You can tell a lot about a person’s health and well being by looking at their hair. It is not surprising that having healthy looking shiny hair increases your attractiveness to the opposite sex. But when you look at hair it is the colour which attracts the lion’s share of the attention. And the colour that attracts all the attention is blond. In the popular perception, blond is good. According to Revlon, sales of blond hair color outsell all others five to one. Diana Moon has pointed out that the marketing of the Oscar-winning movie Chicago treated Renee Zellweger, a blonde who’s a little funny looking, and Catherine Zeta-Jones, a brunette with classic features, as if they were equals in beauty. “The bar is set higher for brunettes,” Moon said.
It is not surprising that having healthy looking shiny hair increases your attractiveness to the opposite sex. The message being sent is that you are biologically fit. But a selective advantage to a particular colour is harder to explain? According the evolutionary theory, people find attractive that which increases their offspring’s survival prospects. What is the advantage of blond hair? It isn’t at all obvious. If anything, darker hair colour should make you less obtrusive and therefore less likely to get eaten by sabre toothed tigers.
So what is going on? One suggestion is that blondness is an indicator of youth. This sounds good as far as it goes, and lots of other features indicating youthfulness are also highly attractive. But there is no direct experiment that has ever been done to test this idea. I am not sure how one could be done to be honest.
The origin of blonde hair is fascinating. It has been suggested that it is the result of intense competition for males shortly after the beginning of the Ice Age in Northern Europe. At that time the environment was rich in large tasty mammals which were difficult to hunt and low in vegetable sources of nutrition. Most human societies have relied on gathering as well as hunting, so this was a bit of an unusual situation. So the men went off hunting and suffered large losses to starvation and exposure while chasing wooly mammoths across the tundra, not to mention actually being killed during hunting. But when they came back with the carcass they could provide food for the tribal group for some time, so the women would be well fed, but short of partner opportunities. Why does this give rise to blonde hair?
It turns out that there is an advantage in standing out from the crowd. A study has shown that men will prefer a brunette if she is presented with a set of 11 blondes, even though the normal preference is for blond hair. So as a minority hair colour, blonds have an in-built advantage. f you are interested in following up more on this then this paper on the origin of blond hair is well worth a look. The map on page 2 is particularly interesting.
Women have worked most of this out already needless to say, as you can tell by looking at the huge swathes of space devoted to hair dyes in supermarkets and pharmacies.
When it comes to hair styles I haven’t found anything much in the literature. I think that is probably down to fashion rather than biology so I will leave that other than saying that being unusual is probably advantageous too.
Tip – dye your hair as blonde as you can get it, unless you spend a lot of time in the company of other blondes, in which case go for brunette. Or go for something unusual if you have the nerve.
American Board of Certified Haircolorists. Publication date: 09-02-99
Nigel Barber -The Evolutionary Psychology of Physical Attractiveness 1995
P. Frost – Evolution and Human Behavior 27 (2006) 85–103 Rare colour advantage
(Thelen, T. H. (1983). Minority type human mate preference. Social Biology, 30, 162–180.)
Hair in Toxicology: An Important Bio- Monitor By D J Tobin