Lessons Learned From My Blonde Joke-Free Year

smart blondes blog

Language both reflects and shapes our culture, and our use of it can profoundly affect our lives. When I decided to trash my blonde card one year ago, I did so on principle. I’d realized that the “humor” is damaging, and not laugh-worthy at all. While I felt optimistic about the shift, I didn’t anticipate was how deeply its effects would run for me personally. Here are some of the takeaways the venture provided.

1. Blonde “humor” was hurting me. For years, I thought little of it when I jokingly blamed my hair color for mistakes and oversights: “I found my lost keys in the freezer. I’m such a blonde!”  (Even typing that just now felt uncomfortable.) Rather than the truth, that I’m a daydreaming creative who has better things to ponder than key storage, or simply laugh at the humanness of it all, I told myself and anyone in earshot that I, and other blondes, lack intelligence. Within hours of drafting my blog post, proclaiming my commitment, I was standing up taller and grinning—so much so that my husband thought I had some spectacular news to share. (I did, but he probably the thought the news involved a writing award or Oprah. ;))

2. Sharing our commitments gives them (and us) power. The support from you all and others blew me away, magnifying the empowerment. It also gave me a sense of accountability, strengthening my vow. I’m proud to say that I haven’t blamed my hair color, told a single blonde joke or let another’s sexist joke fly by without tactfully stating why I didn’t find it funny for the past year. You all helped make the process a piece o’ cake, so thank you!

3. Targeting something as superficial as hair color (or shape, size, gender, race, age…) is a form of bullying. My friend Rob shared that his granddaughter went so far as to die her hair dark, simply to forgo blonde-related ridicule. Heartbreaking. No one should have to alter their appearance to please or gain acceptance from others. I’ve heard numerous similar stories this past year. Each one affirmed just how hurtful belittling jokes can be.

 4. Celebrating one damaging stereotype opens the door for others. More than once when my ‘blonde card’ remained active, people responded to its use with equally harmful untruths. “Well I get to blame my old age!” they’d say, or “At least you’re not short!” All sexist, agist, racist, sizeist jokes are damaging. Partaking in one type of demeaning humor essentially says that others are okay.

5. “Dumb blonde” stereotyping runs rampant. If you’ve ever shifted your eating habits from not-so-healthy to super healthy, you probably became hyperaware of the overabundance of unhealthy foods and habits in the public. The same thing happened when I improved the healthiness of my everyday language. “Ditzy blonde” stereotyping is everywhere—from TV commercials, books and movies, to social media and everyday conversation. It’s also frequently celebrated by blondes, perhaps because we’re wrongly taught that the supposed humor is endearing or funny.

While searching for stock images for my novel cover, I was stunned by how difficult it was to find a serious, strong and intelligent-looking blonde woman. A search of the terms, ‘blonde women’ and ‘weapon’ drew up so many pornographic and ditzy-type images, I became equal parts annoyed and curious. Changing the hair color to ‘brunette’ in my search drew up entirely different photos. (Both searches drew too many sexualized images of women with weapons, however, which is another topic entirely…) I ended up choosing a bare back of a woman, and had my talented cover artist add blonde tresses.

blonde stereotype

Ugh.

6. One person can make a significant difference. It only took one conscientious person to suggest that there’s no need to lean on false stereotypes to have me rethinking my thoughts and behaviors. Numerous folks have told me that my post (inspired by that friend) motivated them similarly. We can make huge, positive changes in the world by simply taking a stand for what’s right. If we’re not fans of sexist jokes, we can ignore them or go beyond subtle opposition and set the person straight. (This doesn’t require meanness or hopping up onto a soapbox, by the way.  “I quit telling blonde jokes last year because_________,” for example, works well. Or heck. Blame me. I’d be honored. ;))

Have you gone from celebrating harmful humor to banning it from your lingo? How do you respond to blonde, or otherwise sexist, jokes? As always, I welcome your thoughts. ♥

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34 Comments

  1. Way back in Jurassic times blonde jokes were thrown around quite a bit. Now days about the only times I hear it is from blondes themselves. Maybe your post will get some of the ladies attention.

    Reply
  2. I remember back in the day, I used to love blonde jokes, but thought it unfair that they mostly seemed to be aimed at women. As I got older, I stopped seeing the funny in them. I’m short, half Asian and brunette…there are plenty of jokes around all three. You’re right. Those jokes are hurtful. I’ve stopped making them…strangely enough, since I’ve stopped, less people are inclined to share those jokes with me, too.

