All Woman

Are black women less attractive than other women?

By NADINE WILSON All Woman writer

Monday, June 06, 2011    

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AN article carried recently in Psychology Today questioning the perceived unattractiveness of black women has reignited debates of racism and has fuelled international outrage.

The piece entitled Why are black women rated less attractive than other women, but black men are rated better looking than other men? has since been pulled from the magazine's website following its appearance on May 15 this year. But this has not stopped public criticism of the editors of Psychology Today or the author of the piece, Satoshi Kanazawa, a Japanese evolutionary psychologist.

Kanazawa concluded, based on a study in which several persons were interviewed, that black women were objectively less attractive than white, Asian and North American women, though they "subjectively consider themselves to be far more physically attractive than others".

"Black women are significantly less physically attractive than women of other races," said Kanazawa, who works at the London School of Economics.

"The only thing I can think of that might potentially explain the lower average level of physical attractiveness among black women is testosterone. Africans on average have higher levels of testosterone than other races," he explained.

The claim that blacks are unattractive, while offensive and backward, has not come as a surprise to at least two local academics who said that years of independence from slavery has not changed people's perception of blacks.

Neither does it surprise counsellor Carla Brookes, who said the way some black women behave, dress and act fuels a perception of "the fat, loud video model type with loose morals".

"You can't blame people sometimes for judging us the way they do," Brookes said. "We cuss, we fight, we're loud and we act like we're proud of it!"

Noted Sociologist Dr Orville Taylor said the "seasoning" blacks underwent during slavery has caused many to look at blacks in a negative light, despite our achievements since independence.

"I am not surprised by any type of survey or psychological research that points to negative self-imagery (especially) when you juxtapose that against the bleaching phenomenon which is not about people trying to become white, but about people establishing a pattern of beauty that they aspire towards," he said.

He explained that like a curry stain, the effects of slavery which saw many blacks humiliated and exploited under European rule cannot be reversed overnight.

"In the United States, it is perhaps a little bit worse, believe it or not, because at least in Jamaica, we managed to achieve something called national identity and status. Black Americans wear this kind of marker where they are called something else, they are called African Americans. Nobody walks around and talks about European Americans or Caucasian Americans," he pointed out.

Lecturer in the Department of Cultural Studies at the University of West Indies, Mona, Horace Williams, believes that while more blacks are now embracing their 'nappy' hair styling, signalling, "an impression of updated appreciation", there is still a strong indication of a lack of appreciation of self.

"Persons are marketed differently. They wear their hair in a sort of style that speaks to a mimicry of appreciation, but in fact and indeed, there is really no appreciation of self," he said.

"I really believe we haven't really gone anywhere different, it is just a matter of new marketing, but same old problem," Williams noted.

Although the black women in Kanazawa's study considered themselves beautiful, Dr Taylor has found that blacks in the Caribbean have perpetuated this general belief that something is wrong with how they look.

"It must be seen in the same context of the black hair phenomenon that we use even today. We make jokes that people's hair look like 'kiah' and we make jokes about people's hair looking like grains of [pepper] or scotch brite. We make those kinds of jokes and we still associate, and I suspect the psychological studies will show as well, we still associate black and ugly," he said.

"When a very, very dark woman with distinct African features is good looking, they tend to say in a normal way, even when people are not trying to be offensive, 'oh, she looks nice for a black girl' or 'she is a nice looking black girl'. It is almost never said that this is a nice looking brown girl."

While the study found black women to be unattractive, the same study concluded that black males were considered more attractive than Asian, white and North American men. This finding too does not come as much of a surprise to Dr Taylor who believes this belief is a subtext of colonial discourse where the wives of the white plantation owners or overseers sought out black men for sexual satisfaction.

"They always show stories of the wife of the plantation owner or overseer bringing in the Mandingo through the back door or having sex with the gardener," said Dr Taylor.

"The idea of a virile man was also part of the stereotype and that has always been engrained in our minds to incorporate a notion of this animal-looking thing, this strong black man, a little bit less than the human, but more than the animal, a stud. The word stud is not a flattering word, but we have embraced it," he said.

The fact that women are now embracing their natural hair more is a good indication for Dr Taylor that we are slowly accepting various aspects of our blackness, but he doesn't expect a full acceptance of our black features anytime soon.

"It took several hundred years to evolve in a negative way, so it's going to take a long time as well for that to change," he said.

Meanwhile, Williams also believes that it is going to take a while for people to truly accept black features as opposed to just using it as a "marketing strategy to mimic appreciation".

"The appreciation of black features, I am not sure that time has healed that," he said. "What has changed is the media marketing and a broader context in which multi-culturalism is fundamental to any type of institutional advancement, educational, work [and] otherwise."

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