Blond (also spelled blonde, see below) or fair-haired is a hair color characterized by low levels of the dark pigment eumelanin. The resultant visible hue depends on various factors, but always has some sort of yellowish color, going from the very pale blond caused by a patchy, scarce distribution of pigment, to reddish "strawberry" blond colors or golden-brownish blond colors, the latter with more eumelanin.
The word blond was first attested in English in 1481 and derives from Old French blont and meant a "colour midway between golden and light chestnut". It largely replaced the native term fair, from Old English fæger. The French (and thus also the English) word blonde has two possible origins. Some linguists say it comes from Middle Latin blundus, meaning yellow, from Old Frankish *blund which would relate it to Old English blonden-feax meaning grey-haired, from blondan/blandan meaning to mix. Also, Old English beblonden meant dyed as ancient Germanic warriors were noted for dying their hair. However, other linguists who desire a Latin origin for the word say that Middle Latin blundus was a vulgar pronunciation of Latin flavus, also meaning yellow. Most authorities, especially French, attest the Frankish origin. The word was reintroduced into English in the 17th century from French, and was for some time considered French, hence blonde for females/noun and blond for males/adjective.
Writers of English often will still distinguish between the masculine blond and the feminine blonde and, as such, it is one of the few adjectives in English with separate masculine and feminine forms. However, many writers use only one of the spellings without regard to gender, and without a clear majority usage one way or another. The word is also often used as a noun to refer to a woman with blonde hair, but some speakers see this usage as sexist and reject it. (Another hair color word of French origin, brunet(te), also functions in the same way in orthodox English.)
Some less frequently used categories include:
Lighter hair colors occur naturally in Europeans, and less frequently in other ethnicities. In certain European populations, the occurrence of blonde hair is very frequent. The hair color gene MC1R has at least seven variants in Europe and the continent has an unusually wide range of hair and eye shades. Based on recent genetic information carried out at three Japanese universities, the date of the genetic mutation that resulted in blonde hair in Europe has been isolated to about 11,000 years ago during the last Ice Age. Before then, Europeans mostly had darker hair and eyes, which is predominant in the rest of the world.
There is no consensus, but many theories, as to why certain populations in Europe had a high incidences of blonde hair. Some say that if the changes had occurred by natural selection, they would have taken about 850,000 years, but modern humans, emigrating from Africa, reached Europe only 35,000-40,000 years ago.
Other theories suggest a different form of selection: that early men simply found blonde hair more attractive. Canadian anthropologist Peter Frost, under the aegis of University of St Andrews, published a study in March 2006 in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior that says blonde hair evolved very quickly at the end of the last Ice Age by means of sexual selection. According to the study, the appearance of blonde hair and blue eyes in some northern European women made them stand out from their rivals at a time of fierce competition for males made scarce due to long, arduous hunting trips; this hypothesis argues that women with blonde hair posed an alternative that helped them mate and thus increased the number of blonds.
Another reason men may have preferred blonde women is that light hair color is a marker of youth - since many Caucasian children have blonde hair but it darkens as they mature, blonde girls or women would appear younger and therefore, more fertile.
A theory propounded in The History and Geography of Human Genes (1994), says blonde hair became predominant in Europe in about 3000 BC, in the area now known as Lithuania, among the recently arrived Proto-Indo-European settlers, and the trait spread quickly through sexual selection into Scandinavia. As above, the theory assumes that men found women with blonde hair more attractive.
Blonde hair is at the highest frequency among the indigenous peoples of Northern Europe. Due to vast movements of peoples from the 16th to the 20th centuries, blonds are also found in the Americas, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Generally, blonde hair in Europeans is associated with paler eye color (gray, blue, green and light brown) and pale (sometimes freckled) skin tone. Strong sunlight also lightens hair of any pigmentation, to varying degrees, and causes many blonde people to freckle, especially during childhood.
In Caucasus there is a relatively high frequency of blondes, mostly to be found in Georgia, Chechnya, Azerbaijan and Armenia. In Central, western Asia (the Middle east) and South Asia there are higher frequency of Blonds still found among some ethnic populations. The Iranian people and their related groups still have a higher frequency of blonds than other ethnic groups in the Middle East, Southern and central Asia. There are high frequencies of Blonds amongst the northern populations of Pakistan (Kalash, Hunza, Pakhtun, Kashmiri). In Afghanistan blondes are also found in the Pashtuns and Nuristani people (up to one third of the Nuristani). There is also still a high frequency in Turkey (among both Turkish people and Kurds), northern and western parts Iran (amongst the Lurs, Kurds, Gilakis, Persians, and Azeris). The Levant (Israel, Western Syria, Palestine and Lebanon) have a high frequncy of blonds as well. In North Africa, blonds are found in Morocco, Tunisia and northern Algeria among the Berbers.
