Are Black women less attractive?

Yes, so this story has been plastered all around the “bloggersphere” ( i hate that phrase) for the last  week. The interest centres around a research paper which was reported in the psychology magazine “Psychology Today” by a London School of Economics, researcher Dr Satoshi Kanazawa. As a psychology researcher and a black female, I thought I would clarify some details.

Firstly social psychological phenomena such as attractiveness is an extremely troublesome concept to measure, in saying that it doesn’t mean that people don’t try. As part of a national longitudinal (over a number of years) research study Add Health, (National longitudinal study of adolescent health), measured  physical attractiveness on a subjective level, ( asking the individual to rate themselves on a 5 point scale) and on an objective level (asking a group of people about an individual’s attractiveness). At the end of each interview they rated themselves and each other on a 5 point scale, 1= very unattractive, 2= unattractive, 3= above average, 4= attractive, 5= attractive. Each persons attractiveness was rated by three different people over a 7 year period.

The results showed that generally women were rated as more attractive than  men, apart from black women, who were rated consistently lower on physical attractiveness than any other ethnic group including, Asian, Native American and Caucasian women.  What’s more, black women rated themselves as consistently higher on physical attractiveness than any other ethnic group. Contrastingly this was not the case for black men who were rated subjectively and objectively as more physically attractive than black women. The research attempted to explain this due a higher supposed average of body mass Index or BMI of black women and higher level of testosterone, suggesting that black women have more masculine features.

Ok so i’ve done my best with reeling off the research methods, its hard as I cannot get access to the real research paper. Obviously this has received a large amount of press interest and has been labelled a pseudo- science, or racist rubbish. The researcher Dr Kanazawa, has a track record of research which is controversial and headline grabbing.

I have a hard time agreeing that one can just dismiss this as a racist piece of research, due to the researcher just summarizing what the individuals in the study reported, he was reflecting their views. Asking people to rate other individuals attractiveness levels is not the best way of rating attractiveness, but it is one of the only ways. That’s not to say Dr Kanazawa is absolved of blame, but research is really not really about him, or LSE (the university that he is associated with). It’s about society as a whole and the media who I blame for successive negative images of black females since time began.  I don’t buy the claim that higher levels of BMI and testosterone have any thing to do with this. Its only in the last 20 – 30 years that black women have been seen as not strange for having “wide noses”, “big” lips and wiry hair, our looks are being slightly accepted. Also some individuals are beginning to see typically black features such as having bigger lips and larger bums as a beauty ideal, seeking collagen injections, and  other enhancements.

It seems like Dr Kanazawa will always publish controversial research but there is an aspect here of not shooting the messenger. His methodology is questionable and his conclusions arduous but he is tapping into social issues that very few people want to talk about.