Immigrant Bengalis

Being born and raised in Kolkata, I had not seen any blonde during my childhood and teenage years.  The influence of Bollywood movies shaped my concept of an ideal woman who did not have any blonde hair. My dream woman was Saira Banu.

However, the blonde women were there on the horizon of my sphere of imagination.  I had heard of the movie “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and seen photos of iconic blonde Hollywood beauties like Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Brigitte Bardot, Rita Hayworth and Anita Ekberg.  To me, they were surreal figures – only to be seen on the silver screen and very distant from my universe.

My fascination with blondes started after I came to the USA and interacted with some real-life blondes.  I was married at the time to a woman whom I loved dearly and there were no thoughts of infidelity, but it was clear to me that a blonde woman stood out in a crowd and demanded attention.  The image of a blonde woman in a black evening dress and a white pearl necklace was a stunning sight to me.

I have been captivated by movie stars from Meryl Streep to Jennifer Lawrence and every blonde actress in between as well as TV actresses from Farah Fawcett to Kaley Cuoco.

Even when it comes to music, I am enamored by blonde female singers (Olivia Newton-John, for example).  Same is true for TV anchors (Diane Sawyer), sportswomen (Lindsey Vonn), political figures (Princess Diana), models (Claudia Schiffer) and so on. 

I know that it is not just me and it is not a case of “opposites attract”.  Almost all males of all nationalities, whether they are gentlemen or not, seem to prefer blondes.  It is no wonder that many rich men marry blondes.  I have no doubt that blonde women have an unfair edge in getting higher compensation and more powerful roles in any male-controlled profession simply because of the extra attention they receive.

It is not only the men, but the women also envy blondes and crave to have similar hair. Even Barbie – one of the first dolls they played with as children – had blonde hair.

As luck (or misfortune) would have it, I got divorced during the nineties.  Color of my wife’s hair had nothing to do with it, but this gave me an opportunity to look at women with a new and different perspective.  I socialized with a few blonde ladies over the years. 

I learned a lot of things about blondes from them.  Firstly, there are many different shades of blonde; the most common are platinum blonde, strawberry blonde, baby blonde, golden blonde, ash blonde and honey blonde.  Secondly, one must spend a lot of money in maintaining a striking blonde look which involves proper trimming, curling and coloring.

Most of the blondes we see around us are not even natural blondes.  I was devastated to learn that many of my icons are not natural blondes at all.  Among them are Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Grace Kelly, Dolly Parton, Madonna, Britney Spears and even Brigitte Bardot!

The way one can tell if a woman is naturally blonde is by looking at the roots of the hair.  If she had dyed her hair blonde, then the roots would still appear dark.

I noticed during my post-divorce period that my Bengali friends were surprisingly not as enthusiastic about blonde women as I was. They expressed little interest in how I spent my time with my blonde friends, did not comment on their photographs and almost never asked me any question about them. I do not know of any Bengali man who is married to a blonde woman and not many who have dated blondes. My friends always downplayed my exuberance and even mocked me, implying that my obsession with blondes is some type of character flaw.

I have thought about the reasons for this “anti-blonde mindset” and come up with three possible reasons. First, they may have an inherent insecurity related to hair color. It is probably no different than insecurity about skin color, but with one important difference. When it comes to skin color, Indians come in all shades -- from the very fair complexion of people in Kashmir and Punjab to dark skins of people from Southern India. However, in the case of hair color, there are no blondes in India, which makes the insecurity with hair color more acute because blondes seem to be so foreign and unrelatable.

In addition, the perception that blondes are highly desirable to all men and hence implying the possibility of a tougher competition with other men might be intimidating for the Bengalis. This adds to the feeling of insecurity.

Secondly, blonde women are stereotyped as being “dumb”. As a result, the Bengalis with their ego of being Intellectually superior avoid associating with blondes.  I do not agree with this stereotyping. However, I do believe that blonde girls quickly become aware at a very early age that they are getting attention from the boys. As a result, they end up spending more time nurturing and accentuating their beauty compared to the time devoted to studies.

There was an IQ test administered in 2016 at Ohio State University to a group of 10578 women of different hair color. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the blonde women scored the highest with an average of 103.2, followed by the ones with brown hair with an average score of 102.7. The redhead group was third with 101.2 and the ones with black hair received 100..5.

Finally, there might also be a hidden ideological issue. The Bengalis traditionally are leftists from a political point of view, as evidenced by the Marxist rule of Chief Minister Jyoti Basu in West Bengal for decades, followed by Mamata Banerjee of Trinamool Congress with her left-leaning anti-capitalistic policies. The Bengalis identify more with the progressive agenda in this country and a vast majority of them are Democrats. Blonde women, of course, also have fair skin as their natural color. When dark-skinned women artificially bleach their hair blonde, “they look like negatives of a photograph”, as one of my friends had said. Even Saira Banu did not look that great with a blonde wig in the movie “Purab aur Paschim” because of her brown eyes. Association with blonde women might be symbolic of acceptance of “white supremacy” to the Bengalis.

A married brunette female friend once asked me “Why do you like blondes so much?”  I answered, “When I think of blondes, I think of gold which is a symbol of wealth, and silk which is a symbol of pleasure.  On the other hand, when I think of brunettes, all I can think of is that lock of hair clogging the bathtub drain”.  It was meant as humor, but I do not remember if she, being a brunette, appreciated it. This may be another reason for Bengali men to have an aversion for blonde women because they have been listening to the teachings of Bengali holy men from their childhood which advocated avoidance of both wealth and pleasure.

I have asked myself many times the same question more seriously.  I think that the reason is indeed the same as to why people like gold.  Gold is a precious metal, bright in color and considered to be a prized possession that people like to show off.  A naturally blonde woman is a rarity; only 5% of the Caucasian women are reportedly blonde. A blonde woman lights up the room and draws immediate attention.  She can certainly be a trophy wife! There is nothing like a blonde woman in a man’s arm that boosts his ego and virility. So, even when the woman is not a natural blonde, that is not a great deterrent just like gold-plated jewelry, which are very popular with ladies. 

Am I so superficial that I would fall in love with a blonde woman more easily than I would with a woman of dark-colored hair? Of course, not but who knows what love is and how our heart and brain process the looks of a woman. 

(Posted July 1, 2023)

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Basab Dasgupta