Skin Color: Science vs. Society – and why you might still be single.


Remember the piece on skin bleaching we ran after flipping through Vogue India? Well, the Independent recently ran an article on a study in Toronto that basically concludes that men and women of all races prefer generally prefer lighter skin women and men…


“The researchers, whose study shows that across different races, lighter-skinned women are seen as the ideal, say the attraction is driven by preferences based on moral assumptions.

Men are subconsciously attracted to fairer skin because of its association with innocence, purity, modesty, virginity, vulnerability and goodness, according to researchers at the University of Toronto. Women are attracted to men with darker complexions because these are associated with sex, virility, mystery, villainy and danger.”


Brad Pitt = Angel, and has good credit?
Djimon Honsu = Dangerous, but great in bed?
And just where-in-the-hell would Antonio Banderas fall in all of this?

Now, I am certainly don’t doubt that Kimora is a very happy woman in the sack right now (actually, they are both darker – so according to this study, their sex life is pretty awesome) but I can’t grasp this notion. Yet, I understand it.

I have never been the one to date a “type,” especially when it comes to complexion. But it is interesting to see how this translates into the rampant images that have a deep historical root in our society and are still showing up in today’s media (Vogue April 2008 cover maybe?). According to the study, this notion also applies to women, in advertisements and perception…

“When they analysed adverts featuring white women only, they found that women with the darkest complexions were more likely to be in an advanced state of undress. They were also more likely to have a bared midriff, and only they are shown with bared feet or are implied to be totally nude.

The darkest-complexioned women in this group were also likely to be provocatively dressed, wearing underwear or similar clothing. Women with the lightest complexion are more likely to be conservatively dressed and portrayed as friendly, happy and honest.”


The research team, represented by Dr. Shyon Baumann, a sociologist at the University of Toronto, sheds a scientific light on a social issue that has plagued both men and women for centuries, and which is fueling the multi-billion dollar skin bleaching industry. While the Toronto team readily admits that attractiveness on the level of complexion is much more than a biology issue…


“Physical lightness and darkness are aesthetic characteristics that… exemplify the link between aesthetic and moral judgements. On average, fair complexions in women are the dominant aesthetic ideal because sexual modesty and conventional femininity are the dominant behavioural ideal for women. However, there also exists an appreciation for a darker complexion in women, though less common, and this less-common aesthetic preference appears to coexist with a view of such women as more overtly sexual… darker women are seen as more promiscuous.”


While a good chunk of us are quick to admit that “we don’t see color” when it comes to choosing the opposite sex, friends, coworkers, etc, the truth is – we do and it’s normal. But it’s how we see color that is the issue.

A few years ago, I had a girlfriend, who is black, defend her acceptance of the pet name her white boyfriend gave her–bushbaby. After a pretty heated brunch where a trio of us tried to explain to her exactly why this was bullshit, she made a statement that has stuck with me, “I’d rather be his bushbaby and happy, than alone.” It’s a shame what us girls will deal with to be happy. As for me, I’ll keep the skin lightening cream on the shelf for now.


Over & Out.


Men, women & the secrets of skin colour. [TheIndependent]
Related Post [Brown Paper Mags]

Last 5 posts by Shannon Washington

  • Go on, Ms. Baker! To claim any kind of science behind this research and article in the Independent is hilarious. I don’t know who are these “scientists” that came up with this strikingly new and unknown until now “facts” but to pass generalizations and poorly conducted research while working with discriminative and out fashioned concepts I call a crime. Don’t read the Independent – read Parlour!And whoever paid tuition in University of Toronto ask for your money back!

  • I know that’s right!