The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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The rise of the blonde brigade

London, Dec. 16 (Reuters): Farewell the dumb blonde. Now the fair of hair not only have fun, they also exude power.

So says British art critic Joanna Pitman who studied blondes through the ages from Aphrodite to popstar Madonna for a book and exhibition on their startling evolution.

“The dumb blonde joke seems to have disappeared. People take blondes more seriously,” she said in an interview.

Pitman, whose book On Blondes comes out in March, was particularly struck by the changing shades of British power blondes — from Margaret Thatcher to Princess Diana.

“In the early eighties, Thatcher had this helmet of lacquered hair in her imperial bouffant look. It was pretty terrifying,” she said. “She became more blonde the more powerful she became.”

The same applied to Princess Diana.

“She was blonde as a child. It became darker and mousey. When she got married, it was still quite mousey,” Pitman said.

But everything changed with her divorce from Prince Charles.

“She became more and more blonde. She wanted to look more attractive and attract more attention. It was a statement of power,” Pitman said.

She traces the blonde’s evolution from Greek Goddess Aphrodite through blonde portraits of the Virgin Mary to Italian Renaissance women using gold leaf, horse urine and liquorice to lighten their hair.

“It was a pretty unpleasant cocktail. People will do anything to look beautiful,” Pitman said.

She said Britain’s 16th century Queen Elizabeth I “picked up on this. Towards the end of her life, she had herself painted as a blonde in her desire to appear as the immaculate virgin queen of the nation”.

Pitman, who has picked 20 British blondes for an exhibition at London’s National Portrait Gallery next March, said that in the 1950s the blonde message was all about sex.

“Then came the rise of feminism and there was a complete shift of emphasis with women standing on their own feet.”

And the right colour can be a chart topper. “Madonna sells more albums when she is blonde. She certainly does change a lot. She has very hard-working hair,” Pitman said.

Pitman was inspired to write her book after she was bleached blonde by the sun while working on an aid project in Africa.

She said people in Kenya “kept pointing at my hair. They believed it had magical powers”.

Pitman said: “I am now having a dark-haired winter in hibernation while recovering from the birth of my third child.”

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