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The Origins of Colourism

When Solange and Beyoncé Knowles’s father Mathew Knowles was asked in 2018 why he preferred to date women of a lighter skin tone, he replied, “I had been conditioned from childhood.” At least as far back as Gunnar Myrdal’s 1949 book An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy, social scientists have recognized discriminatory behaviour among African American males in favour of fairer skinned females, a bias that the 2011 documentary Dark Girls reveals is still unfortunately prevalent today. “I don’t really like dark skinned women, like, they’d look funny beside me,” disclosed one male interviewed for Dark Girls. “I’d like a pretty, light skin girl.”

As revealed in the documentary, this view takes an emotional toll on dark women, who are discriminated against in all sorts of ways. Darker skinned women in magazines and film often are airbrushed or photoshopped into a Beyoncé glow, and lighter skinned African American actresses and dancers seem to be cast disproportionately in film roles and music videos compared to some of their darker skinned colleagues. Even children absorb from others at an early age the notion that lighter skin is considered prettier than darker skin, and psychologists have shown an “attractiveness halo” effect whereby judgements on beauty spill over into judgements about other characteristics such as intelligence and moral worth, even to the point of influencing hiring decisions by employers. The specific process whereby members of one ethnic group discriminate against those within their own ethnic group based on skin colour has been labelled “colourism.” And with a little well-placed sad music and innocent facial shots, a doll experiment demonstrating its effects on children can extract a tear.

The overarching understanding of discrimination within African American communities is that such bias results from historical oppression. “In Western communities, it’s thought to be a lasting relic of slavery,” wrote Georgina Lawton in the Independent. In her 2018 article, Lawton decried the role played by the “global white supremacist capitalist patriarchy” in pushing an overwhelming “eurocentric beauty hegemony.” People of African ancestry, she argued, have been encouraged to value lighter skin because Western slavers treated darker and lighter slaves differently: Darker skinned slaves were subjected to harsh fieldwork, while lighter skinned slaves were afforded less burdensome housework instead. Or as another commentator put it, “It’s only favoured because of what Western society has taught us, and in our communities it’s perpetuated as banter.”

The Association of Black Psychologists has labeled colourism as a form of internalized racism, the process whereby ethnic minorities absorb the racism of dominant ethnic groups to their own detriment: “After hearing racist stereotypes and attitudes, a time comes when these are adopted as truth—internalized—and believed by those on the receiving end of the lie.” According to this view, the initial bias set in motion a cascade of oppressive policies and practices, such as segregated churches for light skinned and dark skinned people, which in turn promoted the association between light skin and higher status.

According to sociologist Aisha Phoenix, writing in Feminist Review, colourism has had consequences for ethnic groups around the world: “Many of those disadvantaged by colourism fail to see that the beauty hierarchy is an ‘arbitrary social construction’ that advantages fair, white women and multinational corporations, but has deleterious consequences for many who fail to meet its strictures.” By way of example, the World Health Organization reports that 77 percent of women in Nigeria use skin-whitening products (the highest rate of any country), some containing mercury that can cause lasting kidney damage. To Phoenix, this shows how corporations perpetuate racism to their own advantage: “The global politics of beauty promulgates an aesthetic and hierarchy born of ‘white supremacist thinking.’”

Despite the obvious political undertones, a lot of this theorizing seems eminently sensible to me. Indeed, it strikes me as highly intuitive that the disgraceful treatment of slaves and the imposition of coercive power structures along racial lines would have played a large role in forming enduring beauty perceptions among African Americans. But because of the nearly unanimous agreement that colourism is a product of Western hegemony, we’ve fallen into what John Stuart Mill called “the deep slumber of a decided opinion.” That slumber has led to an incomplete, low-resolution narrative perpetuated by journalists and academics alike in regard to colourism.

It’s notable that the issue of colourism in beauty norms has become a feminist issue in large part because of the sexually dimorphic nature of the phenomenon. As Lawton writes, “Colourism is a feminist issue because black men are allowed to be dark-skinned where women are not.” Which is to say that women in African American communities generally don’t perceive lighter skin in males to be any more desirable than darker skin—so that males can “get away” with being dark, even as they generally exhibit a preference for lighter skin in female mates. But this invites the question as to why slavery and oppression would arbitrarily lead to a male desire for female skin but have no corresponding effect on the opposite form of attraction. Clearly, some further explanation is needed.

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“As to the colour, dark brown is decidedly a disadvantage,” noted the renowned anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski in 1929, describing male desires for women in the Trobriand Islands off the east coast of New Guinea, “In the magic of washing and in other beauty formulae, a desirable skin is compared with white flowers, moonlight, and the morning star.” This description is specific to the Trobriand Islander’s own skin tones, and did not apply to white visitors, whose skin was perceived as too white. Ian Hogbin, similarly, wrote in The Island of Menstruating Men: Religion in Wogeo, New Guinea, the ideal skin tone was seen as “bright and clear as the petals of a flower,” but, “Europeans are most emphatically not envied for their blond coloring, which is regarded as far too reminiscent of albinos.” East of New Guinea in the Pacific Ocean lies the Solomon Islands, where Beatrice Blackwood wrote of the Buka in 1935, “In discussing with the men what physical attributes they considered desirable in their women, it emerged that they prefer a light skin, especially one with a reddish tinge, which is much less common than the darker brown.”

Natives on Trobriand Islands sitting with Polish anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski (centre), circa 1918. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images

Leaving the Melanesian Pacific altogether and travelling northwest to Asia, we find a similar pattern. In Singapore, Cambodia and Thailand, billboards everywhere project images of light-skinned women smearing cream over their faces. Chinese people seem to be particularly judgemental on this subject; and for over a thousand years, the Geisha has been a symbolic focal point of perfection in beauty in Japan, her face smothered in white bird droppings or other whitening products. One Japanese scholar described the perfect skin tone as reflecting the “beautiful tuberculosis patient whose skin is pale and almost transparent.” The wealthiest Japanese men often are said to marry the lightest skinned females, paralleling sub-continental practises in India and Bangladesh.

Ancient Aztec codices in Central America revealed the use of cosmetics by women to attain a lighter skin, and paintings from ancient Egypt depicted women with lighter skin than males. In the Arab world, more broadly, one early traveller noted, “The highest praise is perhaps ‘She is white as snow.’” In North America, one Hopi chief commented, “We say that a woman with a dark skin may be half man.”

In subsaharan Africa, it’s much the same. Writing in 1910, Moritz Merker stated of the most sought after Masai women of Kenya and Tanzania, “Further requirements for being regarded as beautiful are an oval face, white teeth, black gums, a skin color as light as possible.” John Barnes wrote in 1951 of Ngoni in Malawi, “Young men say that what they like in a girl is a light skin colour, a pretty face, and the ability to dance and to copulate well.” Of the inhabitants of the Kalahari Desert in Botswana, among the most isolated people in Africa, another anthropologist wrote, “the generally admired type is a light-skinned girl of somewhat heavy build, with prominent breasts and large, firm buttocks.” Speaking of the strategic posturing of jealous women in Zambia, C.M.M. White recorded that, “dark-skinned women conscious of their possible disadvantage have been heard to tell men that light-skinned women will be found to be sexually unsatisfying.”

This pattern amounts to more than mere anecdote. In a 1986 report published in the journal Ethnic and Racial Studies, anthropologists Pierre van den Berghe and Peter Frost dusted off some understudied ethnographic archives contained in the Yale-based Human Relations Area Files, and found that in the great majority of societies for which there is data, lighter skinned females do in fact feature as the beauty ideal, whereas no clear pattern emerges for female’s preferences for male skin tone.

