Ancient Blondes

Betty Grable and Harry James, 1944

While we reject the idea that brunettes are mousy or that gentlemen prefer blondes, we do have to concede that going platinum made Marilyn Monroe’s career as she lightened her brown hair early in her modeling days and never looked back. In fact, Hollywood saw the emergence of many blonde actresses from 1930’s to the 1950’s. Epitheths such as “screen siren” or “cinematic goddess” were attached to the most popular blonde actresses of the day, including Monroe herself. Her face always seemed lit from within. Her secret: facial hair. Seriously. It was actually a thin layer of downy peach fuzz on her cheeks that caught the studio lights just so and gave her the effect of a “glow”. By the magic of cinematic lighting, pale skin and blonde hair were made to look like the closest approximation of what the viewers’ imagine goddesses would look like.

Marilyn Monroe 1961.jpg
Marilyn Monroe (1961)

Our clumsy association of blonde hair with divinity goes back a long way. Two of the Norse goddesses, Sif and Freyja are described to be blondes. Sif was known for her golden hair, which symbolises fertility and prosperity in agriculture, and was described as the most beautiful of women. Blonde hair-blue eyed Freyja, the goddess of love, beauty and fertility, was also said to be the fairest of all goddesses. The Greek goddess of love Aphrodite was often described as golden-haired and portrayed with this color hair in art. 

One of the most famous and most visited sculptures of the ancient world was the Aphrodite of Knidos, sculpted by Praxiteles in 360 BC, which is also depicted with blonde hair. This statue inspired a myriad of copies of that decorated the temples, gardens, and villas of the Greek city-states. Pliny the Elder wrote that people traveled great distances to marvel at this sculpture. One man was so overcome with desire for the blonde Aphrodite, that late one night he sneaked into the temple to be alone with the statue. The man “embraced it intimately; and a stain bears witness to his lust.” Praxiteles is said to have modeled Aphrodite after his mistress Phryne who, with her long, flowing blonde hair, was said to be the most beautiful woman in Greece

File:John Gibson (1790-1866) - The Tinted Venus (1862) upper front, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, May 2012.png
John Gibson (1790-1866), “The Tinted Venus” (1862) Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool.

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