Aboriginal Australians, especially in the west-central parts of the continent, also have a fairly high instance of natural blonde-to-brown hair, with as many as 90-100% of children having blonde hair in some areas. The trait among Indigenous Australians is primarily associated with children and women and the hair turns more often to a darker brown color, rather than black, as they age. Blondness is also found in some other parts of the South Pacific such as the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. Again there are higher incidences in children but here many adults too carry this indigenous blonde mutation.
Some Guanches populations, particularly the now extinct aboriginal population of Tenerife, one of the Canary islands of the African Atlantic coast, were said by 14th century Spanish explorers to exhibit blonde hair and blue eyes. Blondness was also reported among South American Indians.
Blonde hair is common in Caucasian infants and children, so much so that the term "baby blonde" is often used for very light-colored hair. Babies may be born with blonde hair even among groups where adults rarely have blonde hair, although such natal hair usually falls out quickly. Blonde hair tends to turn darker with age, and many children born blonde turn light, medium, or dark brunette before or during their teenage years.
True blonds often have platinum blonde hair as children, pale skin with little pigment, pale eye-lashes and gray eyes. If their hair darkens with age it tends to turn a darker ash-blonde, not the rich brown of a brunette. Eyelashes and eyebrows remain fair. (Eyelash color is probably the best marker for prediction of adult hair color.)
Those who turn brunette as teens usually have more pigment to begin with; a slightly golden skin tone that tans a little more easily than the paler skin of true blonds, often (but not always) a richer, more golden-blonde hair color, dark eye-lashes and bright blue, green, hazel or brown eyes.
The body hair of blonds is also blonde, although terminal hair elsewhere on the body may be darker than hair on the head, and even brown. Facial hair is often reddish. Vellus, on the other hand, may be very light or even transparent. Hair that grows from a mole or from a birthmark may be dark.
In Norse mythology, both the goddess Sif (wife of Thor) and the major goddess Freyja are described as blonde. In the Poetic Edda poem Rígsþula, the blonde man Jarl was considered to be the ancestor of the dominant warrior class. In Northern Europe folklore, fairies value blonde hair in humans. Blonde babies are more likely to be stolen and replaced with changelings, and young blonde women are more likely to be lured away to the land of the fairies.
In European fairy tales, blonde hair was commonly ascribed to the heroes and heroines. This may occur in the text, as in Madame d'Aulnoy's La Belle aux cheveux d'or or The Beauty with Golden Hair, or in illustrations depicting the scenes. One notable exception is Snow White who, because of her mother's wish for a child "as red as blood, as white as snow, as black as ebony," has dark hair. This tendency appears also in more formal literature; in Milton's poem Paradise Lost the noble and innocent Adam and Eve have "golden tresses", while near the end of J. R. R. Tolkien's work The Lord of the Rings, the especially favourable year following the War of the Ring was signified in the Shire by an exceptional number of blonde-haired children.
In the early-mid twentieth century, Nordicists such as Madison Grant and Alfred Rosenberg associated blonde hair with a Nordic race, which they distinguished from a larger Aryan race that included what they called the non-blonde Alpine race. During World War II, blonde hair was one of the traits used by Nazis to select Slavic children for Germanization.
In contemporary popular culture, it is often stereotyped that men find blonde women more attractive than women with other hair colors. Alfred Hitchcock preferred to cast blonde women for major roles in his films as he believed that the audience would suspect them the least, hence the term "Hitchcock blonde". Blonde jokes are a class of derogatory jokes based on a "dumb blonde" stereotype of blonde women being unintelligent, sexually promiscuous, or both. In other parts of modern culture, blonde women are often portrayed as "promiscuous", leading to the stereotype that blondes "have more fun." Jean Harlow (a natural ash blonde) and Marilyn Monroe (pale blonde as a child though her hair darkened to auburn) were notable bleached blonde sex icons of twentieth-century America, frequently portraying the stereotypical dumb blonde in their films.