There were only three societies identified by the anthropologists that reportedly didn’t subject female beauty to a colourist evaluation, but in each of these cases the evidence was ambiguous as to beauty norms. Even counting these three cases as negative findings, van den Berghe and Frost concluded that there is an overwhelming cross-cultural pattern of colourism in male sexual desires that places lighter skin females above darker members of their community. They also argued that Western contact couldn’t possibly explain the phenomenon due to its ubiquity throughout the historical records of Egyptians, Indians, Chinese, Japanese and Aztecs, and in societies not colonized by the West or with limited contact. Van den Berghe and Frost calculate the probability of their data set arising by chance to be “less than one in 100 million.”

The two researchers also found that lighter-skinned women are not only preferred in almost every society, they also have lighter skin compared to men in most societies, and this anomaly could not be explained by sun exposure—which suggests that some force in evolutionary history has selected for lighter women.

In particular, Van den Berghe and Frost found that women tend to have the lightest tone of skin during early adulthood, during the most fertile period of her menstrual cycle, and when they are not pregnant—in other words, when a woman is most likely to conceive: “There appears, in short, to be a linkage not only between pigmentation and sex, but between light pigmentation and fecundability in women.”

They hypothesized, firstly, that the correlation between lighter skin complexion and fertility led to a genetically programmed learning bias in males, which usually manifests as a cultural preference for lighter skinned females. But once this colourist discrimination took place on the cultural level, they further hypothesized, sexual selection caused the further lightning of female skin pigmentation, explaining the lighter pigmentation we now find in females as compared with males.

This theory of gene-culture coevolution is not without its critics. And contradictory findings exist as to the difference in male-versus-female skin tones and the linkage between menstruation and skin tones. But what seems to be firmly established is that the cross-cultural bias for lighter skin does in fact exist and that it arises for reasons independent of oppressive forces exerted by the West. The question then becomes to what degree oppressive historical forces have further intensified a colourism toward women that already existed.

This is not an easy empirical question to answer, because hardly any longitudinal ethnographic studies exist on the extent of colourism in these communities before and after contact with the white world. One rare example does exist, however, in the form of a 1954 study produced by anthropologist Edwin Ardener, in regard to the Ibo of eastern Nigeria. Ardener noted that, “In Ibo culture…yellowish or reddish complexions are considered more beautiful than the darker, ‘blacker’ complexions,” and reproduced the statement of one Ibo man: “Well, you know that a thing that is ugly is first of all really black…You don’t want people to laugh at you and say, ‘Is that your wife?’”

This bias for lighter skin in women, Ardener noted, led to real consequences for darker women, for they extracted a lower bride price than their lighter-skinned counterparts, and were afforded less prestigious marriage ceremonies. According to Ardener, these beauty standards were reportedly part of established ritual and religion among the Ibo before the era of Western influence: “The Ibo evidence suggests that preference for paleness of complexion is indigenous.”

However, Ardener notes that while those with pale complexions have traditionally been seen as the most beautiful women among the Ibo, and that “divergence never occurs on this issue,” a general cultural belief had it that darker skin women could work much harder in the sunlight than lighter-skinned women, providing a trade-off between the beauty and the work capability of a woman.

And this is where things get sociologically interesting: In a society living close to subsistence levels, there obviously is much value in marrying a woman who is seen as more likely to help her family survive hardship. But upon the establishment of European colonially administered towns and economic patterns, women increasingly were afforded the opportunity to work indoors—and, in some cases, had the opportunity to avoid work altogether. This meant that the perceived economic value of darker skin fell. As a result, a further shift toward valuing lighter skinned women was observed in such towns, as well as increased use of cosmetics in an escalating race towards lightness. (The sight of European women in these towns, whom the Ibo regarded as having “the most beautiful ocha complexion,” likely further compounded the problem.)

Through this glimpse into Ibo culture, we can see how the ex ante exaltation of lighter skin in females and the practice of colourism were further strengthened not only by the diffusion of Western culture, but by the changing socio-economic structure of society under colonialism. And yet, absent pre-existing biases, the post-colonial outcome might have been different. Van den Berghe and Frost point out, for example, that the conquest of parts of western Europe in the 8th Century by Muslim Africans did not shift beauty perceptions among Europeans toward the darker skin of their rulers—in part because there was no pre-existent bias at play.

Drawing out the implications of these anthropological insights is not an easy task. And we must heed the famous paraphrase of H.L. Mencken that, “for every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong.” Exhibit A: Margaret Hunter’s 2005 book Race, Gender and the Politics of Skin Tone, in which it is claimed that, “without a larger system of institutional racism, colourism based on skin tone would not exist.” The historical evidence suggests that this claim is simply untrue.

Another issue that confounds this discussion is the failure of observers to distinguish between historical socio-cultural forces such as slavery, and current norms of beauty and values in our society. While Lawton decries the West as a “society obsessed with fair skin,” ours is in fact the only society we know of where most people unambiguously prefer a skin tone darker than the average tone of its ethnic plurality. We Westerners burn ourselves into an early carcinogenic death by tanning in the sun or solariums, or by spending billions of dollars on tanning oils and fake tans to achieve bronzed skin.

One 2006 survey of Westerners concluded that brown skin is considered more beautiful than fair skin. Another survey, this one from 2014, found that French men prefer a darker skin than what Africans from Mozambique considered to be attractive. The West has moved on from the Victorian practice of shielding oneself with an umbrella in the sun, even if those seeking to blame colourism on Western bigotry haven’t noticed.

“Shaming dark skin is a foundational tenet of many beauty norms,” wrote one blogger in 2016, puzzled by the appearance of “chocolate”-themed spray-can tanning products. “So it is quite bizarre to see dark skin being bottled up and sold like this.” But such products should not come as a surprise. As one dark-skinned African American woman revealed in the Dark Girls documentary, “there are places I’ve gone where there are a lot of whites and they would tell me, ‘You have such beautiful skin’…and it’s really questionable to me, why is it that they think I’m so beautiful and my own people don’t see any beauty in me at all.”

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I recall reading, only a few years ago, a satirical piece that pretended to argue that skin tanning is a form of “cultural appropriation.” Well, social justice activists have caught up with the satirists by unironically embracing this very position. Indeed, Vrinda Jagota, associate editor of the New York-based magazine Paper, has suggested that white people should check their privilege before stepping out into the sun:

It’s that time of year again—the sun has finally reemerged and people are spending their Saturday afternoons lounging on crumpled blankets drinking La Croix in Prospect Park … I’ve always been intrigued and slightly annoyed by white people’s obsession with tanning. When they compare their skin tone to mine, it feels like appropriation, a co-option of brownness without ever having to deal with the oppression people of color face for their skin color … I’m sure the well-meaning white reader is wondering what they are supposed to do. Not go into the sun this summer? Wear SPF 90 at all times? Sadly, the answer is not so obvious or so easy.

“Racism rears its ugly head again,” wrote Simone Mitchell for an Australian news outlet. In reprimanding the spray-tan industry for cultural insensitivity, she likened the products to blackface. Denouncing the names of a Swedish company’s spray-tan products—such as Dark Ash Black and Dark Chocolate—Teen Vogue declared flatly: “The names and the shades = not OK.” Indeed, the products were likened to a violent hate crime by one commenter, who wrote: “It reminds me of the typical scary movie where the murderer kills the person, cuts off their face, and wears it as a mask.”

So is it racist to abhor dark skin—or is it racist to celebrate it? They’re both objectionable, apparently. In 2017, the Daily Mail profiled activists who warned that little girls shouldn’t dress up as the Polynesian character Moana because that would be “racist cultural appropriation”—while also discouraging dress-up as Elsa from Frozen because such costumes would promote the paradigm of “white beauty.” The example perfectly mirrors the damned-if-we-do/damned-if-we-don’t debate about colourism.

