I’ve been a blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman my entire life. When I was a child I had white-blonde hair that looked like corn silk, which eventually darkened to a dirty blonde as I aged. As I grew up, I often looked for blonde women in media because I never met very many blonde women in my real life. I vividly remember seeing and hearing about actresses like Marilyn Monroe (arguably the most infamous blonde in media), Robin Wright from The Princess Bride, and Kate Capshaw from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, as well as other blonde characters in things like fairytales (Goldilocks) (Duncan 20). I was often surprised with myself that I didn’t like these characters much. I always related more to other characters who were brave, smart, or outspoken, rather than the scared, soft, homebodies I saw blonde women play. I didn’t understand why I wouldn’t like the portrayals of people who looked like me until I was much older.
For decades, blonde women have been represented one of two ways: as the “blonde bombshell” (overly sexual, extremely attractive, and altogether irresistible to men) or the “dumb blonde” (dumb, ditzy, naïve, and childish). Some classic examples of these stereotypes are characters played by actresses like Brigitte Bardot and Jayne Mansfield (Duncan 20). These representations of blonde women are extremely popular in many different forms of media, but they reinforce some untrue and potentially harmful stereotypes.The first stereotype would be that no blonde woman can be of even average intelligence. The second would be that all blonde women are inherently sexual, promiscuous, and desirable. Many characters play a combination of these stereotypes, which we will see below.
To look at these phenomena I decided to analyze three different media examples that depict blonde women. The sources I chose to examine were a commercial for Nando’s restaurant, Sarah Sanderson from Hocus Pocus, and Phoebe Buffay from Friends. On a basic level, I will be comparing the three sources to see what they have in common and how they differ. Additionally, I chose three different forms of media (a commercial, a movie, and a TV show) to see how the length of a production influenced these blonde characters and their development. Lastly, I will also be analyzing how the target audience of these sources influenced their character representations.
Source One: “Chips”
“Chips” is a commercial for Nando’s new “bigger, fuller, bouncier double-breasted burger.” Nando’s is an international restaurant chain that originated in South Africa. The ad features a blonde woman talking on her cell phone while sitting in the restaurant. The woman has large breasts and is wearing a very low-cut top. The woman, who can’t see the french fries on her plate over her chest, calls over a waitress asking about her missing french fries. The waitress turns the woman’s plate around so she can see her food, and the blonde woman, embarrassed, proceeds to make an even bigger fool of herself by drinking her soda in a strange and awkward way. The final frame of ad talks about Nando’s new “bigger, fuller, bouncier double-breasted burger,” while featuring an image of the burger on a table in front of the woman’s breasts.
The blonde character in this commercial has been given very little personality. All a viewer has to base their judgments off of is the woman’s appearance and actions: her presumptuous phone call, blonde hair, large breasts, and stupid questions. In this case, the woman’s character serves as nothing more than a joke and a plug for Nando’s new entrée.
Source Two: Sarah Sanderson in Hocus
Hocus Pocus is a movie about three sister witches in Salem, Massachusetts that have been resurrected after three hundred years on Halloween night. Sarah Sanderson is one of the witches, played by Sarah Jessica Parker, who las long white-blonde hair. She is the youngest sister and has a goofy, giddy attitude. She and her sister Mary take a backseat and obediently follow their oldest sister Winifred while they craft a wicked plan to catch children and harvest their youth. The sisters are eventually stopped by the same trio of cunning teenagers, who accidentally resurrected the sisters in the first place, just before sunrise on November 1st. The movie ends happily with the good triumphing over evil and Binx, the cursed guardian of the Sisters who happens to be a cat, finally being able to rejoin his sister in the afterlife.
In this movie, Sarah seems to have two different personality types that contradict each other: childish and overly sexual. Being the youngest sister, Sarah serves as a kind of comic relief by being goofy, childish, naïve, and gullible. This can be seen in instances like the rain scene or amok the scene.
