Sunday, October 10, 2010

Does spending two weeks surrounded by blondes sound like heaven? Think again

A Lithuanian travel agency (and who, when planning a dream holiday, would look for anything else?) has announced plans for a resort in the Maldives staffed entirely by blondes.

Reception staff, waitresses, hotel managers: all will be fair-haired women, reached by special charter flights with blonde cabin crew and, if they can find enough of them, blonde lady pilots.

It sounds TERRIFYING. All very comical on paper, but imagine actually being there. Ever since I read about the Lithuanian plan, I have been singing (to the tune of the old Stealers Wheel classic): "Blondes to the left of me, blondes to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with roots."

None of them will have dyed hair since the reason for the resort, the planners claim, is to "disprove the idea that blondes are less competent". Oh yes, that's the reason…

There must be no peroxide fakes if they want their story to hold up. So you have to assume everyone will be white, too. Everywhere you look: Identikit pale, yellow-haired, grinning people in uniforms. Spine-chilling. It's a vision of how Europe would look if Hitler had won. If not Nazi it is, at least, rather Midwich Cuckoos. Even if your conscious brain finds the idea of Blonde Island sexy, your subconscious would know something was wrong. You would feel unsettled, gripped by a sense of indefinable weirdness like the hour before food poisoning kicks in.

Does your conscious brain find it sexy? We have to assume that's the real motivation behind the scheme. These are business people, not scientists. You couldn't actually test the relevance of hair colour to efficient croissant delivery unless you ran an identical resort next door staffed by brunettes. And a third staffed by redheads; that one, I suppose, would have to be a little shadier.

Since my column about cheerleading for children, I am nervous to write anything about female stereotypes. My website, my Twitter feed and the Observer desk have been swamped by furious cheerleaders explaining that they do not operate in a "supporting" role (I apologise for the misunderstanding; should they perhaps consider changing their name?), plus men and women who think I despise anyone good-looking or that I'm radically opposed to femininity. ("Vicky Coren is likely to be envious of their youth and glamour," wrote one kindly gentleman on my blog.)

Let me say, then, that I have nothing against Lithuanian travel agents opening a novelty blonde resort. It will grab coverage in men's magazines during a recession; not a bad idea. And if anyone thinks they would enjoy a holiday where all the staff look the same, good luck to them; I expect they'd run screaming for the airport after a week, but it might make one interesting Sunday.

Forgive me, though, for being amused by the idea that men still grade women according to hair colour. I bet they don't. The average man who's old enough to book his holidays on a credit card has, I'm sure, enough experience of the world to know that nobody is so easily categorised. Yet the culture persists in trying to sell men "blondes" and "brunettes" as though they were different in any way other than how quickly you'd notice stray hairs in the bath. On the plus side, it's all very adoring. Anyone sounds gorgeous when described simply as a blonde, a brunette or a redhead. With only those nouns to go on, you imagine a line-up of Veronica Lake, Jayne Mansfield and Rita Hayworth. I don't know why, but your brain doesn't throw you Angela Merkel, Monica Lewinsky and Nicholas Witchell.

Women's magazines, meanwhile, divide men into far gloomier and more complicated stereotypes. Our theoretical lovers, when grouped, have more narrative attached. It's not about hair colour, it's about character type and potential misery. In a holiday resort, of course, this makes the activities far easier to organise.

Here is a list of the islands I am planning to open for business: ladies, let me know which you'd visit so I know where first to make my fortune.


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