Argument about racism and the allegedly white supremacist nature of our society would find greater support if there were more coherence to the pattern of evidence brought to bear. If we are being made to believe that the celebration of white and dark skin types are both evidence of racism, then one might properly conclude that there is little validity to either claim.

Lost amidst the overflowing storm of contradictory grievances and the sweeping tide of politically motivated commentary, meanwhile, is a nuanced conversation about the actual origins of colourism. Such a discussion might help make people appreciate that the admiration for many different skin hues observed in modern Western societies is actually an unusual but thoroughly welcome development.


Matthew Blackwell is an Australian writer and graduate of the University of Queensland where he studied economics and anthropology. Follow him on Twitter @MBlackwell27


  1. “Shaming dark skin is a foundational tenet of many beauty norms”

    Very common in India! Skin lightening solutions are a big business.

    • James says

      Yeah I can kind of understand it when youre talking about super super dark skin people in sub Sahara Africa, but I really dont get Indians or southeast Asians doing it. Their natural skin is much more of the actual beauty norm than pale white skin. At least in the west it is.

      • yandoodan says

        @James. Indeed. The persistence of colorism in places where there have been no European slavers falsifies the idea that colorism was caused by European slavers.

        And this includes Africa. Europeans ran coastal entrepôts, where slaves were brought in and sold for transport to distant markets. Europeans were not allowed out of their entrepôts, and when they tried they were unceremoniously killed. African leaders wanted to monopolize this highly lucrative trade for themselves.

        The actual thing going on here is that people being oppressed do not unite against the oppressor. Instead, they create hierarchies of oppression within their group. I suspect it’s compensatory, nothing more complicated. The racist white male patriarchy would be uninvolved, or only indirectly involved, because (let’s face it) the patriarchs couldn’t care less.

        I’ve lived in a city with a very large working class neighborhood (we’re talking 20,000 people here) that, because of historic reasons, was completely mixed, racially and ethnically. Instead of uniting against their treatment at the hands of patriarchs, they broke themselves into an elaborate hierarchy of discrimination: European Spanish, Italians, Irish (very few), Basques and Greeks, white Cubans, black Cubans, American blacks.

      • Phoenix44 says

        In India is because of the castes. The Dalit (Untouchables) were traditionally viewed as having the darkest skin, and the Brahmin much lighter skin. This goes back centuries, well before Europeans arrived in India. dark skinned Indians are still seen as undesirable spouses by some higher caste Indians as they believe the dark skin means at least some Dalit ancestry.

    • Janita Cunnington says

      The sociological explanation for the tanning craze that was current in Australia when I was young was that a tan was a marker of class status. It had nothing to do with race. This was the thinking: In earlier generations, when a much larger proportion of the population were rural workers, tanned skin was a sign of manual labour. With increasing urbanisation, most workers were swallowed up by manufacturing and the retail trade and were rarely out in the sun. So tanned skin gradually became associated with the leisured classes — those who could afford yachts or seaside holidays. This is not to say that the association was conscious. It was more of a matter of the glamour of leisure creating a new aesthetic, which young people of every social class avidly embraced.

  2. Morgan Foster says

    Surely there must be some way to continue blaming America for all of this.

    • Yeah, without having read the various arguments cited, I’m all too confident this theory hasn’t been scrutinized sufficiently. At the very least because there’s nothing more politically comfortable than blaming white people for something, and also one wonders why lighter skin wouldn’t be associated with moral corruption and rejected accordingly. Which makes me think of Salif Keita, the extraordinary Malian singer who suffered terribly as a result of his albinism and related archaic suspicions.

    • Dan Love says

      Oh good, another one of these words: colorism. I’ll put it with all the others, but I fear my toilet will get clogged.

      • James says

        Colorism isnt all that newfangled like microagression. It describes a clearly real phenomenon too where black people look down on darker skinned black women.

        • Dan Love says


          You’re missing the forest here…

          Racist, sexist, misogynistic, homophobic, Islamaphobic, transphobic, white supramicist, fascist, xenophobic, speciesistic, ageistic, now coloristic? The frequency of the usage of these words along with their increasing number says more about the people who use them than those they are meant to describe.

          There also a correlation between the perceived attractiveness of women with long hair vs. those with short hair. Hairtistic? Obese people are treated worse than everyone else. Weightistic? Women are less likely to be attracted to disabled men. Disablistic? Americans often unfairly discriminate on the basis of whether one is from the north or from the south. Same thing in Ireland. Geophobic? All these things are real.

          If you can’t see the pattern, there’s nothing else I can say.

          • diana says

            James, Unfortunately, I work for a nonprofit and see these terms casually used every single day. There is one for obese people, they call it thin privilege if you’re not fat and weight-challenged if you are fat. I am Honduran-Italian and, arguing with a white lady about legal v. illegal immigration (fan of the former, not the latter) and that not all minorities are liberal, she countered with well, you have not experienced discrimination because although a “person of color” (blech to that phrase) you are thin and attractive. She totally dismissed any arguments that did not fit her ultra-“woke” agenda. And, I’ve heard colorism thrown around by black people, all women, to make themselves feel better for not being attractive- yes, they blame whitey.

          • Hank Lizer says

            you speaketh the truth–a rarity (sadly) that immediately sets you apart (admirably) as one who is awake which cannot be said about the hordes of the cognitively compromised.

      • Erle S Bowman says

        This article should have included a color palette in which we were able to select a preferred skin color. I would be surprised if an ideal skin color did not appear among the majority of participants.

  3. I’m really not that interested in this subject, but this was a well written article and if you are just here for the comments, give the whole thing a read, it’s super insightful.

    It does stink that darker-skinned women have to deal with these issues as well as the issues of being a woman. (understanding in some places, like the US, women have and all folks have it pretty good, but still, I am sure it’s a difficulty regardless of all the other comforts)

    I wonder what would really be helpful in situations where a person with darker skin tones might feel insecure?

    • Somewoman says

      Is it true that lighter skin wrinkles easier? If so, that’s pretty good consolation if you’re dark.

      • James says

        Well sun damage is largely responsible for early wrinkles and having naturally dark skin offers serious protection from sun damage. So yes it’s true.

      • No sharia says

        Yes, that’s why there’s the saying”blacks don’t crack”

    • Christopher, do you have the same compassion for what redheaded men go through? What would be helpful if they feel insecure? What about short men? What about ugly men? What about people with eczema? And scars?

    • James says

      It’s called accepting reality and moving on with your life the same way men who go bald at 20 have too or a dozen other examples that are judged more harshly from a beauty perspective than dark skin.

  4. And conversely, white people, and white women especially, spend billions on skin darkening. We all want what we don’t have.

    • Hamilton Sunshine says

      @JV I think this comment gets to the heart of it. We all want novelty, it indulge in difference to the norm.

    • James says

      I think theres a happy medium. Being very dark isnt good from a beauty norm perspective, but neither is being very light. God help you if youre a ginger. Someone like Jennifer Lopez probably has closest to the average ideal these days.

  5. CogitoBcn says

    Or maybe we all want a middle tone far from the extremes of the spectrum.

  6. Or maybe some people just prefer pale colours and some prefer bold colours…

  7. Castro Simplex says

    Nice Article! I had no idea this subject could be so interesting.

    Cultural bias amplifying what appears to be a Darwinian selection bias. Cool, but possibly easier to study than it appears because other species seem to have similar bias. Look to the peacock or some other critter with an over the top display or characteristic. It would seem that there’s a biological tendency to push a good thing too far.

    All dumbness of cultural appropriation protestations aside, the move of western societies to preferring darker skin is interesting and data would be nice.

