Turn on the TV or scroll through Instagram, and it’s not difficult to find a sea of blond politicians, news commentators, celebrities, and social-media influencers. Beyoncé, Ariana Grande, Kim Kardashian, and Justin Bieber have all, at some point, traded their dark locks for golden hues. Hillary Clinton, the first woman to get a presidential nomination from a major political party, colored her hair blond. And in the administration of Donald Trump alone, there’s the president himself, Ivanka Trump, Kellyanne Conway, Kirstjen Nielsen, Betsy DeVos, and Linda McMahon—even Hope Hicks highlighted her brunette hair when she served as communications director.
Why, exactly, is blond hair so popular in America? The poet Claudia Rankine, the author of Citizen: An American Lyric (2014), and the photographer and filmmaker John Lucas were first inspired to explore the prevalence of blond hair—dyed-blond hair, in particular—in the months leading up to the 2016 presidential election. A black professor had asked Rankine, who teaches poetry at Yale, what she should say to her black students who were bleaching their hair. But Rankine wasn’t quite sure how to answer at first.
“The minute I started looking, it was interesting to see how much blondness there was,” Rankine tells me, pointing to Clinton and Trump as examples. “It seemed that everyone from Asian men to white women were dyeing their hair.” Armed with an iPhone and a voice recorder, Rankine and Lucas spent two years photographing and interviewing around 100 people with dyed-blond hair wherever they were—London and New York, the Republican National Convention and Afropunk, restaurants and museums.