Sunday, November 4, 2018

Getting noticed

"A rapid and effective means for getting noticed in the crowd." Lady Gaga(?) in Stylist France.

I'm back to blogging after a 3-month absence. During my hiatus the magazine Stylist France interviewed me about head hair as a form of advertising. The resulting article appeared on October 11 under the headline "Forget the slogan T-shirt. To get yourself heard, nothing is more effective than a new hairstyle."

The full interview, in French with an English translation, is provided below:

French version:

Pouvez-vous expliquer succinctement le rôle de la sélection sexuelle dans l'apparition des cheveux blonds ?

La sélection sexuelle favorise la brillance et la nouveauté. Ce qui est brillant demeure plus longtemps en mémoire; ce qui est nouveau retient plus longtemps l'attention. Si on considère les couleurs des cheveux et des yeux, on constate une évolution vers la brillance, c'est-à-dire les cheveux noirs et les yeux bruns cèdent leur place à des couleurs vives, comme les cheveux roux ou blonds et les yeux verts ou bleus.

Quant à l'évolution vers la nouveauté, celle-ci se manifeste par la diversification de la palette des cheveux et des yeux. Au début, une nouvelle couleur émerge par la mutation, puis elle se répand jusqu'à ce qu'elle perde sa nouveauté ; à ce moment-là, la pression de la sélection sexuelle se réoriente pour favoriser une couleur moins fréquente. Ainsi, un équilibre s'établit entre les diverses couleurs.

Qu'est-ce qui permet d'affirmer que la sélection sexuelle est aussi importante voire plus importante que les rayons UV dans l'apparition des cheveux blonds ?

D'abord, les gènes contrôlant la couleur de la peau et celle des cheveux ne sont pas les mêmes. On peut avoir la peau très blanche, tout en possédant les cheveux foncés. De plus, la pression de sélection exercée par les rayons UV n'explique pas la diversification des allèles contrôlant la couleur des cheveux et des yeux. Enfin, on ne voit pas cette diversification chez les peoples indigènes habitant les mêmes latitudes de l'Asie du Nord et de l'Amérique du Nord.

Vous affirmez que ces traits distinguant les Européens sur le plan visuel résultent d'une pression de sélection qui vise surtout la femme. Pourquoi pas l'homme ?

Il y a eu une pénurie d'hommes chez les premiers Européens, en partie parce que la dépendance de la viande, comme partie dominante de l'alimentation, rendait la polygamie trop coûteuse pour les hommes, sauf pour les meilleurs chasseurs. De plus, comme on le constate toujours chez les peoples chasseurs du Nord, le taux de mortalité est plus élevé chez les hommes que chez les femmes. Résultat : un surplus de femmes. Celles-ci devaient se concurrencer pour les hommes disponibles.

Finalement, il semble y avoir un parallèle fort entre la supposée attraction, aujourd'hui, des hommes pour les femmes blondes (et les stéréotypes et exemples qui en ont découlé dans la pop culture) et le phénomène d'apparition des cheveux blonds il y a 11.000 ans.

Aujourd'hui, grâce aux études de l'ADN extraits des restes humains, on sait que les cheveux blonds existaient déjà il y a 18 000 ans. Le lieu d'origine semble être chez les peoples chasseurs des plaines de l'Europe de l'est et de la Sibérie de l'ouest pendant la dernière glaciation.

English version:

Can you succinctly explain the role of sexual selection in the appearance of blond hair?

Sexual selection favors brightness and novelty. Anything bright remains longer in memory; anything novel holds attention longer. If we consider hair and eye colors, we see an evolution toward brightness, i.e., black hair and brown eyes have ceded their place to bright colors, like red or blond hair and green or blue eyes.

As for evolution toward novelty, this has manifested itself in a diversification of the palette for the hair and the eyes. Initially, a new color emerges through mutation; then it spreads until it loses its novelty; at that moment, the pressure of sexual selection reorients itself to favor a less frequent color. Thus, an equilibrium becomes established between the various colors.

What makes you think that sexual selection is as important, indeed more important, than UV radiation in the appearance of blond hair?

First, the genes controlling skin color and hair color are not the same. One can have very white skin while having dark hair. In addition, the selection pressure of UV radiation does not explain the diversification of alleles controlling hair and eye color. Finally, this diversification is not seen among indigenous peoples inhabiting the same latitudes of northern Asia and North America.

You affirm that these traits that visually distinguish Europeans result from a selection pressure that is aimed especially at women. Why not men?

There was a shortage of men among the first Europeans, partly because dependence on meat, as a dominant part of the diet, made polygamy too costly for men, except for the best hunters. In addition, as is still seen among northern hunting peoples, the mortality rate is higher among men than among women. Result: a surplus of women. Those women had to compete for the available men.

Finally, there seems to be a strong parallel between the purported attraction, today, of men for blonde women (and the resulting stereotypes and examples in pop culture) and the phenomenon of the appearance of blond hair 11,000 years ago.

Today, thanks to studies of DNA extracted from human remains, we know that blond hair already existed 18,000 years ago. The place of origin seems to be among the hunting peoples of the plains of eastern Europe and western Siberia during the last ice age.