  8. Somewoman says

    Given all the anthropolocal data, it’s hard for me to tell if lighter skin is innately prized across societies or if brighter skin (not lighter skin) is actually what is prized or if there is a range of skin tones that is ideal and it happens to be lighter than the average skin tone of all races except for the white race, which is lighter than the ideal skin tone. Currently and for much of the 20th century, the average european white skin tone has not been seen as ideal. Slightly tan skin such as what Salma Hayek or adriana Lima has is seen as ideal. Not sure if that’s an innate universal ideal or if it’s just the median skin tone across the world and has some golden mean appeal.

    Right now it seems to me that the ideal skin tone in our culture is between Kim Kardashian and Beyoncé. That’s lighter than Africans and south Asians on average, so makes sense that those races would prefer the lightest women of their communities. It’s darker than most whites women, so white women prize bronzers and tanning.

    Chinese people also prefer light skin but in their case, darker skin tones have that unappealing yellow undertone a lot of the time. Like I somehow think Alicia keys has a great complexion color while Sandra oh would look better if she had fairer skin tone even though Alicia keys is darker. She’s darker but the color itself is better, to me at least.

  9. Steve says

    Re bronzers/tanning: These practices are FAR less popular among white people under the age of about 35. Aside from the occasional orange president, few people are interested today in altering their skin tone beyond what happens naturally in summer.

    • Somewoman says

      Tanning is dangerous but when I was young, the other young girls would make it a point to go to tanning salons in the winter to get a base tan and then would bake in the sun with minimum spf to try and get the best tan. Bronzers sort of replaced that as doctors warned against tanning more and more, but I see no signs of bronzers losing popularity among the young. Kim k makes herself as dark as possible, not as light as possible. She obsessively does what works to maximize her visual appeal on social media.

    • John McCormick says


      According to this site at the URL below, 13,462 tanning salons do about $3B of business in the US annually with projected growth of about 4%, a reduction of previous growth rates, and employing 57,423 people. So, there is roughly 1 tanning salon per 25,000 people in the US, and each is pulling in over $220K annually. Additionally, about $6B in tanning lotion is sold annually in the US. If you assume that only 65% of the people in the US are “white” and further assume then these services and products are unused by “people of color” the resulting use rates then strengthen the contradiction of your statement.

  10. In many cultures, darkness has negative connotations. Maybe the deep origins of this preference reach back to the night/day opposition whereby night is associated with the unknown, greater predatory danger, and inability to discern.

  11. Bubblecar says

    Speaking as a gay man, as far as male visual beauty is concerned, I tend to prefer light skinned men to very dark skinned men, for a very simple reason – they’re easier to see.

    I’ve seen pictures of black African dancers wearing light-coloured body paint, and they look very fit and appealing indeed. But it’s harder to perceive with their normal very dark colouring.

    “The West has moved on from the Victorian practice of shielding oneself with an umbrella in the sun”

    It’s the other way around in Australia, and other countries with a high incidence of skin cancer. It’s now widely accepted that one should shield skin from the sun as much as possible when outdoors.

    • markbul says

      Actually, Australian public health leaders have recently come to their senses on this subject, and have lifted their previous draconian recommendations. Sunlight is GOOD for health, and people who get more sun are healthier than those who cover the most, after accounting for other factors.

      • Bubblecar says

        Sunlight good for health in judicious doses. But lying out there baking in it for hours to achieve a tan is not sensible.

    • Stephanie says

      Bubblecar, the only people I’ve seen with umbrellas for the sun in Australia are Asian women. The beaches are packed with sunbathers. Clearly the threat of skin cancer isn’t sufficient to dissuade people from the natural desire to enjoy the sun.

  12. Space Viking says

    I know quite a bit about Korea from living there and marrying a Korean. As suggested in this article they too have this light skin preference. Besides the skin treatment/makeup conventions noted here, Korean women will wear cover themselves up with jackets, long pants, wide brimmed hats, etc. in the summer to avoid getting a suntan. They also avoid beaches and boating activities for the same reason. There is some preference toward men being light skinned but it is nowhere near as extreme as for women.

    All of this comes from the Korean culture viewing light skin as a signal of wealth and success. After all in past centuries peasants had dark, rough skin from working in the fields while royalty remained indoors or under shade as much as possible. Perhaps this is driving the preference to some extent in other places too!

    • ga gamba says

      Shin Yun-Bok, a.k.a. Hyewon, was a late 18th century painter of genre pictures featuring nobilities’ court life whose collection is a national treasure of Korea. You may see his paintings here – scroll down to just those just before the celadon. You’ll see that almost all the young women – I suppose I should use the olden times word maidens – are very fair complected and wear blue skirts. The Chinese five elements theory, which Korea followed, blue signifies new birth, brightness, and clarity. Blue was typically used in the clothes of palace maidens. The men’s hats are those restricted to the yangban, the noble class of scholarly literati, which most of Shin’s paintings present in an idealised manner. I think these women likely are courtesans, called gisaeng, rather than female members of a noble family, who would have been much more sheltered – back when tigers smoked pipes there was the Korean saying, one that applied to those who had some wealth: “Women and glass must stay inside.” Seeing the paintings of women carried in uncovered sedan chairs we can deduce they are not female family members who would have been carried in enclosed ones. In some of his paintings women are shown with smoking pipes, which would have not been appropriate for noble women. Shin’s paintings brought him controversy for being too risqué and he was expelled from the court.

    • tarstarkas says

      It’s the same way in Japan. The Samurai class tended to be noticeably lighter-skinned than the common peasants (also larger, taller, and stronger). I believe it has a lot to do with the copious amounts of Ainu blood in their lineages.

    • Just Me says

      Same thing in Japan and Vietnam, women try to protect themselves from the sun with umbrellas, wide brimmed hats, face masks when riding motorcycles, etc.

  13. markbul says

    “We Westerners burn ourselves into an early carcinogenic death by tanning in the sun …”

    It’s a minor point to this article, but this is factually incorrect. The rare cases of death due to skin cancer caused by sun exposre are associated mostly with early-life sun BURNS, not tanningl. This has been known for many years now, but the activist clique that controls public health pronouncements doesn’t want to admit that they have been wrong about this for years. In fact, recent work has shown that sun expose is beneficial to health, producing vitamen D, as well as other necessary and healthful molecules in the skin. So no, do NOT cover your body during the summer. Get plenty of healthy sunshine. Just don’t burn – it hurts.

  14. Not only do women not show the same preference for paler skin in men, but in fact the opposite is true. We all know this, of course – after all, what is the stereotype of an attractive man? “Tall, dark and handsome.”

    There are studies suggesting the same thing. Here’s just one:

    “Males [Caucasian, college students, n=549] indicated somewhat greater preference for lighter female coloration, while females [Caucasian, college students, n=483] indicated somewhat greater preference for darker male coloration.” Feinman & Gill, 1977

    And there are certainly studies which suggest that the asymmetrical situation is all socially constructed. For example, women’s preferences for male skin toned can vary over the menstrual cycle:
    “For women not taking oral contraceptives, skin-color preference differed significantly between two groups of subjects classified according to the current phase of their self-reported menstrual cycle: darker male faces were judged more positively by subjects in the phase when the estrogen/progesterone ratio was expected to be high than by those in the phase when this ratio was expected to be low.” Frost, 1994

    And a final _purely_ biological note: boys darken a puberty more than do girls, but in terms of complexion and hair colour (just think – if you live in the West – of how common blonde boys are compared to blonde men).

    • Dark in that phrase means dark hair, not skin tone. It’s amazing really how 21st century are historically illiterate to what terms like “dark complexion” mean in English phrases.

      • Dark hair, to some degree, *implies* dark eyes and relatively dark complexion – they tend (_tend_) to go together.

