I related to these characters in different ways, depending on my age and their stories, but as both of those factors changed, one factor remained the same throughout all of these shows: the female lead, the character I was to relate to, was always blonde and white, while I remained brunette and brown.
Now, there are plenty of television shows with women who are not blonde on them that I also watched — don’t get me wrong. But I noticed an overwhelming trend toward shows that featured a blonde main lead female character, especially in cases where the show included her inner monologue or narration.
Many of the shows I grew up watching provide just a few examples of the blonde, adolescent protagonist: Jem, Sailor Moon, Clarissa Explains it All, The Secret Life of Alex Mac, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Clueless, Lizzie McGuire, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
These shows did not all feature characters aimed to attract a male audience sexually — they were mainly shows for girls.
From Lizzie McGuire’s embarrassment and confusion when buying her first bra, to Sabrina’s frequent run-ins with the catty cheerleader Libby Chessler — these characters experienced awkward and challenging situations that girls can often relate to. Many were also admirable, and I looked up to them: I admired Clarissa’s creativity and individuality, as well as Buffy’s courage and strength.
They were likable, and each had her own unique problems on top of adolescence, including pesky little brothers, secret identities, magical powers, radioactivity, and the pressures of saving the universe from demons. But the fact that I related primarily to characters who looked very similar to each other and different from me was problematic.
I think this pattern taught me from a young age that blonde girls and women are the most valued females in our society. They are the most beautiful, special, desirable, and deserving of attention. This sentiment is echoed numerous places in our media environment. I’m not sure how things have changed now, or how they were before my ’90s childhood, but the “blondes are best” experience was mine growing up.
And with television and movies, especially ones aimed toward young girls, there are endless merchandise outlets. I remember owning books, posters, videos, games, and electronic toys related to these shows. But you can also add clothes, backpacks, makeup, dolls, school supplies, and anything else you could imagine to these merchandising options. So not only are these images being seen on TV, but they are also on the shelves and in the possession of their fans. They are everywhere.
I’m starting to see things change a bit now, with more minority females featured as leading characters on kids TV shows such as Dora The Explorer and Ni-Hao Kai-Lan.
But as far as shows for older children and teenagers, my perception is that not much has changed. While ensemble casts may be more ethnically diverse, to me it seems that blondes still dominate the media’s female focus.
How do you perceive blonde characters vs. characters with darker hair or skin? What kinds of lead female television characters did you look up to when you were growing up? What kinds do you see today or would you like to see today?