When I was a towheaded girl, having to humor more than my fair share of dumb blonde jokes, I would have liked to know the name of Rosalie Duthé. The scandalous lady who inspired gibes that would endure well past her 250th anniversary, marking their favor in bottle blondes like Marilyn Monroe and Pamela Anderson, has been an unknown pain in my ass since I can remember. As an experiment in my teenage years, I dyed my hair auburn and guess what happened? Science. Men generally acted politer and the endless spate of jokes withered in people’s heads. Ultimately, maintaining a brownish hue when nature has bestowed you with fair hair is a futile and expensive endeavor. I gave it up within six months and have since rejoined the ranks of women, dyed or otherwise, who (allegedly) have more fun. In the eye of the beholder, the stereotype rings true. For better or worse, in person or on dating sites, blondes get more attention. In studies, they have been shown to be more aggressive and confident because they’re accustomed to special treatment. They also make men less clever, and are thought of as more approachable. Men, however, prefer marrying brunettes because they “take more care of their appearance, are great cooks and are better at house work.” And apparently blondes are high maintenance seductresses: brunettes are also considered more experimental in bed.
Rosalie Duthé by Lié Louis Périn-Salbreux
Doubtless, Marilyn Monroe, the not so original breathy-voiced blonde, discovered the power of sunlit locks before all several studies diminished an iota of the blonde’s prowess. But Rosalie Duthé is truly the original master of the birdbrained coquette. Born in 1748, she became the mistress of an English financier after leaving convent school. Her alleged chum while hanging out with nuns? None other than the racy blonde, Madame Du Barry. After her first conquest as mistress, Duthé danced at the Paris Opera Ballet, but it didn’t take her long to ensnare numerous protectors. She was a favorite of well-heeled gentlemen, including Charles X of France, and played the muse of many a painter. But not everything was rosy in Duthé charmed sphere. She was satirized in the 1775 one-act play Les Curiosités de la Foire as a dimwit. In On Blondes by Joanna Pitman, Duthe is likewise recalled as a robot, then described in a fair program:
“Machine: a very beautiful and extremely curious contrivance representing a handsome woman. It performs all the actions of a living creature, eating, drinking, dancing, and singing as if it were endowed with a mind. This mechanical woman can actually trip a foreigner to his shirt in a matter of seconds. Its only difficulty is with speech. Experts have already given up hope of curing this defect and admirers prefer to study the machine’s movements.”
Pitman goes on to say that Duthé was “arrogant, dyed blonde, and vain.” Similar to the stereotype we enjoy today. Whether Duthé deserved the harsh criticism or reaped jealous sneers on account of her reputation for sexual conquests, 18th century or 21st, some things never change. It probably didn’t help Duthé that her image was widely reproduced, or that she relished posing for full nudes. Regardless of her social accomplishments, a courtesan by trade rarely ascended beyond the designation of lowly whore when an insult was fitting, and there must have been countless opportunities to tear down the favorite of royalty and nobility. What made her popular also made her an easy target–so easy she galvanized dumb blonde jokes in generations to come. Not without help, of course. According to Revlon, blonde hair dye outsells other colors five to one, and there’s always another Rosalie Duthé willing to flip about her flaxen hair in order to gain male attention. But Madame Duthé is distinguished by being the first trollop infamous for being a dumb blonde.
Rosalie Duthé by Henri Pierre Danloux (1792)
By Lie Louis Perin-Salbreux. I’m guessing the eyebrows are drawn with charcoal and the hair is powdered, making her look barely blonde.
(A very young) Rosalie by Jean Honore Fragonard
By Claude Jean Baptiste Houin