A Reclamation of the “Dumb Blonde” Stereotype

Everett Collection and Illustration by Ava Cruz

Chinae Alexander first dyed her hair blond in 2017. At first, she was hesitant; as a Korean-American with naturally dark features, she initially worried the transformation would take her away from her culture, especially “because blond hair is often correlated with European beauty standards.”

As a content creator, there was also the peripheral fear that it would change how society at large perceived her. Blondes, after all, have been typecast in every which way – they have more fun, they have a “moment,” they can’t possibly be, not a chance are they, smart – based solely on the color of their hair.

More pointedly, they have been the protagonist of an entire stereotype for years: the “dumb blonde.”

As most things rooted in misogyny, the notion implies that anyone willing to dye their hair in such an overtly unnatural shade must be inclined to other “superficial” tendencies, like plastic surgery, acrylic nails, and tanned skin. (It has been reported that only 2 percent of the world’s population has naturally blond hair.) Making matters worse, Hollywood and the media have only perpetuated this “dumb blond” cliché, treating stars like Pamela Anderson and Dolly Parton as walking caricatures instead of nuanced human beings.

Now, we’re seeing a long-awaited shift: with the rise in all things “Barbie” (and the feminist undertones splayed throughout the film), in addition to “bimbo TikTok” picking up traction on the app, it seems the trope is finally getting a long-awaited role reversal. Blond women today are finding power in hyper-femininity and leaning in to the stereotype to reclaim the term – on their own terms.

For how blondes went from, as Ashley Mears, professor of sociology at Boston University, so eloquently put it, “both bombshell to brainless,” to all of that intentionally, and none of it at all, keep reading.

Where Did the “Dumb Blonde” Stereotype Come From?

The exact moment that lit the proverbial “dumb blonde” candle isn’t exactly known; in fact, many feminist theory historians we reached out to for this piece admitted they weren’t sure of its origin. Some point to Marilyn Monroe’s 1953 film “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” in which she proclaimed, “I can be smart when it’s important, but most men don’t like it.” Others say it dates back hundreds of years, when blond hair was associated with prostitutes during the early times of the Roman Empire. Meanwhile, Cleopatra, reportedly a brunette, was considered powerful and exceptionally well-educated.

One thing that’s cemented its status in society is how it has been perpetuated to the wider world. “Film and pop culture play a significant role in how people view the world in general,” Christie Ferrari, Psy.D, a clinical psychologist, tells POPSUGAR. “When it relates to women, stereotypes are used to help better tell a story; yet, the problem with stereotypes is that they can be wrong, and the public can generalize them to a whole group of people with similar features and attributes, in this case blondes, and that can affect how people are treated and feel about a group of people.”

As a result, she adds, “when it pertains to blondes, they are not typically represented and casted as intelligent.”

This is true: countless TV shows and movies with blond women characters allude to this trope, and with zero subtlety detected: Cher Horowitz, Karen Smith, Elle Woods, Tanya McQuoid, and so on. “Even with a quick google search, you’ll notice that Lisa Simpson is one of the few blondes, albeit a cartoon character, that was given the role as intelligent in media,” says Dr. Ferrari.

Still, science has long proven that there’s no merit behind the claims that blond women are less intellectually inclined. The stereotype is factually incorrect. A 2016 study published in “Nature Genetics” showed that a blonde’s hair color has no link to “other traits, like intelligence or personality,” notes David Kingsley, the study’s author. “The change that causes blond hair is, literally, only skin deep.” Multiple reports have shown that blond women have similar IQs to that of women with other hair colors, and a person’s smarts is much more closely related to their genetics or access to education.

As such, the illusion of a “dumb blonde” is nothing more than that: an idealized fabrication created by men.

“[Society has] created all these personas to simplify women in any way we can,” says Alexander. “People want to categorize blondes to make us easier to understand, but what they don’t realize is that women are multidimensional. So these standards don’t hold up.”

Reclaiming the Meaning of “Dumb Blonde”

In the film “Barbie,” director Greta Gerwig flips the script of what it means to be a picture-perfect, life-in-plastic doll. At face value, she gives the main character (played by Margot Robbie) all the makings of a stereotypical dumb blonde: the buttery hair color, the bronzed skin, the megawatt smile. Then, as the story develops, you learn of Barbie’s depth, curiosity, and complexities. On the other end of the spectrum, you see the depiction of her male partner that’s lesser-than, often referred to in the movie and marketing materials leading up to it as “just Ken.”

When the blond punchline so pointedly targets blond women, versus men, it’s refreshing to see the change in narrative.

The same can be said of the rising movement referred to as “BimboTok,” a subculture of TikTok that sees people reclaiming the word “bimbo” in a way that serves them. Scroll through the hashtag, which alone has garnered a whopping 405 million views and climbing, and you’ll see countless videos of bleached-blond content creators wearing pink fur stilettos with ditzy voiceovers brimming with sarcasm.

“Hi everyone, it’s Chrissy, your favorite bimbo with the horrible math skills, here to tell you how to be the best bimbo you can be,” proclaims Chrissy Chlapecka, the unofficial poster child of said movement, in a now-viral TikTok video. Among the list of to-do’s (like “think,” followed by, “did you? No? Good”), she ends with one aimed at those who underestimate her intelligence: “Create a bimbo manifesto and dismantle the patriarchy.”

For Alexander, BimboTok circles back to how smart women really are. “The intelligence to be able to realize that stereotype and use it to your advantage – to take people’s assumptions and use them for your benefit – is the ultimate mastermind,” she says.

Related Posts
Latest Beauty
The End.

The next story, coming up!