Blondes: Jean Seberg and Catherine Deneuve

Confined to my flat for most of a weekend with a broken foot, I watched two films back-to-back: Un Bout de Souffle and Belle de Jour.

I was reminded of when I was seventeen and searching for a dramatic new haircut. That search coincided with my first viewing of Un Bout de Souffle at the Film Forum, and voilà: I found a photograph and asked my stylist to give me that hair. I’ve had this haircut for almost twenty years. There are many wonderful genre-setting moments in that film (all of which I relished), but for a teenage girl who had just given up her ballet training and her perfectly confined long hair, that blonde shortness was everything: fresh, daring, delectable, un-confined. Mine was a youthful attempt at capturing Patricia’s intellectual and feminine sophistication. I thought she was just about perfect: a journalist who happened to be a criminal’s playful lover. It was new model of femininity which made a terrific impression on me.

Two years later, I watched Belle de Jour in a film class. For many critics, Severine’s revolt against bourgeois respectability is made more startling as she rolls through Paris in her perfectly tailored (and delectable!) couture. But for me it was again the blonde. It was another new kind of femininity for me: polished, sophisticated, but very natural. Almost a wig of bourgeois perfection hiding a woman with all sorts of very non-bourgeois predilections. Unapologetic, brash, even as she constantly questions her desires, Severine’s blondeness becomes both a marker of her station and and the favored sexual object.

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