Do Brunettes Get Better Acting Roles? An Analysis

Getty ImagesBlondes are notorious for having more fun but according to actress Olivia Wilde, true career satisfaction is achieved by ditching the peroxide.

During an interview on Thursday with the fashion and beauty website Into The Gloss, Wilde explains how switching up her hair hue from blonde to brunette was a professional game changer, saying:

"I spent the first couple years of my career as a very blonde blonde. And then I went brunette for a role, and suddenly all my offers changed—the types of roles people approached me with totally changed. When I was really blonde, it was always like, ‘The really pretty girl,’ or ‘The sexy hot chick.’….And then when I went brunette, the roles went to more, ‘She’s a waitress with a heart of gold, and a tough life,’ or ‘She’s a doctor.’ And I always wondered—would I have been offered those roles had I still been blonde? I don’t think so….I think the perception of brunettes being more intellectual persists...And when I went from being blonde for a long time to brunette, I felt like I was invisible, because you’d walk into a room, and nobody immediately looks at you. When you’re blonde, it’s like you have a giant highlighter on your head; people can’t help but stare. So, it definitely changes how people think of you." 

We're all familiar with the blonde versus brunette stereotypes; for ages, pop culture has pitted the two types of women against each other to cartoonish lengths—from Archie's Girls' peppy blonde Betty Cooper and fashion-y, dark-haired Veronica Lodge, ditzy blonde Chrissy Snow and sensible dark-haired Janet Wood on "Three's Company", and slutty blonde Michelle Williams playing to serious, introspective brunette Katie Holmes in "Dawson's Creek."

But certain stars like Wilde have managed to strategically maximize their career potential with hair dye. If perky, blonde Cameron Diaz, famous for her gross-out gag humor didn't dye her hair dark, it's unlikely she would have nabbed the dramatic role as homely housewife in the 1999 film "Being John Malkovitch" and been nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance. To play bad-ass super soldier in Fox's "Dark Angel" (2000) Jessica Alba maintained her natural dark roots, but when she had to slip into a bikini for the duration of her fluffier role in 2005's "Into the Blue," she reached for the peroxide. Jennifer Aniston, has made an entire career by portraying uncomplicated women, but when she wanted to be taken seriously, she dyed her hair a drab brown to play a depressed Retail Rodeo cashier in the movie "The Good Girl," undoubtedly her most powerful performance to date. And Jennifer Lawrence, while often blonde on the red carpet, proved her worth as a serious actress by dying her tresses brown to play Katniss in "The Hunger Games" for which she won an Empire Award for "Best Actress" and a widow in "Silver Linings Playbook" which earned her an Oscar.

While it's unclear where the idea that blondes aren't to be taken seriously originated, light hair signifying sex is a concept that has roots in caveman days. Having bright tresses may have helped women catch the eye of potential suitors, indicating youth and fertility. It's possible that somewhere down the line, attractiveness became a dominating asset, outweighing a woman's other traits such as intelligence.

Cut to the days of Old Hollywood when actresses like Jean Harlow, Marilyn Monroe, Mamie Van Doren,  and Marlene Dietrich created an entire business model based off their blonde hair—Harlow starred in a film called "Bombshell" and Monroe and Van Doren followed suit by perfecting the dumb act with a flip of their platinum locks. They became popular actresses but left the more serious (and lauded) roles to their brunette counterparts like Joan Crawford who won the 1945 Academy Award for Best Actress in "Mildred Pierce" and Ava Gardner for her work in "The Killers" and "The Barefoot Contessa." And while Hollywood is now a far more diverse space, we're still following an Old Hollywood model by typecasting women by their hair color.

And the hair color curse has a real-world trickle-down effect. A poll conducted by British drug store Superdrug found that 31 percent of women dyed their blonde hair brown to "appear more intelligent" in front of their colleagues, and 38 percent say being blonde held them back professionally. A quarter of the women even claim to have gotten promoted after going darker.

Are their claims legit? Maybe. According to Midge Wilson, Ph.D., professor of psychology at DePaul University, hair color can convey subconscious signals about your career potential. “Though policies on what hairstyles are acceptable in the workplace have loosened, hair can still signify certain levels of professionalism," she says. If you're in a creative or artsy field where you're required to think outside the box and pay attention to trends, a bold hue can be an asset. Whereas if you have a more serious minded role at work, you may not want a bold, eye-catching (read: distracting) hair color.

Perfect world: You let your personality shine, no matter your hair color.