    Reply
    • I cringe thinking about it, but I used to delight in them, too. It was as though all jokes were fine as long as they poked fun at oneself. Not anymore.

      I take our attitude shifts as signs of growth and empowerment, Kitt. Woo hoo! We deserve cake. And a party. 🙂

      Reply
  3. laurie27wsmith

     /  June 20, 2013

    Well said August, now did you hear the one about…..?
    Sorry, sometimes the imp in me rears it’s head.
    Cheers
    Laurie

    Reply
  4. I have brown hair, but I just never cared for blonde jokes at all.

    Reply
  5. Interesting perspective. As a Ginger, I’m apparently “soulless,” among other things. Not sure if that’s why sunshine is no more my friend than if I were a vampire. My natural color has gone from ginger to blonde and back to ginger during my life so I also got the blonde jokes, too. There were never so many of either that I did anything but laugh.

    However, I’ve noticed that since racial jokes became taboo in the last couple of decades, blonde and ginger jokes have been on the rise. I wonder if the not-so-stellar human quality of needing to be “better” than someone else creates the ignoble need for inferior group stereotyping.

    For what it’s worth, my daughter has an abundance of mahogany colored hair. She is also exceptionally beautiful, and that’s not just a mom’s opinion. People are constantly surprised that she makes straight “A”s. Makes me wonder if blondes are stereotyped as being stupid because they are also stereotyped as being more beautiful.

    Reply
    • You, of all people, are not without soul! Sheesh. I can relate to the shifting hair color. When my hair bleached out in the sun while living in Miami, I was send out for more “bimbo” acting roles, and attracted more related jokes.

      Very interesting thoughts, Piper. I do think there’s a correlation between perceived beauty and the belief that it can’t pair with intelligence. I’ve been told that people assume that “attractive” people don’t place value on inner beauty or intellect, or don’t need to, thus end up lacking. That’s only true if we place our own value on aesthetics. Very sad, but your daughter is showing ’em! Good for her.

      Reply
  6. I might not be blonde August, but I completely understand. I live in a society where racial stereotypes are made fun off ad nauseum by the particular racegroups themselves and it drives me nuts. The more we laugh(i.e highlight) at these stereotypes, the more we perpetuate them. I’ve always believe that…

    Reply
  7. So, I’m guessing Don Rickles was not your favorite comedian. Oh, he was probably before your time anyhow. I think most of us who have engaged in this type humor had no malicious intentions, but you raise valid points about the unintended consequences. I agree with you, August, but I may need a gentle reminder now and then. My silver hair isn’t a joke – it is actually accompanied by somewhat diminished memory (okay, maybe even diminished brain power, too).

    Reply
    • I think you’re right, David. Many of us haven’t had ill intentions regarding harmful humor. I certainly didn’t! Now that I recognize the effects, it’s easy to avoid. Happy to provide nudges if/when you need them. 😉

      Reply
  8. The blond/blonde stereotype is applied to men too, though not in such an extreme way. As I’ve mentioned before – as a kid I was naturally blond, but my hair turned dark as a teenager, of its own accord – and now, ‘hem-hem’ years later, I’m getting naturally occurring flecks of another colour that make be look a bit ‘distinguished’, as my wife puts it. Did it change a single thing about my character, thought processes or anything else? Of course not. I find it a sad indictment on society that we are beset with stereotyping – of any kind – based on superficial appearance – and that, as a society, we are drawn along with those stereotypes. I fear it’s getting worse, too, as we descend into a world of eight-word sound bites and a general shallowing of pop culture.

    For myself, I wouldn’t go joke-free. I’d reverse them – spin them back on themselves. I think humour is as powerful a tool for reversing stereotypes as it is for perpetuating them. It’s time to turn the tables on the tropes – for us to think laterally and lampoon the way our society gets drawn down such narrow and often hurtful paths. Paths that are at such dissonance with the way many of us actually think, individually and which, nonetheless, gain undue traction as automatic assumptions in general society. In the case of the blond/blonde trope, I suspect Hollywood marketing from the mid-twentieth century has rather a lot to do with it.

    I think I can feel a blog post coming on about this one… 🙂

    Reply
    • Very insightful, Matthew. I hope you do draw up a related post! Thank you for pointing out the fact that males face this type of discrimination, too. Humor as a tool—I dig that. 🙂

      Reply
  9. While we cannot force the world to change how it speaks to us, we can take a stand and not speak to ourselves in negative terms. It may be because I’ve been friends with more blonds than not, but oddly I’ve found a higher ratio of super-bright blond people in my life than super-bright brunettes. If I say I’m having a “blond moment” it’s usually meant as a compliment… but the same rules follow–it’s personally trashing myself.

