Paul Johnson

Bottle-beauties and the globalised blond beast

Bottle-beauties and the globalised blond beast

The hair colour gene MCI-R has seven European variants, one of them blond. It is rare and becoming rarer. A WHO survey calculates that the last true blond will be born in Finland in 2202. Do you believe this? Nor do I. A different lot of scientists argue that this gene emerged over a comparatively short period about 10,000 years ago, with food shortages — and shortages of men — speeding up the natural selection process to the advantage of blonds. A touch of old-style Hollywood here? Certainly not the present dump — which Betty Grable would find unrecognisable, Marilyn Monroe chilly and Mae West distinctly hostile — making bad movies to advance its agenda: to them, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is a racist insult.

Yet it is a historical fact that gentlemen, and cads for that matter, do prefer blondes, ceteris paribus. The business of ‘going blonde’ is very ancient (and by no means confined to women). In the Royal Book of 1484 there is an assertion: ‘They arrange theyr heer lyke wymmen and force it to be yellowe, and yf they be blacke, they by crafte make them blonde and abourne.’ According to the OED some philological historians believe that the original Teutonic word ‘blond’ actually meant ‘dyed’, ‘the ancient Germans being accustomed to dye the hair yellow’. My guess is that the Anglo–Saxons, who were predominantly blond, triumphed over the Norman–French ruling class in the 13th and 14th centuries partly because of hair colour, the rich and powerful selecting wives from the blonde gene pool. The replacement of French by English was due as much to blonds as to the vigorous superiority of the English language.

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