    • Just Me says

      Kenneth –

      Did you mean to write “And there are certainly studies which suggest that the asymmetrical situation is NOT all socially constructed.”?

      Because that is what the fact that ” women’s preferences for male skin toned can vary over the menstrual cycle” would suggest.

  15. Bobby says

    I can see it now, the next Huffington Post article:

    “The hidden racists: how black men are upholding white supremacy by preferring light skinned black women”

    • RadixLecti says

      It wasn’t in the Huffington Post, but try googling “Black Men are the White People of Black People”.

      • Kristina says

        See John Lennon’s song, “Woman is the N– of the World.”

  16. Andrew Worth says

    Babies have lighter skin than old leathery skinned ladies that have worked in their villages in the African sun their entire lives, babies are cute and need to be protected, like young women. Rich princesses weren’t made to work out in the sun so their skins remained lighter, marrying a rich princess (someone of high status) is, evolutionarily speaking, a good idea.

  17. E. Olson says

    If I understand the article, men want a lighter skinned woman, and woman don’t care one way or the other what color their male is. Thus just another variation of the general theme that men judge women on appearance and women judge men on their success, power, and wealth, which is why it is fairly common to see balding, paunchy, old men (who happen to be rich) with models on their arm (i.e. Donald and Melania), but seldom the other way round.

    • It seems that women generally find a darker man more attractive – see my comment on this article re. “Tall, dark and handsome.”

      • Erica from The West Village says

        Tall, dark and handsome..with blue eyes..and white teeth (their own teeth helps too).

        Asking for a friend…

      • Somewoman says

        Maybe? I kind of don’t know why people say this. Brad Pitt was widely considered super handsome in his youth. Chris hemsworth is no less handsome than anyone. I feel like the “dark” is referring to a psychological attribute. Like dark really means masculine in a metaphorical sense.

    • No sharia says

      Truer comment so far….FYI actor Richard Gere, 69, and his 35 year old wife are having a baby.

  18. I love the picture chosen to illustrate this article, beautiful woman, higly erotic, as is one of my favorites, pitch black model Waris Dirie, I don’t see her so often any more, lamentably. However, I wonder whether this taste for black is also present in white women. In the world I used to live and work, white Arabs would easily marry black women, but the reverse never happened.

  19. The least desirable cohorts on internet dating sites/apps are black women and asian men. The most desirable are white men and asian women. Black men are above black women and asian men but below everyone else.

    • Just Me says

      Kevin Herman,

      I suspect this has less to do with skin color and more with body build.

      Black women tend to be larger boned, i.e. more masculine looking, Asian men shorter and more delicate looking, i.e. more stereotypically feminine looking.

      What was standard to a given population becomes less so with globalisation.

  20. Robin says

    Why did whites switch to preferring tanned skin?

    I suspect that rarity and class play big roles in attractiveness. So blondes are more desirable in areas that are predominantly brunette and bright reddish or yellowish brown skin is more desirable among the predominantly dark-brown Ibo. Others in these comments have pointed out how darkness has historically been associated with lowly agrarian labour in various regions. Similarly in modern societies where palour is common and associated with spending long, boring hours in a cubicle-farm, tanned skin indicates leisure and vigour. The West has also become more open and racially diverse over time, with media playing a big role in broadcasting sexually suggestive images of relatively dark-skinned people like Nichelle Nichols and Beyonce; this may have made these exotic forms more appealing than they may have been in a homogeneous society.

    • About this preference of white as against tanned in history: that’s quite easy, and I still remember it from my youth. Tanned people were the peasants, the workers in the field and on the road, the civilised people worked and lived in towns, in some building,in an office, for which you had to study and to be of good, well bred family.
      I also still remember the complaint of the black servant of a white neighbour in Surinam: -but madam, cover your baby with a bigger hat if outside,otherwise her nice white skin will be tanned allover-.

      • But do you remember the 80s reversal of it? When tan was a sign of an adventorous spirit; you weren’t caught behind a desk from 9-5; i.e. you had be someone interesting.

        • Yes of course Susanna, that’s why I started with that “history” and ” still remember”. BTW, have a nice Valentine’s day, I just gave my love a deep Red Naomi rose, with a small cart with text on it.

        • Just Me says

          80s? I live in Canada, and it was already the norm when I was a kid in the 50s here.

    • Bubblecar says

      As has been said, in the old days white people with tans were considered low class, because they generally had low paid outdoor jobs. Upper class women – and many men – tried to achieve as pale a skin as possible, often poisoning themselves with lead-based make-up in the process.

      During the 20th century many working class habits of appearance became very popular amongst the general population, presumably because of the association with popular “low class” music like blues and rock n’ roll etc. Many middle class people started wearing workers’ clothes like t-shirts and jeans, and I suppose a taste for tans accompanied that, building on what was already an established view that “taking the sun” was good for the health.

      Me, I don’t like most popular music, never wear jeans, and don’t like tans. But that’s just a matter of personal taste 🙂

      • Bubblecar,

        I remember when the switch from light skin to tanned skin happened. It was due to the expansion of indoors office work in the 80s. Those people were pale. The ones who got out and lived their lives out in the adventurous open air weren’t; they were tanned. In other words, the obsession about skin tones had to do with freedom of movement. If you didn’t have a boring 9-5 job, you were a “catch.” That was the “happy” 80s. Now we’re once again reverted back to the idea of “You have a regular job, great!” due to economic panic and paleness has once again become desirable.

        • Another reason for the popularity of tanned skin arose – in the rainy UK where I live – with the advent of increased prosperity after WW2 and the rise of the package holiday to sunnier climes. Your tan indicated exotic Spain or Italy and not a windswept stay in Skegness.

      • Muhammad Fadhlurrahman says

        This also helps explain Benjamin Franklin’s dislike of a certain group of German immigrants. He called the ‘Palatine Boors’ ‘swarthy’. We have to remember that ‘boor’, before acquiring the meaning ‘ill-mannered’, originally meant ‘peasant’ or ‘farmer’, i.e. people out in the fields.

    • Robin,

      I remember this too, when being pale skin indicated office work that had ceased being sexy. It all comes to sex, doesn’t it? Every time.

  21. scribblerg says

    What nonsense, top to bottom. I’m a 56yo white guy and conservative – all kinds of people make assumptions about me based on my appearance, many of them not kind.

    I don’t care. If you don’t like being a minority, move to a country where people are like you. Otherwise, if you are different, people will notice. We can’t legislate “ingroup preferences” out of existence.

    Most galling? This hack makes a living trawling out this nonsense.

    Guess what – everyone here – guess what? A free person is allowed to like or not like certain skin colors. Not hiring them, or not renting to them, etc., – that’s already a crime.

    I give you nothing else. We are not here to make every hue of human and every ethnicity and religion to feel great. Nobody worries about me feeling included and respected. Get that.

    • Albigensian says

      If “this hack” is the author, may I suggest you read the essay again?

      The author argues that the “racism” explanation for “colourism” is likely wrong, as this preference for lighter-skinned women exists practically everywhere and thus appears to be culture-independent.

      Many standards of physical attractiveness (such as body proportions) in men and women are remarkably similar the world over. Some (but not all) of these likely are related to natural selection, as evolution would favor not only those who are fertile and healthy but also those who chose the healthier and more fertile more attractive and thus selected them as mates. As well as appearance traits that correlate with health and fertility, even if they don’t directly influence these.

      This skin-lightness characteristic, however, does not seem related to Darwinian selection and thus it remains a mystery as to why it would exist. Of course, in today’s hypersentive envoronment even wondering about such things can (and often does) bring harsh accusations and condemnation; thus, this publication and the author should at least be commended for risking this.

