Wednesday, 18 August 2010

'Golden Girls' - an article by Mariella Frostrup

My hair is naturally blonde - it's not as platinum as Marilyn Monroe's, and never will be. Boris Johnson is the only naturally platinum blonde over the age of 10 I've ever known - most blondes go darker as they get older. However that hasn't stopped me getting into minor rants at people that see me as ''that blonde'', as though it's my only asset (and one that comes with a stereotype) - and one that people assume I've dyed. Just look at eyebrows people. If they match the roots, then chances are that's a natural blonde you're talking to. [Or someone that can afford a proper dye specialist rather than the bottle jobs in the kitchen sink]


Did you hear the one about the blonde actress with an IQ of 165 who was fluent in five languages? Mariella Frostrup didn't think so

I turned blonde at the age of 16 when the untimely death of my father left me with two white chunks of hair on either side of my parting virtually overnight. It was either buy a badger costume, audition for a job in Cats, make a lifetime commitment to punk rock or invest in some peroxide.
      If I'd known then what my shade of choice suggested to the world I might have thought twice. Being blonde means never saying you don't understand unless you want to be predictable. Being blonde means always trying to tell the blonde joke first. "How do you make a blonde's eyes light up? Shine a torch in her ear."
"What do you call a brunette between two blondes? An interpreter." Black, brown, even redheads become scientists, politicians, business leaders.
      Few women may be born blonde but that hasn't stopped it becoming a noun, any supplementary information being merely a cluster of adjectives. In blonde world whether you're a brain surgeon, a lap dancer or an oligarch's wife, it's all the same. Bright-blonde bimbo, blonde-shopaholic. Blonde is the description; anything else merely informs us of the variety. Pinch me if I'm living in the 21st century.
       Part-time foreign correspondent Adrian Gill once penned a fabulously fatuous piece entitled The Burka Blondes, revealing his difficulties in spotting the difference between a list of women that included Baby Spice, myself and Hillary Clinton. Identifying the Sunnis from the Shias in Baghdad on one of his whistle-stop forays into danger zones must pose enormous challenges with those skills.
Jayne Mansfield
       Lifting the veil of prejudice clearly continues to be a struggle. I once counted four lengthy articles in as many months identifying blonde women on TV with names that ended in the first vowel. Not exactly the of question Jayne Mansfield with her five languages and IQ of 163 would have struggled with, but that's not what we remember her for now is it?
      Indulge me for a moment by similarly categorising men on our screens... let's say brunettes with the initial, J, for example. Wouldn't Jeremy Paxman, Jonathan Ross, John Humphreys and John Cusack make strange bedfellows? The only group of men I've seen similarly lumped together and tarred with the same brush are the England football team.
      Venturing behind the scenes into the real lives of some of Hollywood's most iconic blondes on Blonde on Blonde [Monday-Wednesday 10.00pm Radio 2] is a salutary experience. It reveals that female stereotyping has changed little in the last seven decades. Beneath the make-up and beyond the studio publicist's spin a sorrier bunch of women you couldn't stumble across. From small towns across America these girls flocked to the hub of Hollywood hungry for fame and its more tangible rewards. With names like Vera Jane Palmer (Jayne Mansfield) and Jean Mildred Francis (Lana Turner) they allowed themselves to be reinvented, renamed and, most importantly, recoloured. Like so much else in their lives their most celebrated asset, their platinum locks, were fake.
     Perhaps it was the shadow of that deception, one of the many to qualify as screen sirens, that saw so many of their dreams end in tragedy - their lives defined by their appeal to bad men, frustrated ambitions and an inability to get the world to see them as they saw themselves. The fatal burden of image of identity is writ large in the tortured tales of the likes of Lana Turner, Jayne Mansfield and Marilyn Monroe.
Peggy Lee, Jayne Mansfield and
 Lana Turne were re-coloured for
success
     These iconic figures may be relegated to recent history but in retelling their stories there are echoes of the challenges still faced by women who wind up feeling their highlights have over-shadowed their lives. These screen goddesses of yore are the living embodiment of what the term ''blonde'' was once synonymous with: a potent sexual siren with an eye for the guys and a laissez-faire attitude to morality.
      Thankfully, with women like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, swinging her blonde bob across the world stage, Lady Gaga marrying volcanic bras with global-diva domination and Meryl Streep proving you can win an Oscar and quote Proust without being locked up for your own protection, the term ''blonde'' is losing its peculiar mystique - though Boris Johnson is clearly fighting the good fight to keep the dream alive.
     When Dolly Parton responded to the accusation that she was a dumb blonde by saying "Ah don't care 'cos aa'am not dumb and aa'm not blonde,'' she let slip a trade secret. Our roots are often only skin deep and, despite assumptions to the contrary, proven side effects don't include brain impairment!




Taken from The Radio Times magazine issue released 16th August 2010.

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