Someone asked in an Internet discussion group why so many romance novels feature redheads. I didn’t know that to be true, but it made me consider the question, what does hair color have to do with characterization? Is it scientific or just an author preference?
In real life, hair color preference is influenced by how society feels about hair color, according to Midge Wilson, PhD and professor of psychology at DePaul University, in an interview written by Courtney Linstrand for Teen Vogue.
In her article, Lindstrand references Wilson’s statement that “blonde hair used to be seen as dull and unattractive until Clairol came out with a ‘Blondes Have More Fun’ ad campaign that totally transformed popular opinion of the color.”
"If society is accepting of pink hair right now, it makes us more apt to dye our hair pink, therefore perpetuating the cycle," Wilson said.
It’s no secret, though, that hair color is and has been for a long time connected to certain personality traits. Hairfinder.com points out that in ancient Greece, deities were given a variety of hair colors, and women dyed their hair blonde as a sign of nobility.
Beliefs change and hair color reflects that. Hair color is also influenced by location and local belief systems, as well as time period.
Throughout the world, the tendency to imbue certain hair colors with personality traits persists. In Western culture, according to Hairfinder.com, blondes are considered a trophy, a woman who can bring admiration to her boyfriend or husband with her ethereal hair, innocence, and childlike playfulness or outright ditzyness. Redheads are considered exotic, wild, and sexy, but of possession of a fiery temper. Brunettes are seen as sultry, intelligent, bold, and confident.
Today’s trend of dying hair in unnatural hair colors, such as purple or teal, is a way to showcase a person’s ability to step off the beaten path and as a means of self-expression. It’s a way to stand out, but in an accepted way, Lindstran wrote, quoting celebrity colorist Daniel Moon.
“We connect with colors in life like never before. Sunsets, flowers, trees remind us of our hair color," said celebrity colorist Daniel Moon.
So, as a writer, I can use these societal beliefs about hair color as a way to inform my characters’ appearance or not. When I begin creating a character for a book, I think of a number of things. An image develops in my mind that speaks to me. I look through website images, magazines, and ad flyers to see what stands out for me in terms of character appearance. Personality traits and hair color, as well as other physical traits, mingle together and either fit together or don’t. Also, I’m very interested in writing a variety of characters, especially with traits that are not necessarily romanticized or fit stereotypical heroines and heroes.
For instance, when I created characters for Probabilities, Book 4 in my Fierce Hearts series, I was intrigued by the idea of a heroine who is socially skilled, bubbly, and blonde contrasting with a hero is a redhead, deep-thinking, genius. I saw them as not necessarily likely compatible types.
The confident but awkward geek falling for the heroine who speaks without thinking was interesting to me. But along with their expected personalities aligned with their hair color as based on society’s beliefs, I wanted to give them inner conflicts that affect real people with these traits to humanize the stereotypes.
I believe that a lot of different elements enter into what a lot of different authors choose for their characters, just as in real life everyone has personal beliefs about what makes a person attractive or unattractive. In fact, for some people, hair color is less important because baldness is badass.