Why I Love the Dumb Blonde Approach to Life

As stereotypes go, the dumb blonde has gotten more traction in film, music, and fashion than some others. From Marlene Dietrich to Jean Harlow, Marilyn Monroe to Judy Holliday, Jayne Mansfield to Madonna and Anna Nicole Smith, their appeal lies in an earthy sexuality costumed in a non-threatening childlike demeanor. This brand of seductress is portrayed charmingly by Marilyn Monroe in GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES (1953) and HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE (1953) in which her characters are bombshells trying to land rich husbands. Feminist though I am, I still cannot resent this archetype of womanhood. Women are fond of her, too; she’s a kind and loyal friend. We discover near the end of the story that her naivete is partially calculated, but not in the dark, violent way of a femme fatale. She’s no dummy and means no harm. She knows her audience (men) quite well and puts her assets to work with minimal investment, reaping profits that even she did not anticipate.

I wanted to be a writer

Before I developed MS, I was not as appreciative of those good-natured gals, pushing against all female stereotypes and pulling for personal credibility until I was out of breath. I took myself very seriously then, and with good reason. Not unlike the actresses that portrayed these gold diggers, I wanted to be well-known but earn that fame by excelling at something through hard work and perseverance. Not only did I want to be a writer, I wanted to be one of the best, and my strategy was to follow convention by going back to school, studying my craft intensely, and finding at least one good workshop teacher whose critical feedback was actually helpful. Having accomplished most of that, I now take a different approach to life.

A costume version of myself

Every time I drive in to town, I don a costume version of myself that sports an ever-present, slightly vacant smile, a well-meaning, submissive tilt of the head, and a higher, ever-modulating voice with a demure chuckle or gasp punctuating some of my responses to soften the edges, covering my mouth with one hand, feigning embarrassment at things I said before I thought about how it might sound. Things so innocuous that the person I’m talking to thinks I must be dumb —and sweet— to want to apologize for. Mission accomplished.

Preserving my energy

The riches I reap from these encounters are just as valuable as that diamond tiara was to Lorelei Lee. My non-threatening behavior greases the wheels that drive me through my day, preserving my limited energy and improving the odds that I’ll sleep well that evening. As much as I might resent this truth, if I act like a surly, self-pitying disabled person I’m going to irritate people enough to make them want to push me down in the express lane. By contrast, my silly-grinned behavior makes the bagger offer to help load the groceries in my car. Especially the male baggers. I know my audience.

Speaking slowly to make people listen

Same goes for health care encounters. My audience is much the same, only they have a little more education than cashiers and baggers. One technique I find particularly effective is speaking slowly. It seems to make them listen to me. Not slow enough to incite impatience and not haltingly, a speech affect that drives even nice people batty. It is a relative slowness that evokes thoughtful simplicity, a down-home, contemporary version of Sheriff Andy Taylor on the “Andy Griffith Show (1960),” a tinge of Southern charm from days gone by. Although not a female reference, this brand of dumb blonde includes stereotypes of men, something different from the congenial, pot-smoking California blond surfer guy or Jeff Bridges’ “The Dude” in THE BIG LEBOWSKI (1998). It works for anybody that wants to make it work.

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