On rereading my answers I realize I may have misunderstood the last question. The intent seems to be:  “Given that these evolutionary processes happened thousands of years ago, how can they explain the growing popularity of blond hair today?” This intent became clearer to me when I read the article, which focuses on blondness in pop culture, and its apparent surge in popularity since the 1970s. 

This trend appears in a study of Playboy playmates from 1954 to 2007. From a low of about 35% in the mid-1960s the proportion of blonde playmates rose to a high of 60% by the year 2000 (Anon 2008). A similar trend was found by Rich and Cash (1993).

Natural blondes are actually a lot scarcer among white Americans. In a sample of undergraduates the proportions were 68% brown, 27% blond, and 5% red (Rich and Cash 1993). Similar proportions appear in a British study: 68% brown, 25% blond, 1% red, and 6% black (Takeda et al., 2006).

Natural blond hair has since become less common in the United States and the United Kingdom. Are we seeing the novelty effect in action? Are blondes becoming sexier because fewer real ones are out there?


Anon. (2008). Bygone brunette beauty: Fashion in hair color, Gene Expression June 29

D'Almeida, P. and M. Giuliani. (2018). Qu'elle a bien pu vouloir dire avec cette coupe ? Stylist France, October 11, pp. 2-5.

Rich, M.K., and T.F. Cash. (1993). The American image of beauty: Media representations of hair color for four decades. Sex Roles 29: 113-124.

Takeda, M.B., M.M. Helms, and N. Romanova. (2006). Hair color stereotyping and CEO selection in the United Kingdom. Journal of human behavior in the social environment 13: 85-99


Truth Seeker said...

I don't know whether blonds in the US and UK were ever all that numerous, to be honest. If you watch American TV, white men of Anglo ancestry are very much dark-haired and brown-eyed. The phenotype of someone like Sarah Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, the Bush family, Mitt Romney, etc. seems to be prevalent around here.

America's British cousins are often quite dark themselves, as can be seen with the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Mr. Bean. John Oliver is a British comedian (now in the US) and extremely dark.

The difference is really felt strongly in Germany and in the East. We don't have a large number of blonds in the US who look like that. Surprisingly, although it's claimed that the German ancestry is the largest one in the US, it seems to be dissolved in Anglo/Irish genes which are much less blond and darker. Examples: Paul Ryan (US House Speaker) and Brett Baier (FOX commentator) both have partial German ancestry, but both have jet-black hair; they're also English, Welsh, or Irish.

Sean said...

If people value a natural blonde over a bottle one, I think there would have to be a genetic linkage between female attractiveness and blonde hair. .

Tobias Geiger said...

Blonde women get treated bad. Showing up on TV and magazines and porn means the men show no respect whatsoever. If you prefer blonde women you would treat them more like ladies. So I think the non-blonde men are the ones who always oberestimate themselves. I am darkhaired myself and I think some of my fellow men have some sort of inferiority complex that shows up in these kind of topics.

I dont believe in a significant melanin difference in the white race. You sometimes cite ridiculous studies that are done on hair color where bottleblond women count in as blonde. (Most recent hair study on blondes). That mist be a joke.

I have a question for you Peter Frost.
Do you know about studies on gender ratio in Albinos? I personally read 1-2 studies that mention that ratio and they concluded that there were more male albinos than female. How do you explain that the lightest of all ethnicities is predominantly male???

Wanda said...

I'm glad to see you are back blogging! I wouldn't have noticed but that I was scanning the responses to Ron Unz' California essay and noticed your comment and his reply -- which did not address the points you raised -- and was reminded to check to see if you were back blogging.
I just wanted to say that I enjoy your blog, as I'm sure many others do, but the subjects you cover obviously are not of mass appeal.
The Unz Review is a political site that covers topical subjects, so naturally it will be more popular. The articles that get the most comments involve either something to do with Jews or old rock bands, and usually devolve into frequent posters quarreling with each other.
Regarding the popularity of blondes, I recall reading that early film producer Irving Thalberg made light-haired actresses like Jean Harlow synonymous with sex appeal. Before, blondes had usually been associated with innocence.
Even if that is true, it doesn't explain the drift to blondes in Playboy decades later. Your figures don't include the 1950s, but it was probably the blondest decade, with so may Hollywood actresses being blondes, from Doris Day and Judy Holliday to Marilyn Monroe and Jane Mansfield, so maybe the Sixties were a jaded reaction to too many blondes, but over time, the interest revived.
Just a thought.

Wanda said...

PS: This is the book I read that mentions Thalberg:
I'm No Angel: The Blonde in Fiction and Film

Peter Frost said...

Truth Seeker,

In high school, about a quarter of my classmates were natural blondes. This was in central Ontario.


Can you provide me with references to those studies? I'm not aware of sex linkage for albinism per se.


When I was with The Unz Review I had a lot more traffic, and yet my traffic at ResearchGate seemed unaffected. It was likewise unaffected when I left The Unz Review. Sometimes less is better. I don't mind being associated with Steve Sailer, but I felt bothered being associated with the often violent antisemitism at the Unz Review. As for Ron Unz, I really don't know what to think. Even when he's friendly I get a bad feeling. I can't put my finger on it, other than its like a flashing amber light.

Visitor said...

I am black and I enjoy your blog.
While it's all very intriguing, I was absolutely floored by the article on sleep patterns of African-Americans and how that relates to their ancestral origins.
Glad you're back.