Beauty Standards and the “Dumb Blonde” Stereotype Incentivize Female Leaders to Dye their Hair

“Hillary looks less Clinton and more Rodham than I have ever seen her outside of college photographs… with no more races to run and no more voters to woo with fancy hair.”


A few months after narrowly losing the 2016 Presidential Election to Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton was profiled by The Cut. Rather than opening with an incendiary quote, the profile begins with a description of Clinton’s appearance, specifically her hair. For the first time in decades, rather than sticking to her carefully arranged blonde bob, Clinton had let her brown and gray roots show.


Clinton was not alone in consistently dying her hair blonde. HuffPost writer Emily Peck explains that a whopping 35% of female senators and 48% of female CEOs have blonde hair. Despite female leadership roles being dominated by blondes, merely 4% of Americans are natural blondes, according to a 2003 study by Kathy Russell-Cole and Midge Wilson.


This large disparity poses a few questions: Why do women keep dying their hair blonde, and how come blonde women seem to consistently get selected for high-profile positions over their brunette counterparts?


Although natural blondes represent a minority of the population, Russell-Cole and Wilson describe that over half of white women dye their hair blonde. By contrast, merely 11% of men color their hair, Jessica Goldstein from The Washingtonian explains. This gender divide is mainly due to societal beauty standards, which dictate that whereas older men can be perceived as handsome, women must appear ageless in order to be attractive.


Most children that are born blonde become brunettes by the age of 10, so blonde hair is frequently associated with childhood. Thus, women often choose to dye their hair blonde in order to simulate youth.


In addition to emphasizing the importance of agelessness, the ideal of a blue-eyed, blonde-haired woman carries racial implications. Since few natural blondes are nonwhite, society’s emphasis on light hair upholds racial prejudices and the view that white women are superior to women of color.


The strong societal pressure for women to dye their hair blonde seemingly explains why female CEOs and politicians frequently have light hair. However, there is one more key aspect to consider: the “dumb blonde” stereotype, which causes many blonde women to be viewed as ditzy and superficial.


Initially, this stereotype and the dominance of blondes in female positions of power may seem contradictory. After all, if blonde women are viewed as incompetent, why are so many of them hired as CEOs and elected as political leaders?


Simply put: this stereotype causes blonde women to be perceived as warmer and less threatening than their dark-haired counterparts, making them more appealing candidates for leadership positions.


In her article, Peck describes a presentation by business school researchers Jennifer Berdahl and Natalya Alonso on the “dumb blonde” stereotype. Berdahl explains, “if the package is feminine, disarming and childlike, you can get away with more assertive, independent and [stereotypically] masculine behavior.”


Ultimately, by associating blonde hair with youth, whiteness, and desirability, in addition to perpetuating the “dumb blonde” stereotype, Western societies teach women that in order to be considered for coveted leadership positions, they must dye their hair blonde.