    Hmm.

    Let’s hear it for love of self and love each other.

    Reply
  10. Beautifully said, August. I have always hated jokes based on one’s hair color, skin color, or anything else, and have always let them fall flat at my feet. We should be lifting ourselves and the people around us up and such jokes only work to undermine it all. People’s perceptions will not be changed over night. It will only be through our constant vigilance. Keep shouting from your blog-high-tower. 😉

    Reply
  11. Well said, August! I stopped responding to blonde jokes long ago because I didn’t find them humorous.. It wasn’t a take-a-stand decision. Perhaps back-in-the-day, when I heard my first ten or twenty? I don’t recall.

    I have, however, expressed opinions to the effect that, “It’s so unfair that she’s both smart and beautiful.” Yes. It had everything to do with now-dearly-departed self-esteem and body image issues.

    That speaks to confirmation of an earlier comment about those types of jokes being an expression of one’s own insecurities.

    On the flip side for men, we have the Napoleon Complex. Tall men can be pushy and obnoxious. Short men can be caring, sensitive and loving. Does. Not. Compute.

    I usually let most non-hateful comments slide into the Ker-Plunk joke bin. Those that express hate or racial slurs? Hand me a soapbox. I’ve sent emails asking that I be taken off the mass mailing lists of several acquaintances I know who circulate position statements that are homophobic and racially biased, and state my reason for the request.

    I don’t know they can hear or feel it, but I mentally splinter rungs on their human-value ladder.

    Reply
  12. I do agree to a certain degree, August. In particular when they’re really and unmistakably are directed to me and everyone expects me to act dumb.
    But then, joking around with my best friends is different – at least to me…
    I figure I’m quite inconsequent in that way – and after reading your blog post I’m asking myself how bad that inconsequence is – to myself and to others.

    Reply
  13. That post and this one have gotten me to thinking of many different types of prejudicial humor.
    Scott

    Reply
  14. Kourtney Heintz

     /  July 1, 2013

    Has it really been a year? Wow.I remember when you made the original post too. 🙂 I do believe that words are powerful and we absorb what is said and what we say. Bravo for making that change. 🙂

    Reply
  15. I like to laugh, and frequently shoot soda-pop out my nose at inappropriate jokes if well executed. But I have never appreciated (or tolerated) malicious jokes. In law enforcement, we go after each other with such ruthless enthusiasm that an outsider would be horrified. Yet, it works in a group of friends. Being bald, hairy, and clumsy, I take my share of licks. I haven’t taken my shirt off in public since high school without someone commenting that “it is too hot for a sweater.” Ha, ha, ha, I’ve never heard that one. At least with blonde jokes, there is variety.

    I think your Blonde-Joke Free Year is brilliant. Other people make jokes at my expense and I will either laugh, because they are friends, or ignore them because their opinion doesn’t matter. But the unconscious self-flagellation is both insidious and dangerous. Telling myself that I must keep my shirt on at the pool so I don’t scare the kids is ridiculous, but guess what, I keep my shirt on. So what does that say about what I believe? I’m getting all choked up here. You ever seen a grown man cry?

    (brief intermission to watch Honey Badger videos on You Tube for a laugh)

    So the first reason stop telling/responding to blonde and similar types of jokes is that they are acid to self-esteem (for both performer and audience).

    Here’s another. Blonde jokes are a lazy person’s template. Bumper sticker humor.

    I’m sure there are many other reasons to look elsewhere for humor, just don’t pick on the bald, hairy guy who is a chronic daydreaming creative with better things to ponder than key storage.

    Blonde is beautiful. Brunette is beautiful. Auburn is awesome. You get the point.

    Since I am officially rambling now, I’ll sign off.

    Thanks for the post, August. You rock. (It still have the autographed copy of your book, In Her Shadow, from OWFI 2013 and have it on my priority reading list.)

    Reply
    • Acid to self-esteem — brilliant, Scott! Demeaning jokes certainly can be. And yes, beauty comes in all hair colors. It’s all in how we wear it and present ourselves, IMO.

      Thanks so much for the thoughtful remarks and support. YOU rock! Best of luck with all – hope you enjoy IHS. 🙂

      Reply
  16. Reblogged this on Moon Says What?.

    Reply
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