Adding to this attitude is Sarah’s white-blonde hair. Research has found that women with lighter hair are often associated unconsciously with “softness and femininity” (Lynch 30). However, this idea is also seen in the overly sexual and promiscuous side of Sarah. Despite her dimwittedness, Sarah is the sister that is desired by the few prominent adult male characters in this movie. In fact, her dense demeanor seems to add to her desirability. This is seen most clearly in the bus scene. In comparison, Sarah’s sister Mary is just as dumb and isn’t blonde, but she is ignored by men and not sexualized at all.
Source Three: Phoebe Buffay in Friends
Phoebe is one of the main characters from the popular TV series Friends, played by Lisa Kudrow. She has long blonde hair and a constant ditzy demeanor. She often becomes the butt of jokes made by her friends, who all seem to accept her strange and silly ways. The TV show features the lives of six twenty-somethings living in New York City in the 1990 ’s and represents the time in a person’s lives when your future might be unknown, but your friends are constant. When pitching the show, one of the show’s creators, David Cane, stated “It’s about sex, love, relationships, careers, a time in your life when everything’s possible. And it’s about friendship because when you’re single and in the city, your friends are your family.” The show aired for 10 seasons, producing 236 episodes. Phoebe was featured in every episode produced and takes part in some crazy plots.
Phoebe seems to be the one character of the sources I’ve looked into that doesn’t relate her hair color to her personality. Yes, Phoebe is often odd, eccentric, dumb, and gullible, but her hair color doesn’t seem to play a role in this. Lisa Kudrow was cast as Phoebe on her addition alone, not because the show’s creators envisioned her for the role. Additionally, Rachel, another character on the show who’s a brunette, acts more like a stereotypical dumb blonde than Phoebe does. Rachel was spoiled beyond belief (her reform to become a functioning member of society is a major plotline of the show) and was incredibly dumb. In her defense, her lack of smarts was because she never had to work or try for anything she had wanted in the past.
How do These Characters Compare to One Another?
None of the three characters act very similarly to one another. While they do have some traits in common, like a low IQ level, they tend to act very differently. The “Chips” woman might be dumb but her phone conversation, appearance, and attitude suggest that she’s spoiled and self-centered. Both Phoebe and Sarah seem odd or eclectic to a normal person, but while Sarah acts childishly and naively, Phoebe acts like an otherwise normal member of society, save for a quirky personality and some odd habits. The most interesting contrast between these three characters is their sense of sexuality and promiscuity. Both the “Chips” woman and Sarah are sexualized based on their appearance, but Phoebe is not. She’s regarded just like any of her friends when it comes to dating, blonde or not.
How Does the Length of the Source Effect its Character?
The different lengths of these three sources (one minute, two hours, and ten years) really dictate how we perceive these different characters. In the Nando’s commercial, we only have a few seconds to form an impression about the blonde woman, and we’re given no further information about her life, personality, or attitude. As a viewer, we’re forced to make a quick impression about this woman based on what stands out to us: her hair, her voice, and her breasts. When we’re given more time to learn about a character, like in a movie or a TV show, we get to know them and form more honest feelings about who they are. In the two hours we see Sarah on screen, we learn little about her backstory. However, because we can see how she interacts with the people around her, we can form opinions about her based on her actions. We form a deeper connection with her and find more value in her character than a forgettable woman in a commercial. With a TV series like Friends, though, we get to know Phoebe better than most real-life people. Longtime viewers of the show watched Phoebe for years and learned more about her life and backstory than most of the people they’ve met in their own lives. This deep connection allows us to move past the obvious stereotypes we see and the initial assumptions we make. Time allows us to move past the superficial and into the substantial part of a person.
How Does the Target Audience of the Source Effect its Character?
