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Do Blondes Have More Angst? Girls on TV

A few months ago I was reminiscing about all the TV shows I watched growing up, and I noticed a common theme: a majority of the female lead characters were blonde.
Jem, Sailor Moon, Clarissa, Cher, Lizzie McGuire, Alex Mac, Buffy, and Sabrina
Jem, Sailor Moon, Clarissa, Cher, Lizzie McGuire, Alex Mac, Buffy, and Sabrina

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.

Shots from <em>Lizzie Mcguire</em> and <em>Buffy</em>
Shots from Lizzie Mcguire and Buffy

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.

Dora and Kai-Lan bring multi-culturalism and diversity to children's TV
Dora and Kai-Lan bring multi-culturalism and diversity to children's TV

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.

<em>The Hills, Heroes, </em>and <em>Gossip Girl
Gossip Girl, The Hills, and Heroes

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?


4 thoughts on “Do Blondes Have More Angst? Girls on TV

  1. i, too, have had a similar observation growing up, that blondes are more valued. i still observe these same attitudes today. on top of images of blondes everywhere, there are the things people say. of course we’re all familiar with “blondes have more fun”, but i’ve observed a lot of other things said in tv and in magazines that suggest blondes are more desireable. i wish i could remember everything that’s been said, but one that i always remembered is someone stating that blonde hair makes a woman look more “expensive”… huh?

    even when i was browsing through a hair styles magazine for ideas of what to do with my hair, there were statements all through it about how wonderful blonde hair is, and not a single statement about why anyone should want brunette hair. even though i try not to let it get to me now, as a girl it always seemed like a punch in the gut. i had a blonde friend who liked to bleach her hair even blonder, and even expressed pity for brunettes! she must have arrived at this attitude somehow. my mom watches those awful tabloid shows like Extra and all that, and they tend to reiterate how wonderful blonde hair is. i work at the library, and you wouldn’t believe how many books have “blonde” in the title, with a blonde protagonist. my brother one day observed to me that a lot of our pop stars don’t seem to make it big until after they bleach their hair blonde. even hannah montana seems to emphasize the glamorousness of blonde. her pop star persona has blonde hair while her mundane, regular girl persona is brunette.

    it gets pretty tiresome. i think all hair colors are beautiful. i’ve never hated the color of my hair, nor ever wanted to change it for any reason. i’ve always enjoyed the richness of it, how it changes colors in different lighting due to its mix of copper reds, browns, blacks, and even a stray light hair here and there. i think the only time i will change its color is when it starts turning white or gray, and then that’s when i’ll jump on the opportunity to dye it crazy colors, like purple and blue! 😀

  2. I agree that a majority of shows send the message that blondes are the most valued women in society. In most of the older shows that you referenced like Sailor Moon and Lizzy McGuire, the blonde protagonist was a female we could identify with and grew to love. The dark-haired female in Lizzy McGuire, Miranda, was portrayed as ‘less important’—her issues were always a side story, or she would be helping Lizzy with her boy ordeal. For the most part everything revolved around Lizzy, the blonde. She got all the guys and we saw her develop as a character. Therefore we were taught to value the blonde.

    I found the show Sailor Moon to be slightly different. Sailor Moon was the main character, but I found it easy to identify with multiple characters. This is because the show went on long enough and changed focus onto different characters so that it was all the girls collectively that became idolized. My favorite was always Sailor Mars—I thought I was most like her. Sailor Moon was meant to be the pure one; girls following the story knew that no matter how annoying her character was, she was good at heart. I think, furthermore, that being blonde conveys the image of high class and good.

    This is especially true in shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Heroes. Throughout history light and dark have been used to symbolize good and evil. So when producers are making these shows it may just seem ‘natural’ to cast these protagonist parts with blonde-haired females and antagonist parts with dark-haired females.

    One good vs. evil show I used to watch is Charmed. This is probably the exception to the case. The three protagonists are brunette sisters who own their powers to take out demons. I was a long time follower of the show, even up to its last season a few years ago. Growing up, I could identify with Phoebe, since she was going through her teenage years. Together they provided an image of strength and courage to look up to.

    I think that there has been a considerable amount of change. Shows like Gilmore Girls and That 70’s Show have brought new focus to a variety of colored-hair protagonists. However, when Donna made the hair color change to platinum blonde, the change was strange, but she received comments that she looked more mature. Why would changing a female’s hair color to blonde suddenly make them more sophisticated? The same thing happened to Dana on Step-by-Step. As she got older on the show, she went from a dirty blonde to a platinum blonde. Then the idea behind being blonde is purity and sophistication.

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