Kim Kardashian’s Blonde Ambition: The Power of a New Do

Kim Kardashian debuted dramatic blond locks in Paris—the latest attempt by her to escape the trash culture to become a serious style player.

There she was, beaconlike, at the Balmain show for Paris Fashion Week: Kim Kardashian has gone blond—icy, fluorescent, extraterrestrial blond—in her latest move to transform from trashy TV star to serious fashion player, and (not to be outpaced by her model half-sister Kendall Jenner) to upscale the Kardashian brand.

How refreshing that the reality celebrity is spawning memes for something other than her phenomenal bum. And kudos to the Daily Mail for leading both breaking news and think-piece coverage (“The big reveal! Kim unveils edgy new look”; “Has Kim Kardashian lost her identity?”; “Is this her WORST look yet?”).

But she was in good company. Jared Leto—who chopped his long, stringy mane this week for his upcoming role as the Joker in Suicide Squad—was photographed in Paris today with a sleek, white-blond coif. With his white turtleneck, velvet blazer, and aviators, Leto seemed to be parroting designer Karl Lagerfeld.

Kim’s new look has drawn comparisons to Legolas from Lord of the Rings, Elsa from Frozen, and Khaleesi from Game of Thrones, among many others. The Internet has almost unanimously agreed on Draco Malfoy, Harry Potter’s sinister, sniveling archenemy at Hogwarts.

It’s certainly a power play for Kim, who has been strategically wedging herself into the world of high fashion since she got together with husband Kanye West. She dyed her hair a light ombré at the end of 2013, citing a fashion spread in Vogue España as inspiration.

But her efforts to reinvent herself as a fashion symbol have been increasingly frequent and unsubtle in recent months. There was, of course, the Vogue cover with West, who—she said recently—had become the chief taste-adjudicator of her refashioned wardrobe.

After years of refusing to do nude photo shoots, perhaps still recovering from the leaked sex tape that launched her multibillion-dollar celebrity career, Kardashian has done two naked fashion editorials in four months.

There was the Internet-breaking bum photo in the November issue of the artsy Paper magazine, then more bum shots (as well as a full-frontal in LOVE magazine’s February issue), shot by the high-powered fashion photographer Steven Klein.

Kim’s decision to go platinum is equally strategic, though she’s late to the trend. Last February, Vogue called out the “ice blonde” models whose fluorescent locks were lighting up the runways during New York Fashion Week. But white-blond hair has long been a fashion status symbol.

In a New York Times fashion story last June highlighting platinum’s sudden ubiquity, celebrity stylist Kate Young explained that “people in design and fashion like primary-color hair colors like white or black or red because it’s graphic. Models like doing something extreme because it gives them a look. Then fashion people adopt it, then music people, then everybody starts doing it.”

That may be true, but what a muddled trajectory blondes have had themselves, running the gamut from “dumb blonde” to “ice queen.” Blondes have symbolized seduction and innocence. They’ve had more fun, but they’ve also—pace Tippi Hedren in her Hitchcock movies—been creepily objectified and imperiled. Barbara Eden from I Dream of Jeannie and Elizabeth Montgomery from Bewitched were ’60s blondes with magical powers.

And then there was the dumb blonde: sexy, scatty, a little bit dangerous but mostly enormous fun. Marilyn Monroe embodied her (and still embodies her). In the ’80s Goldie Hawn updated her with tumbling hair, daredevil spirit, and saucer eyes, and then later, in Legally Blonde, Reese Witherspoon gave her post-feminist brains and heart.

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Kardashian’s makeover heralds an even more intriguing revolution of the color wheel: her “blonde” is sharp, unyielding, not to be messed with—and echoes the platinum blondes-du-jour of the pop world.

Gwen Stefani, Lady Gaga, Iggy Azalea, Sia, and Miley Cyrus have all dyed their hair various shades of peroxide. There’s something otherworldly about this lightest shade that appeals to the fashion set—and explains the witty, but also culturally acute comparisons between Kim and Khaleesi, Kim and Draco Malfoy.

For all the playful connotations of being blond in contemporary culture, it’s clear that Kim’s dye-job is a very earnest attempt to be taken seriously. The look is severe and futuristic—more fembot than bombshell—and the final touches of her attempted transformation from reality star to pop-cultural superpower.