as the pretty, popular, confident girls, are also the mean girls, the “sluts” (not condoning calling them that, just pointing out that it pops up a lot), the vapid, low-IQ girls who care much more about their nails than the world around them. Oftentimes these characters can fit these descriptions, but it’s not because they’re blonde – it’s because the authors chose to give them these characteristics and to make them blonde.
Like I said, I’ve never read the Twilight books, but from what I’ve read online (if you dislike Twilight or like the series but enjoy reading snarky commentary about the books anyway, you should check out Blogging Twilight or Mark Reads Twilight; if you don’t like people mocking or pointing out problems in Twilight, then I advise you stay far, far away from these sites), Stephanie Meyer is not a fan of blondes, from a mean girl that hates Bella for no reason to mean girl vampire sister Rosalie who hates Bella for no reason (or does she hate for being human? Clueless non-Twilight reader right here).
Since I’m far from being a fan of Twilight, though, this reason doesn’t matter as much to me. So, I was kind of sad when an author I like mentioned blondes in a less than positive light:
“And no more blond hair.”
“I want people to take me seriously.”
– Gayle Forman’s “Just One Day,” page 163
It’s not a direct put-down of blondes or anything, but it’s just one more reminder that blond, smart women are often viewed as the exception, while brunettes have the much nicer, alliterative trope of “Brainy Brunette.”
It can feel like I have to dig my way out of a destroyed bathroom just to find smart blondes, let alone smart blondes who don’t get called out for being rare, strange creatures among the sea of dumb blondes.
Why yes, I did use that metaphor specifically, why do you ask?
Here are some books I’ve read lately that have “smart,” or at least not “dumb,” blondes:
It took a while to find just these six (I went through my entire collection of covers saved to my WordPress) and not all necessarily qualify: The Friday Society‘s Cora is the blonde/redhead, can’t remember for sure, and she’s the one who loves sparkles and costumes and magic, but she was my favorite character and she genuinely had a good heart and I think she was just as smart and brave as the other two girls; and The Diviner‘s Evie is the party girl flapper who’s a bit too selfish at time, but she is also quite smart, albeit more in the street smarts category. And at least half of these books are quick to point out that these girls seem to be overcoming the inherent dumbness or at least not-genius of their hair color.
It seems like blondes only have two choices in YA: to be the mean girls who are easy and obsessed with makeup or the random smart girl who is a blonde anomaly. Brunettes may frequently be told that they’re the plain, boring ones, but blondes are shown to be dumb and silly. Really, the problem doesn’t seem to be the hair color of the girls – girls in YA in general are too often told that they’re less simply because they’re girls, and the stereotypes of hair color seem to just feed into that further.