She was once an international sex symbol: blonde, funny, desirable. Her sweet, pouting face was everywhere you looked. Yet despite her reputation as a fun-loving girl-next-door, this lovable charmer was privately troubled; her turbulent marriages made tabloid fodder. Sick of all the publicity, she retired from the big screen at the height of her popularity, removing herself from the human world and turning to her deepest passion: the rights of non-human creatures. Now she lives a different kind of life. Her public appearances are rare, and made only to draw attention to animal abuse.
Do you need any further clues? Of course not: it has to be Brigitte Bardot, who celebrated her 75th birthday last September. On the other hand, it could it be Doris Day, 84, who has apparently changed her name and now lives a reclusive lifestyle in rural California. To the younger generation, however, it would have to be Pamela Anderson, who announced in 2004 that she planned to retire from acting to devote her time to raising her sons and working to prevent cruelty to animals.
Doris Day, Brigitte Bardot and Pamela Anderson are all vegetarians, and all now work almost exclusively for the welfare of non-human creatures. “I think everything in my life has led to my animal welfare work,” Day has said. “I gave my beauty and youth to men,” observed Bardot. “I am going to give my wisdom and experience—the best of me—to animals”. Pamela Anderson, who is currently involved in a campaign against KFC, has likewise asserted her commitment to outlawing all forms cruelty to animals, “whether it’s forcing horses to race for our amusement or scalding chickens alive for our plate”.
The three actresses are also notable blondes. Anderson, like Bardot and Doris Day in their prime, has a very recognizably ‘’blonde’ public persona: fluffy, ditzy, shallow, and fun. Some cynical observers have come to the unimaginative conclusion that it is a lack of intelligence that leads such celebrities to spend their time and money worrying about non-human animals. Instead of the more currently pressing human issues embraced by other well-known actresses—Darfur (Mia Farrow), Cambodia (Angelina Jolie), Malawi (Madonna), South Africa (Charlize Theron)—“animal rights” is widely considered to be an childish and lightweight kind of “cause”, lacking the darkness and gravitas of more complex humanitarian concerns. Kittens and chimps are the concern of silly, over-the-hill sex symbols with more money than sense. Or so the story goes.
Other actresses who refuse to eat meat—and who have aligned themselves with non-human animals—include Kim Basinger, Alicia Silverstone, Ellen Degeneres, Christina Applegate, Jillian Barberie, Jenna Jamseon, Jennie Garth and Holly Madison. Yes, they are all blondes. So ingrained is the stereotype of the blonde animal-lover that the Barbi twins, busty models who now campaign against vivisection, have parodied their self-image in a poster for their organization The Kitty Liberation Front , appearing under the slogan “Experiment on Blondes, not Animals. They Will Never Know”.
Hitchcock once observed, rather self-servingly perhaps, that “blondes make the best victims”. In his own right, he made many of them suffer, notably Tippi Hedren and Kim Novak. It may be no coincidence that Novak, now 77, lives with her veterinarian husband on an Oregon ranch with a menagerie of dogs, horses and llamas, and Hedren, 80, is the founder of the Shambala preserve, a wildlife habitat built to house abandoned exotic felines (her current tenants include Michael Jackson’s Neverland tigers, Thriller and Sabu).
So what is it with blondes and animals? Cute girls love kittens? Is that all? At the risk of aligning myself with a position that would be easy to parody, I suggest the link is deeper than this, and more complex. The blonde’s fluffy persona may be timeless and universal, but it is a persona nonetheless. These women are all rational and intelligent human beings—even the Barbi twins. But if they were not, should we really assign a lesser value to anyone because of their perceived lack of rationality? This, of course, is the argument made by those who value the welfare of non-human animals as much as they value the well being of humankind. The notion is not, after all, essentially illogical; the same case has been made by many important philosophers.
Being branded as a fun-loving blonde, no doubt, is like being regarded as a pet—it can be pleasurable for a while, but must surely begin to pall when you want to be taken seriously. Most blondes, like most farm animals, are considered viable only as long as they are young. The first sign of being past their prime, and they are hauled off to the knacker’s yard. The analogy is not all hyperbole. Animals bred for slaughter tend to be female, as they produce feminized protein (eggs and dairy products) and reproduce young, as well as becoming “meat” themselves. According to Carol J. Adams, author of The Sexual Politics of Meat, there would be no eating of domesticated animals if female animals were not kept pregnant to produce the animals being consumed. There would be no milk, if cows were not kept lactating; no eggs if chickens were not kept ovulating.
Young females, both on the farm and in the movies, seem to be the most useful creatures for maximizing profit. In an article published in 2008 in the Journal of Critical Animal Studies, the aptly-named Erika Cudworth transcribes a conversation she had with a British dairy farmer about the most desirable attributes of a cow. One of the most popular breeds of beef cattle, Cudworth explains, is called the Blonde d’Aquitaine, described as a hardy, lean animal with a light but strong bone structure. The ideal cow, Cudworth was told, has a “friendly personality”, is “affectionate”, and “not independent or willful”. In particular, she was informed, the Blonde d’Aquitaine should have particular physical attributes:
You want ‘em tall and quite large, stature is important. Good solid legs. Udders are important, they need to be fairly firm, not too droopy or they can get infected. Even size is good. The udder is probably they most important factor in selection really. You want a ‘milky’ cow, if she doesn’t give a good yield, she’s done for. If you look at them from the top, they should be pear-shaped.
The slaughter industry, like the movie business, is a male-dominated world. In both cases, young, ripe females are considered the best produce for market consumption. Little wonder, then, so many actresses turn to the defense of non-human animals. They know from experience that—in another observation attributed to Hitchcock—actresses are cattle. Especially blondes.
MIKITA BROTTMAN is a psychoanalyst and a professor of humanities at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore.