Blonde vs. Brunette: Does it determine how you get treated?

Blonde vs. Brunette: Does it determine how you get treated?

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by DIANNE GALLAGHER / NBC Charlotte Staff

Bio | Email | Follow: @DianneG

WCNC.com

Posted on October 30, 2012 at 4:47 AM

Updated Tuesday, Oct 30 at 5:30 AM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It's a multi-billion dollar industry, but some experts believe a woman's hair has more value than vanity.  In fact, sociologists say a person's hair can determine how major life events play out, especially for women.

The University of North Carolina at Charlotte Sociology Department Chair, Dr. Lisa Walker, claims hair color "absolutely" plays a role in the way people are treated. Even in the year 2012.

"In the workplace we see that blondes are given higher salaries," noted Walker,"women who are blonde also tend to get more help from others. Just simple things, dropping something and picking it up."

Walker said the reason behind the treatment isn't exactly known, but that the "blonde vs. brunette" does appear to be limited to the "western world."

"Most people would tell you, if asked, that it doesn't matter what your hair color is. What style your hair is in. They would say whatever is best for your face," explained Walker. "But from a very young age these stereotypes appear.  In cartoons and children's programming, we see the way women are portrayed based on their hair. The associations continue through childhood into adulthood.

NBC Charlotte asked Faye Hoffman, a natural blonde, to walk around uptown, drop a scarf and keep going. She did about 20 times.  The idea was to see how many people helped Hoffman.  She then did the same thing in a brunette wig.

As a blonde, every time Hoffman dropped her scarf someone picked it up for her. Most of the good samaritans were men.

As a brunette, strangers typically let Hoffman know she dropped the scarf verbally or pointed.  Occasionally people did pick it up for her. Several times no one told her about the scarf at all.

"I was not expecting such a difference.  I never realized people treated me so much nicer, being a blonde," said Hoffman.

The "hair hypocrisy" is not limited to color.  Stacie Towe, owner of Towebella Salon, noted many older African-American women worried about how society will perceive those currently embracing the "natural hair movement."

"I did my big chop last November, so I'm coming up on a year now," said Towe. "It's still strange for women like my mother to see so many of us embracing our natural curls and texture.  My mother has never left the house without her hair perfect and relaxed."

Towe said before deciding to go natural, some of her clients do worry about how the professional world, men or even people from other cultures will react to the change.

NBC Charlotte had Towe walk around uptown with her natural hair, drop a scarf and see how many people picked it up for her.  She then did the same thing, in the same area wearing a wig in a relaxed style similar to her hairstyle before going natural.

In her natural hair, strangers returned the scarf all but one time.  Women often approached Towe about her natural 'do, asking questions about her hair as they picked up the scarf.

In the relaxed wig, Towe experienced similar results as the brunette Hoffman had. Several times no one returned the scarf.

"I don't know why people treated me like that," said Towe," I was actually expecting in the opposite.  It makes me sad strangers discriminate based solely on hair, but at the same time it feels good to see so many people accepting and appreciating the curly hair.  This shows women they should just wear their hair how they feel most confident.  I think we are breaking stereotypes here."

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