Nando’s designed this commercial to promote their new entrée, which implies their target audience was existing, and to an extent potential, customers. It seems unlikely that Nando’s designed the commercial to target a specific audience, where it’s more plausible to believe that Nando’s just wanted an entertaining (and slightly controversial) commercial to draw in new restaurant-goers. However, you could also argue that they were targeting male customers, as not many women would appreciate the focus of the commercial. Research has found that men high in hostile sexism, an attitude that believes that women try to control men through feminism or sexuality, and benevolent sexism, an attitude that appears chivalrous but paints women to be weak and in need of protection, find sexist jokes more funny and less offensive than others, especially women (Greenwood and Isbell 341). This could imply that the creators of the commercial intended to target a male audience, however, their product (a new chicken burger) isn’t intended just for men.
Because Hocus Pocus was a children’s movie, its target audience was, quite obviously, for children. However, the movie also gained a large following with parents, and later the many adults who rewatch the movie each Halloween. This could be due to the light-hearted story the movie presents, but it seems most likely that the mix of childish and adult humor (despite the contradiction of the two ideas) is what led to its popularity. In this case, I would say that the movie’s target audience might have had some effect on the portrayal of its blonde characters. The creators of the movie wanted to create a movie that was entertaining for kids and their parents, so the subtle addition of crude or sexual humor makes sense. Who better than to serve as this comic relief than Sarah, the youngest (and conveniently blonde) sister?
According to Friends creators and directors David Cane and Marta Kauffman, the show was created to appeal “to everyone”. The show’s original broadcasting company, NBC, wanted a popular sitcom that represented feelings and situations everyone had known before, especially when they were young and new to “real-life”. It doesn’t seem likely that Phoebe was created specifically to be a blonde, and most likely happened by chance when Lisa Kudrow auditioned for the role of Phoebe.
By analyzing these three sources it can be seen that the “dumb blonde” joke has become much more than a quick chuckle. This idea and the other stereotypes surrounding blonde women is present in many different types of media in our everyday lives. We take in these ideas subconsciously and often accept them for truth, often without realizing it. While these representations are often funny and entertaining, they do more harm than good. Many children look to the media to see people like themselves, creating role models and idols from strangers and fictitious characters. If all a young blonde girl has to look up to in the media is a dimwitted sexpot, then what will she become later in life? Will these ideas hold her back? Will they create a kind of low standard or ceiling that prevents her from moving forward? Not always.
I knew I could do more in my life than seduce men and clean a kitchen. It could be said that every blonde girl knows this and doesn’t take these ideas to heart; otherwise, we’d have a whole class of housewives with blonde hair and a low IQ. But, wouldn’t it nice if what the media had to say about blonde women could actually help them? That they could feel inspired to do more, to be better, because of their appearance? That they could feel proud of what they have, not defiant against the preconceived ideas society has about them just because of their hair? That they’d never have to doubt their ability to be taken seriously by men, just because of their hair? These are things that no girl should have to worry about in any situation, let alone because of their hair color.
At one point during the term, our weekly course texts were a series of videos that detailed different tips, tricks, and methods to analyze sources of information. I found that week to be a learning moment for myself because I had never received any kind of formal teaching on these ideas before. Those texts helped me analyze sources and other pieces of information not only for this class but for my other classes as well. Heck, I even used some of these tips while doing some research for my job.
Another week, our course texts presented us with an idea I had never encountered before. We read about instances where the “doltish dad” stereotype had been presented in media. I had never thought of this idea before, and to say it was an eye-opener is an understatement. It made me realize that there are many more of these subtle, almost hidden stereotypes that most people aren’t aware of, as well as the damage they can cause for the groups they feature. It was a great learning experience because I had never considered these things before, which gave me a new way to look at my research as I continued to work on this project
Duncan, Stephen R. ““Not Just Born Yesterday: Judy Holliday, the Red
Scare, and the (Miss-)Uses of Hollywood’s Dumb Blonde Image.” Smart Chicks
on Screen: Representing Women’s Intellect in Film and Television, edited by
Laura Mattoon D’Amore, Rowman & Littlefield, 2014.
men’s and women’s reactions to sexist jokes.” Psychology of Women
Quarterly, vol. 26, no. 4, Dec. 2002, p. 341. Accessed 8 Mar. 2018.
30. Accessed 8 Mar. 2018.