Disclaimer: As I sat down to rip apart an article posted this morning on Psychology Today’s website, titled, “Why Are Black Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women?” it mysteriously disappeared, only to reappear hours later with the headline, “Why Are Black Women Rated Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women, But Black Men Are Rated Better Looking Than Other Men?” and then disappear again for good. After receiving who knows how many angry letters to the editor, Psychology Today misunderstood people’s problem to be with the title, and not the study or the article itself. Whether looking at how the study was conducted or how its findings were presented in the article, it is important to explore exactly what offering such information to the general public signifies.
As a country that fertilized its soil with the blood of America’s native people, and built its wealth off the backs of Blacks, the United States will forever be tied to race; despite it now deemed a “post-racial society.” With the Obamas in the White House, it may be difficult to constantly look to the past for an explanation for why journalists, scientists, and American institutions believe they can continue to produce work fueled by a racist, colonialist agenda, as this article clearly was, but that is where our answers lay. While some prefer to further remove us from slavery by the day, and place our nation’s multiracial beginning in the age of Martin Luther King, that is simply not the case.
Instituted by racist propaganda presented during slavery, popular culture and media has given itself the task of upholding the continued devaluation of Black femininity, beauty, and womanhood. I do not know what variables or constants were used to conduct this study reported by Psychology Today or even what their motives were, but Black women have always been found “physically attractive” by countless men and women across all racial lines. The greater concern is, who has been willing to publicly admit that attraction? We can pick up a Thomas Jefferson biography, or read Harriet Jacobs’, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, or talk to anyone about Beyoncé (despite her increasingly fairer hair/skinned features) to get some confirmation that Black women have always been found attractive. Consistently hyperbolizing Black women’s anger, unhealthiness, or desirability as being far greater or below, respectively, than that of other women, maintains various forms of supremacy. Whether that supremacy is founded in class, gender, or race, it serves to destroy Black women’s self-esteem, personhood, and humanity, forcing us to question our own worth and place in this society. To be constantly inundated with messages, images, statistics and studies posed as facts that claim Black women are everything but the right thing leaves mainstream audiences handicapped from questioning the validity of these pieces of (mis) information.
Unfortunately, the missing Psychology Today article is not an isolated instance of poor science or journalism, but instead reflective of a widely accepted practice in popular culture to demean Black female beauty. Here is a small sampling of the campaign to dehumanize Black women just within the last few years:
- John Mayer made disparaging remarks about his lack of sexual attraction to Black women. Despite Mayer equating his penis to David Duke, mainstream media and audiences became more fixated on comments he made about Jessica Simpson and his “nigga pass.” The lack of outrage from nonBlack female audiences suggests a particular level of comfort and acceptance in dehumanizing Black women among the greater American public.
- Rush Limbaugh seems to have taken special interest in exposing Michelle Obama’s physical “flaws” at every turn, from critiquing her weight to her right to wear bright colors.
- Pepsi broadcasts a Super Bowl ad that shows an emasculating, angry Black woman abusing her husband, and later knocking out a white woman with a Pepsi can.
- Chris Rock’s Good Hair, explores the significance hair has in many Black communities, but does so in a way that suggests any Black woman who straightens her hair or adds extensions must be self-loathing.
- In The Princess and the Frog, Disney makes its first Black princess completely undesirable to her Prince until the movie is three-quarters of the way over.
It is wonderful that Psychology Today renamed the article to reflect, assumingly, what the study really investigates (despite removing it all together); it’s great that John Mayer apologized for what he said (though it’s unclear about which parts he was truly sorry for); and the dozens of other apologies that have come from fashion magazines and other popular cultural outputs that have engaged in subtle racist practices, but it still shows where our collective heads are when it comes to perceptions of Black women and desirability in America. To produce a study or an article that suggests the whole of Black women are objectively less physically attractive than other women is beyond racist; it’s negligent, sloppy, and offensive.
Only offering images of Black women behaving badly, or like big-bosomed mammies, allows for less-critically engaged individuals to sincerely believe that that is Black womanhood. This leads to Black women being perceived as less physically attractive or desirable than other racial groups. While Black men are often presented as thugs in popular culture and media, they are also the “Old Spice Guy” and our most beloved athletes. Black men’s supposed thuggery is forgivable because the constant presentation of the attractiveness and physicality of their muscle-bound bodies also makes mainstream America money. Look at this other Psychology Today article that claims another study finds Black women to be invisible. Popular culture and media are constantly telling American society and abroad that Black women are not worth anyone’s time or desire. What other results do we expect from a study like this?
While there is a greater demand for Black women, and Black people as a whole, to “behave” accordingly and not fall into racist and stereotypical trappings that give studies such as these validity, it is equally important (and seems like the more obvious and necessary option) to not use science to support already-held racist assumptions about Black womanhood or our beauty.
Until those necessary societal changes are made, we have this: