On Blondes

On Blondes

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by Joanna Pitman
     
 

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Number of natural blondes in America: 1 in 20.
Number of American females who dye their hair blonde: 1 in 3.
Blondeness became a prejudice in the Dark Ages, an obsession in the Renaissance, a mystique in Elizabethan England, a mythical fear in the nineteenth century, an ideology in the 1930s, a sexual invitation in the 1950s, and a doctrine of faith by…  See more details below

Overview

Number of natural blondes in America: 1 in 20.
Number of American females who dye their hair blonde: 1 in 3.
Blondeness became a prejudice in the Dark Ages, an obsession in the Renaissance, a mystique in Elizabethan England, a mythical fear in the nineteenth century, an ideology in the 1930s, a sexual invitation in the 1950s, and a doctrine of faith by the end of the twentieth century. With its powerful imagery of wealth, light, youth, and vitality, built up over thousands of years, it has woven itself into the most popular materials of the imagination. In art and literature, in history and popular culture, blonde has never been a mere color. For two and a half thousand years, it has been a blazing signal in code, signifying beauty, power, and status.
From Greek prostitutes mimicking the golden haired Aphrodite, to the Californian beach babe; from pigeon dung and saffron dyes to L'Oreal-because you're worth it-Joanna Pitman unveils the lengths to which women will go to become blonde. We watch while the blonde as erotic symbol, saintly virgin, or racial elite waxes and wanes throughout the ages, but never disappears. Why is it that blondes rose to prominence in Hollywood and in Nazi Germany at the same time? Why do young Japanese women today want to be blonde?
By looking at the world through the eyes of famous and infamous blondes and their admirers, we are drawn into an intriguing portrait of society. Weaving a story rich in drama, mystery, triumph, deception, disaster and curiosity, Joanna Pitman effortlessly combines the wealth of her knowledge with a sharp and clear-sighted view of the power of the blonde throughout the ages.

Author Biography: Joanna Pitman, formerly the Tokyo bureau chief for the London Times , is curretnyl the Times' photography critic and a features writer for the Times Magazine. She lives in London with her husband and two daughters.

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Editorial Reviews

What is it about blondes? Why do so many American women dye their tresses to be fair-haired? Why are blondes associated with dumbness or with exuberant erotic experiences? Joanna Pitman, a former London Times Tokyo bureau chief, has probed the complex and many-hued history of hair in world culture.
Publishers Weekly
Pitman, a writer for the London Times, offers a history of the world as seen through abundant locks of magnificent blonde hair, from the ancient sexual power of Aphrodite to the California sun-streaked hair of Farrah Fawcett. In this world history, Eve and Mary Magdalene become the blonde "bad girls" who represent forbidden sexuality, eternal beauty and sin, while Queen Elizabeth and Princess Diana gain attention because they continued to lighten their hair as they aged, attempting to harness the power of blondeness. The examples may sound a bit frivolous, but Pitman takes great care to treat the topic with a serious edge, particularly in the second half of the book. The obsession with blonde hair may have created seemingly innocuous Hollywood icons like Marilyn Monroe and Jean Harlow, but it also was essential to the notion of Aryan supremacy, and the author addresses how Nazi Germany attempted to lighten the hair of its population by ordering soldiers to procreate with blonde female citizens. Later on, Pitman looks at 1970s ad campaigns for hair dye and their internal conflicts about whether a woman ought to dye her hair to appeal to men or to feel good about herself (as L'Oreal so famously puts it, "Because I'm worth it"). In this way, the book tackles issues of race, gender and class, ultimately asking, "[W]hy is America, a culture so publicly concerned with overcoming its problems with race, still so fixated on the blonde?" Pitman admits there are no clear answers, but she offers a bright, energetic and witty exploration of the topic. (Mar.) Forecast: Does she or doesn't she? Pitman's history of this irresistible question should get her off-the-book-page interviews, and her accessible cultural criticism could reach a broad audience. Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Journalist Pitman presents a strong, lucid attempt to analyze the mystique of blondness by tracing it through the ages, from Aphrodite through Princess Diana. While she offers a convincing and occasionally eyebrow-raising history, her book serves more as an intriguing cultural expos than a strict analysis. The book is not exhaustively scholarly in style or depth, but Pitman deftly covers an admirably broad range of sources and subjects. She examines changing cultural connotations of blond hair, attitudes toward women with blond hair, and attitudes toward the hair itself, including obsession and fetishism. The poet Byron, for example, reportedly stole from a museum a strand of blond hair once belonging to Lucrezia Borgia. As Pitman is a photography critic for the London Times and writes features for the Times magazine, her book shows a British influence, but that will not deter American audiences from enjoying this engaging and readable work. Weird, sometimes disturbing, and always fascinating, it will make a rich addition to any cultural history section in public and academic libraries.-Audrey Snowden, student, GSLIS, Simmons Coll., Boston Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
London Times journalist Pitman examines with verve and style the changing significance of blondness from ancient Greece to modern times. The author launches into her subject by writing of her own experiences as a temporary blonde, which confirmed her thesis that blondes have been viewed differently than ordinary mortals by both men and women throughout the centuries. She breezes through those centuries, plucking examples from paintings, poetry, advertisements, and pop culture to illustrate the potency of blondness around the world. Beginning with the statue Aphrodite of Knidos ("the world's original model of sexual fantasy and power"), she moves on to Roman courtesans and the harsh measures they took to turn their naturally dark locks into golden ones. Blondness came to symbolize both wantonness (e.g., the temptress Eve and the unchaste Mary Magdalene) and purity (e.g., the Virgin Mary) to the Catholic Church, Pitman argues, while Queen Elizabeth I used it to create her own image of goddess-like immortality and uncorrupted virginity. The author finds the Victorians obsessed with blondness, associating it both with the innocence of storybook heroines like Alice in Wonderland and with wicked temptresses like Vanity Fair's Becky Sharp. In the 20th century, she notes, blondness took on a more dangerous significance as the Nazis idealized a fair-haired, blue-eyed Aryan master race. Pitman chronicles the rise in 1950s Hollywood of the "dumb blonde," exemplified by Marilyn Monroe, the emergence of the "punk blonde" in 1970s London, and the 1990s apotheosis of the "power blonde" (Margaret Thatcher and Hillary Clinton). Disturbingly, blonde hair has apparently become a core part of the standardimage of female beauty to people of color around the world, leading Asians, South Americans and African-Americans to the peroxide bottle. Slick and rather too reliant on hyperbole, but it raises some serious questions about ethnicity and status in the world today.
From the Publisher

“An engaging and dishy read, On Blondes will have power-hungry brunettes reaching for the peroxide.” —Entertainment Weekly

“Blondes aren't stupid. Hillary Clinton runs New York, Madonna heads the music industry and Diane Sawyer is ABC's Everywoman. Is hair color a coincidence? Not likely.” —Playboy

“Ms. Pitman... draws interesting parallels between the Nazis' adulation of the blond, the Soviet Union's promotion of the dynamic blond ideal, and 'the development of a radiantly sunlit blond American ideal, the WASP American dream.'” —New York Times

“Pitman's engaging style only highlights the appeal of this combination of history, folklore, and shrewd cultural commentary.” —Booklist

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781596918795
Publisher:
Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:
12/18/2008
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
304
File size:
2 MB

Meet the Author

Joanna Pitman is the photography critic for the London Times and a features writer for the Times Magazine, where she also worked as Tokyo bureau chief from 1990 to 1994. She lives in London with her husband and two daughters.

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