      Then again, being born with a visible deformity likely will make you less attractive and, no doubt, that, too, is terribly unfair as it’s not as though you somehow chose to be born with a deformity. Being born a dark-skinned woman may also be unfair and this, too, is surely unfair. But, is this any less unfair than being born with a visible deformity?

      • Somewoman says

        I think it’s possible that the desire for fairness is something that arose out of a time with widespread childhood diseases. For thousands of years, almost everyone either died of diseases like small pox, or they were left permanently scarred. Imagine a woman who has had measles, small pox and chicken pox as a child and think of how blotchy and scarred their face would look as an adult.

        For thousands of years, men have described milkmaids as the ideal of beauty. See this poem:

        Since Ancient Greece and through the Middle Ages, men have sang the praises of the fair milkmaid. But milkmaids were never rich. They work in the pastures so they were probably tanner than noblewomen. What “fair” milkmaids had was that they contracted cow pox which made them unlikely to show symptoms of small pox, which scarred people badly.

        I do wonder if the desire for fair skin throughout some cultures is actually a desire to have skin that doesn’t show the darkening blemishes of diseases. Like the ideal was skin “white as snow” because that meant that the woman was so untouched by disease that her skin could be blemish free as snow. I think this might be the case for areas with more homogenous skin tones like Korea and Europe. In Europe, you have English medieval poets waxing on about fair maidens and it’s a little weird to think about it from our current definition of fairness because everyone in medieval England was innately fair. The peasants worked the fields, but it must have been obvious that they weren’t actually darker people. Perhaps what the poets meant was fair as in without dark pock marks.

        In other areas like India and north Africa, fairness probably really did mean innately lighter skinned because those were places where there was actual substantial variation in skin tones.

    • Peter from Oz says

      I understand your point. I often get the feeling that the left is all about getting in the way of life. They would hedge us about with so many rules and regulations that we can’t do anything except care about those rules.
      Sod that for a game of soldiers. Let’s lencourage these poor benighted souls on the left to stop worrying about the rules and start actually playing the game.
      As Margaret Thatcher said: the facts of life are Conservative.
      Liberal/leftism is a parlour game trying to deny the truth, by inventing sophistic and useless arguments about identity.

  22. James Howe says

    Thank you for the well thought-out and written article.

  23. Morgan Foster says

    For some reason, discussions about relationship between beauty and skin color always skip over what I consider to be a very important and related issue:


    Consider a number of women with similar bone structure.

    To me, a pale white woman with facial and body skin as rough as alligator hide – not merely pimples, but hard, scaly, and with rough patches – is going to be far less beautiful, in my view, than a dark/black woman with facial and body skin as uniformly smooth as a spoonful of melted chocolate.

    No amount of makeup can hide it.

    • Note here also: the beauty black above has not even coloured her nails (what every (or almost every) white woman of whatever age would have because the first wave of feminism is over for decades now).

  24. Does anyone know the source of the photo or who that striking and beautiful woman is, btw? I’m not seeing a credit and google image search was not especially helpful.

  25. Sean S says

    A lot of assumption and a lot of BS in this article, Darker skin is less desirable, this true among white, black, Asians. People feel that way by nature. Certain rules in beauty is universal.

    • This is probably the bitter truth, just as hair color and eye color other than black/brown adds undeniable variety and distinction. When genetic engineering becomes a thing, I predict European phenotypes to proliferate like wild.

  26. Shelby Delgado says

    The story is told of a family relation who brought home a young woman. The parents broke bread with the guest and a good meal was had by all. A few days later, the son expressed an interest in proposing to the woman. The parents did not approve. She was too dark-skinned. A few months later, the young son brought home another young woman. The parents had a cordial time meeting the son’s new girlfriend. The conversation was most agreeable. After a few weeks passed, the son expressed an interest in proposing to the woman. The parents disapproved. She was white. This was a deal breaker. The son was wounded but he held it inside as he was a good son who valued approval of his parents. A few months passed. This time, the son brought home a new girlfriend. She was charming and engaging with a pleasant smile and elevating spirit. The parents met the new girlfriend over dinner and all had a great time. As before, the son allowed a respectable amount of time to pass before returning to his parents. Before he could get the words of marriage proposal out of his mouth, the parents rejoiced. The latest girlfriend met with their excited approval. She was light-skinned.

    I share this story to show how far we have progressed as a black family on the question of skin color. And I share that progress with gratitude.

    Skin color never mattered to me when I began dating. My first girlfriend and first love was dark brown skinned, although she would want to be characterized as dark skinned out of race pride. You go girl! The second woman I dated on a regular basis was Jewish. My third girlfriend was light-skinned. My fourth girlfriend was dark brown skinned. My fifth girlfriend was fair-skinned with blue eyes and blond hair. My wife is a light-skinned woman mistaken for Latina out here in Southern California.

    I want to keep this short — the person inside mattered to me, not skin color. The most important things in life are shared values, shared attitudes, shared spirits, shared viewpoints and shared world views. As we reared our children, we never drew attention to skin color among Black Americans. The outside world might be troubled with those dysfunctions but not our family. We took family members and cousins as they were, although one wonders whether the discomfort with embracing distant white cousins is skin color or just fear of the unknown. I trust it to be fear of the unknown. And when our boys have young ladies home for a look-see, the young women have been black and white and asian. We care about the inner self, not the outer skin.

    I love my family in this regard. We have come a long, long way, baby, since the days of vile skin color prejudice. This article was a valuable, insightful read.

  27. Dan Love says

    Also, Dan Live should change his handle to Man Libe because he’s a bender

  28. Non Sequit says

    This is crazy. The most beautiful women (no, PEOPLE) I have ever seen have come from Etritrea, Somilia, or Ethiopia. The darkest of skins, but bone structure that makes most of the rest of the world look lumpen.

    • Yes Non, as I said above, model Waris Dirie, and a few more from the Horn of Africa, all topmodels earning millions. Why ebonite Queens of Sheba? Salomon went all the way there to meet one, in the Bible as well as in the Koran. Poor pale nordic women! However, no cry about it, you are born with it!

  29. Myself and Them says

    Is light skin a neotenous trait?

    And big eyes? (I’m thinking of those strange Japanese comic characters with huge eyes)

  30. The comments section is going to shit. A few gems in the rough, but its starting to feel pretty keezy here.

    I ran the piece by my Puerto Rican wife and while she found it enlightening and interesting, she had some good points about why the Caucasian beauty standard isn’t quite off the hook Scott free. Kudos to the author who did a great job of introducing the history and anthropology around the subject and added nuance to the colorism idea without dismissing it entirely.

    Questions my wife asked that I had no answer to…So what about hair straightening? The billion dollar weave industry? What about surgery to thin the nose and nostrils? And why are there Asian women getting eyelid surgery to alter the shape of their eyes?

    I’m not saying these are irrefutable proofs of a conspiratorial white patriarchal beauty standard that’s being enforced worldwide. (My personal opinion is that women inflict the majority of this pain on themselves without so much as a finger raised in help from men) Colorism’s mettle was just tested with this well researched and thoughtful paper and further nuanced in a meaningful way. I thought these were great questions as they made me reconsider my reconsideration.

    • Hi Isaac,

      The perm industry is still going strong, women perming their hair to create those permanent curls. Weaves were created by the Egyptians before Cleopatra came to the scene.
      Cosmetic surgery is common in all people groups for various reasons.
      Asian women getting eyelid surgery is caused by a desire to look Western. But since most other people groups other than Asians have round eyes, it’s not just a white thing. It’s a media thing. Most round eyes don’t look pretty, and a lot of oval eyes are absolutely gorgeous. It’s the same as with botox and lipfillings and all these other friviouls things the cosmetic surgery industry promotes. I guess the western market was already saturated, and they had to find new clients. This has less to do with overall beauty ideal and more to do with the desire of some companies to make money. These same companies prey on all women and their insecurities. And every society has been known to alter their beauty standards under pressure of those who create the beauty rules and that’s not a white thing either.

