But sometimes, someone is objectively a total asshole. Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist and the coauthor of Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters, fits the bill. See, for example, his latest article in Psychology Today: “Why Are Black Women Rated Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women?”
There are marked race differences in physical attractiveness among women, but not among men. Why?
Add Health measures the physical attractiveness of its respondents both objectively and subjectively. At the end of each interview, the interviewer rates the physical attractiveness of the respondent objectively on the following five-point scale: 1 = very unattractive, 2 = unattractive, 3 = about average, 4 = attractive, 5 = very attractive. The physical attractiveness of each Add Health respondent is measured three times by three different interviewers over seven years.
From these three scores, I can compute the latent “physical attractiveness factor” by a statistical procedure called factor analysis. Factor analysis has the added advantage of eliminating all random measurement errors that are inherent in any scientific measurement. The latent physical attractiveness factor has a mean of 0 and a standard deviation of 1.
Recall that women on average are more physically attractive than men. So women of all races are on average more physically attractive than the “average” Add Health respondent, except for black women. As the following graph shows, black women are statistically no different from the “average” Add Health respondent, and far less attractive than white, Asian, and Native American women.
Example 4865730 of why “evolutionary psychology” is mostly crap. Over and over again, it’s a way for scientists to look at a particular set of cultural preferences and make up a reason for why those preferences exist (spoiler: the reason is always “evolution,” and “evolution” is apparently tied quite closely to “things straight white American men like”).
Kanazawa uses the term “objectively attractive” a bunch of times in the article, but never explains what that actually means, or how certain traits can even be “objectively” attractive. As far as I can tell, study participants were asked to rate photos of individuals on a scale of 1 to 5 (with 5 being the most attractive). From there, Kanazawa concludes that (1) women are objectively more attractive than men, and (2) black women are objectively the least attractive women.
Which is fine if you don’t care about the meaning of the word “objective.”
It doesn’t surprise me that study participants rated women as generally more attractive than men. Women are, to use some radical feminist parlance, the sex class. We’re the object of the male gaze; our bodies are used to represent (heterosexual) sex itself, and being beautiful (or at least trying to be beautiful) is a basic requirement. If we’re not beautiful — if we’re old or fall outside of a fairly narrow beauty ideal — we’re nearly invisible. Male beauty isn’t required or imaged nearly as often — the term “male beauty” itself sounds a little funny, right? So it’s not shocking that women, as a class, are rated as more attractive than men. It’s our job to be more attractive, and it’s a cultural given that we are attractive — because it’s men who dictate what attracts them.
Given that ideas of who and what is beautiful are more cultural than objective, it’s not surprising that in the United States, black women are rated on the low end and white women are rated pretty high. Kanazawa can’t figure out why black women receive lower attractiveness ratings, so he wilds a guess: Testosterone.
Great guess. Totally explains things. I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that beauty itself is routinely imaged (at least in the country where this study was conducted) as white, and that the physical preferences of the folks who control most media and advertising outlets tend to reign supreme (hint: Those folks are usually light-skinned dudes). Definitely has nothing to do with the fact that our perceptions of beauty tie closely to perceptions of social class, and white people are on the top of the class game in a country like the United States, where white people legally and physically forced black people first into a slave class and then into a generalized underclass with fewer rights and fewer resources. I’m sure centuries of sustained exploitation and abuse of black people by white people, and sustained efforts on the part of white people to maintain social and economic supremacy at almost any cost, have nothing to do with beauty standards. It’s just, like, hormones. Objectively.
And testosterone definitely explains why different cultures have differing ideas about what’s attractive. Definitely explains why, even if you isolate Western Europe and the United States, beauty ideals have shifted pretty radically over time. This Elizabethan-era broad was apparently quite the looker in her time:
Now I’m not sure she’d be making any top 10 lists. On the other hand, Minka Kelly, Katy Perry, Megan Fox and Beyonce Knowles have all been deemed the “sexiest woman alive” by various boy-mags (which is weird because Beyonce is black? How did THAT happen, right?).
It could also be that Satoshi Kanazawa has some serious problems with black people (among other issues). It’s also worth noting here that the study wasn’t asking participants who they were attracted to; it asked them to give “objective” assessments of attractiveness. Just because you can identify someone as conventionally attractive doesn’t mean you necessarily want to fuck them. I can tell you that Blake Lively is incredibly attractive (I’d give her a 5 on this study’s scale); I can also tell you that I’d rather bang Zach Galifianakis (and I’d give him closer to a 2). You know who else really doesn’t do it for me, even though I recognize that he is “objectively” attractive? Robert Pattinson. I’d still rather do Zach Galifianiakis, even though Robert is an easy 4.5. So, point is, just because a bunch of people are able to discern that black women are outside of the American beauty ideal does not translate to “fewer people are attracted to black women.” It doesn’t mean that black women aren’t actually as beautiful or as attractive to actual real-life people as white women are. It means that when people are asked to categorize pictures in terms of conventional attractiveness, it makes sense that they would focus on conventional markers of attractiveness, of which whiteness is one, rather than “what is attractive to me.”
But probably just testosterone. Objectivity. Science. Etc.