      • Good point. I hadn’t considered Botox or lip injections. Enhancing the lips to make them fuller is a good example of white women changing their appearance to mimic features more prominent on darker women. (Bets on whether this gets called out as cultural appropriation by the end of the decade?) There’s a case to be made in our now highly connected world for women using a more globally adapted chameleon strategy concerning beauty.

        I am grateful that as a man I don’t have to deal with these issues. Beauty is a very real currency among women that is unearned and unfair in the dispersion.

      • diana says

        I have to disagree with you, Susanna. Supply and demand. media portrays things, ideals people already like. They tried portraying “normal” (ie average) body types with cellulite, etc. I am a woman and was turned off by it, studies show women are the ones consuming the media “ideals” of beauty; for example, kim Kardashian and Kylie jenner have more social media followers that are women, not men. Companies aren’t forcing women to buy their crap. Look at all girls’ schools, girls still wear makeup. Why? because we are in competition with each other. that’s why this girl solidarity crap is BS. I work with all women at a nonprofit, they all spouse girl power and female solidarity but when a girl walks in the room they immediately judge her clothes, makeup, hair, etc. I am a woman and being around men they may say a girl is hot, but not spend hours discussing her appearance like women do.

        • Just Me says

          And what about having “booty”? I saw a documentary a few years back about how black women have big behinds, white and Asian women don’t, and how having “booty” like the Kardashians is now a beauty ideal…

    • RadixLecti says

      You’re right about the comments section. In the last few months it’s been taken over by Social Injustice Warriors who think that ‘critical of the left’ is the same thing as “just as bigoted and as hateful as me”. And the odd SJW who swoops in to remind us why Quillette became necessary to begin with.

      This was bound to happen as Quillette gained more traction, I suppose.

      To hell with left and right alike.

    • Hector Duck says

      “what about hair straightening” Well, if a white woman gets corn-rows its “cultural appropriation” that’s why.

  31. Michael Meo says

    I’d like to thank both the author for this informative, interesting, thoughtful article and the website for providing the author with a platform for providing such an article.

  32. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this article! It makes so much sense. I have very light skin and I’ve always envied women with darker skin (especially Latin women with their gorgeous thick black long hair and beautiful skin tones, In my eyes they have always been the epitomy of beauty). I’m happy to be Nordic, I’m very proud of my culture, but I always wished my skin was a couple of tones darker. I can’t be out in the sun without burning within minutes, my hair is a mess most of the time (limp Nordic hair), and I have to apply massive amounts of make up to give my face any color. I get that insitutional racism exists (one has to be blind not to see it), but this beauty ideal thing? It makes no sense. Some of the most beautiful women aren’t white, and everyone knows it. And this idea that white skin enforces racism while we aren’t allowed to change it either is really odd. What are we supposed to do? Die and go away?

    • Sydney says

      @Susanna Krizo

      Do we really have to be blind to not see all the institutional racism? Black US conservative Larry Elder is one of many black conservatives who’s tired of that old saw. Do a deep dive into US black conservatives, and they’re not interested waving the victim flag.

      This is just an eight-minute clip, but you’ll find much more like this if you look for people out there (longtime economist Thomas Sowell, media newbie Candace Owens, and many more):

      (By the way, ditch the “massive amounts of makeup” and you’ll liberate your self, your skin, and your wallet.)

  33. Oldtimer1950 says

    Everything in the article is right, although in my opinion one important issue is missing.
    I think that at the fundamental level skin colour preferences are not matter of the stereotypes, but of something altogether deeper – archetypes. Stereotypes, ethnicity, health state, individual preferences weight more now, when we are immersed in the “secondary reality” that organizes our perception. Primarily it is not “pale – brown (skin tone)” opposition. At the deeper level it is “white – black” and essentially, at the archetypical level, “light vs. darkness”, with all the symbolic, that accompany this pair.
    Insightful analysis of skin colour preferences should extend to these deep, subconscious layers of human reality.

    • Homo sapiens or Adam originated in equatorial Africa, pitch black I think he must have been, and later migrated to more northern areas, where lighter skinned Neanderthalers lived. Imagine that both species would have stayed in their own continents!
      What would have been the beauty norms and ideals?
      In the end, the black Africans became also white, dark skin is healthier near the equator, because of the insulation there.
      The Asians want their eyes remodeled and more roundish (also biological reason for narrow or roundish), why is that? And with that new Chinese power and influence, will this desire slowly die out? Or are we going to remodel ours?

  34. Truthseeker says

    I once dated a woman in Indonesia who stated that she would only marry a man that had a lighter skin tone than she did. I suspect there may be some part of this that works against men in a minor way.

    I may be swimming against the current, but the woman in the photo for this article is absolutely beautiful and would get my attention in a social situation.

    • Against the current, truthseeker, which current? That of old viking Myrdal and pale Blackwell? OK, that one I can imagine!

  35. D.B. Cooper says

    So, here’s something to chew on. When I began reading this article, just above the title it read: Published on February 13, 2019 – comments 90

    When I finished, I accidentally touched the ‘refresh’ icon on my tablet, and when the page refreshed, the same line just above the title read: Published on February 13, 2019 – comments 88

    I shit you not.

    • Somewoman says

      I don’t understand why a few comments get deleted. Sometimes mine get deleted but they appear to make points that are repeated by others, so it doesn’t seem like they are censoring the content. And I’m not usually censored, so it doesn’t seem like they are censoring me. Is it a glitch?

      It’s weird because the comments get deleted after they are posted. Sometimes hours after.

      • D.B. Cooper says

        I find this behavior troubling for numerous reasons, not the least of which includes that it’s coming from a platform whose central endorsement is ‘free thought and expression’. If I would’ve wanted to discuss issues on a platform that deletes comments, I would’ve discussed them on twitter.

        • ga gamba says

          Good catch, D.B.

          With the expansion of the number of employee editors perhaps Claire failed to see a snake in the grass.

          If it persists I think we ought to start tweeting her. When she was running the show solely this nonsense wasn’t happening.

          She’s built a brand based on where free thought lives. I just checked her About section and it’s still: Quillette is a platform for free thought. We respect ideas, even dangerous ones. We also believe that free expression and the free exchange of ideas help human societies flourish and progress. Quillette aims to provide a platform for this exchange.

          I doubt she wants her brand’s value diluted.

          • Nate D. says

            @ D.B. & Ga Gamba

            I’ve started noticing comments on Quillette that look like they were written by bots. It’s possible that a moderator is deleting bot comments, thus the fluctuation in total comments.

          • D.B. Cooper says


            I agree. While I don’t know Ms. Lehmann per se, from what I’ve read and saw of her, I would have a hard time thinking she would execute something of this nature. She’s done a fine job building Quillette and it would be a shame to see it go down this road.

          • D.B. Cooper says


            While that may be the case (I haven’t the slightest idea how you would distinguish bwt a bot and a person), the fact that someone would be ‘moderating’ these comments (read ‘making value judgements’) feels a bit ominous to me.

  36. Royce Cooliage says

    Another “It’s not OUR fault blacks are like that” article on Quillette…

    • david of Kirkland says

      It’s not just blacks, per the piece, but nearly all places where lighter skin was preferred.

  37. david of Kirkland says

    An old theory was that darkness came about from working in the sun, being a laborer rather than a “house” person. So lighter implied being richer or better cared for. Tanning is a new arrival that suggested wealth again by meaning not that these were laborers, but that they had leisure time to bask in the sun.

  38. “Darker skinned slaves were subjected to harsh fieldwork, while lighter skinned slaves were afforded less burdensome housework instead.” I’ve seen this time and time again. Do we know for a fact that house slaves had a lighter work load? I’m sceptical about it, having read descriptions of the work loads of Victorian Servants in England; it seems that house work was relentless. Many worked from 6 AM to 10 PM and malnutrition was common, and these were free white people! Did American slave owners treat their house slaves better than the Victorian upper class treated their servants?

  39. So basically, we want the skin colour we don’t have?

    The term colourism is so silly. Those not bearing the original sin of being “white” are not the only ones who can be racist and bigoted.

    I have a lot of Thai friends and the rule there is for the men darker skin means you low class, an outdoor worker. Light skin means your middle class or above, because you get to work inside.

    How long before blaming slavery is found to be a risible claim?

  40. codadmin says

    Here’s a theory, in the plural:

    White people like tanning because they have internalised the virulent anti-white racism of leftism, which dominates the means of control production.


    White people like tanning because tens of millions of their ancestors were enslaved by people of colour ( under the banner of Islam ) for 800 years.

    The only acceptable form of ‘colorism’ is anti-white racism. Fact.

    • mmmmm, I thought to myself says

      Ah…but white people like tanning because it indicates leisure time. In the past they used to like white skin because it indicated not labouring outside (and hence the insult “redneck”)

      And this aligns with dark skin being associated in the past with the ultimate in low status – slavery.

      • codadmin says

        No, you are missing the point. The point is to construct theories that use leftist racial terminology, but flip the victim/oppressor polarity.

        This puts non-leftists on the front foot. The truth of such theories is irrelevant. Leftist are master liars and are continually constructing new, nazi style conspiracy theories, that demonise all white people.

        Continually going on the defensive is a losing strategy, regardless of the ‘truth’.

  41. Marian Hennings says

    Women in Elizabethan England, including Elizabeth herself, used whitening agents on their faces. Seeing lighter skin as beautiful does not appear to have had a racial component at that time. In reading the King James Bible one sees the lines “I am black but beautiful, ye daughters of Jerusalem,” indicating that darker skinned women could be attractive but implying that lighter skin was generally viewed as preferable.

    • And what about the whitening of geisha’s, Marian? Also not racial, but has to do more with theater and masks, to help aument expression. It’s not a natural white, but clearly an unnatural one. Formerly made with lead powder, but nowadays (because, you still can have a cup of tea with a geisha in Tokyo, if you want to pay for it) just with some rice powder, lead is bad for skin.
      The practice is age old, much older than the appearance of Europeans in their world (seems to have roots in China, see also here below, chinese of Montreal)

  42. Remembrance from Mexico, where I stayed some time. 80% of the Mexicans are of mixed race. On every wedding there, some of the invited or family will come up with the remark: – Good for her/him, -para mejorar la raza- (to improve the race), because one of the couple is always much, or somewhat darker than the other. The idea here is, of course, you bet, that the lighter one is the desirable type.
    I never sensed there that some people felt uneasy about such remarks, they were obviously racist, but, ni modo. Everybody laughed heartily after such remark, no bad feelings or intentions at all
    Even in a neighbouring nation, US manners and PC are not yet generally known, let alone firmly rooted.

    • diana says

      Dirk, I grew up in Honduras. PC nonsense is definitely not a thing there. people make fun of each other, if you’re dark-skinned (but not black) they call you “negro” affectionately. lighter skinned (and eyes) is definitely prized. I remember one of my classmates dated a black guy when she came to college to the USA and her parents were livid- and get this, they were super dar-skinned with very indian features.

      • I was called “huero” there , Diana, (that’s how it sounded) and uptil now, don’t know whether this was friendly meant or not.

  43. chinese in Montreal says

    In China, thousands of years before Columbus, indeed before Christ himself, a poet wrote a famous poem describing what was the beauty standard at the time:
    and viola he praised a woman for having a light skin(as white as pig fat, a weird simile, I know) so yes it would be hard to blame that on Colonialism.

    As an asian man, who together with black women are at the bottom of dating food chain, I can sympathize with the idea to get rid of ” racist beauty standard”, but facts matter.

    • Interesting, Montreal Chin, though I fear few Quillettarians can read it. I only recognised the character for white, bai, here and there. Also funny those strips, however, none of the faces, features and arm gestures came out for me as authentic Chinese, more oriental, romanticised and influenced by western looks. Made in China? Or somewhere in Hongkong?
      About geisha’s beauty and whiteness, see my comment above.

      • chinese in Montreal says

        It is definitely not authentic/traditional Chinese art. I confess I am not exactly an expert on this subject, but it does seem like using western technique to paint traditional Chinese theme, pretty common nowadays.

        • I think, it’s a form of acculturation, of assimilation, integration and such, not bad at all, we are all globalists nowadays (though, some are more globalists and universalists than others, of course).

    • Just Me says

      Female Montrealer here. Hi there! I always found Asians attractive, unfortunately I am past the age where that matters to anyone.

      But thank you for acknowledging that facts matter!

  44. Aylwin says

    What’s ignored in this analysis is the corollary – if lighter skin is perceived as more attractive in females, then darker skin in makes can be more attractive. As a pasty, light haired, Northern European man, I’m”competing” for attractive females with the more swarthy, Southern European men and those of African heritage. Big black guys can be very attractive to Caucasian women. I have two female friends from uni who went on round-the-world holidays, neither of whom made it past their early stop in Senagal – one got pregnant, the other got a husband. I have a neighbour who’s a sucker for a big black guy. It’s a running joke with a couple of friends that when their wives are on business trips they’re actually visiting their lovers, called “Leroy”. Anecdotal stuff. But …

    With sexual dimorphism, differences in attributes that are purely due to sexual reproduction (e.g. breasts) can get exaggerated because of the initial identification of reproductive health becoming part of the selection pressures, but once it is built into the human male psych that something equates with reproductive health, then there is selection pressure within the female genome for exaggerating that trait (human breasts are letter than optimal for reproduction). This works both ways e.g. a man’s size can be perceived as attractive, so maybe hairiness, which can exaggerated size, becomes selected for (and selected against in females, in order to emphasise femininity). Similarly, the depth of voice is exaggerated (beyond that intrinsic to the size difference). Colouring is very probably associated with that differentiation. If hairiness leads to perceived darkness, then darkness can be selected for as a male trait (and lightness as a female trait) in both physically exaggerated features AND innate perceptions of masculinity and femininity.

    It’s tough on fair blokes like me, and on darker skinned women. Suck it up. Learn to be accepting of the reality.

  45. There was some Swiss lady, she got feverishly enamorated with some Masai man in Kenya on a boat, his looks and step were so macho, she couldn’t resist, even where he was as black as anything. They got married, she lived with him in a mud house in the desert, got a daughter of him, but then it went bad, he became jealous where she only started a shop to sell jewelry, this was not a wife’s job, he thought, she is only mine, and not one also of clients. She thought , OK, that’s as far as it goes (that’s how white ladies think), they got divorced, and she took the child with her to Switzerland (how did she manage? in Masailand, the father is the one who gets the children, not the mother, but I think, the Western Mind and Influence is superior here). She wrote a novel of her experiences (was that maybe her intention from the beginning on?) and this novel became a bestseller, I forgot the title of it, Love in a Mudhut or something of the sort. They even made a movie of it all, the world is a crazy place. Color is part of it.

  46. “Natives on Trobriand Islands sitting with Polish anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski (centre), circa 1918. ”

    Thanks for letting us know which one the Polish Anthropologist was. I wasn’t sure.

  47. Martin Macdonald says

    Interesting. Yes, I prefer lighter skinned women. I especially crave the golden sexual flush of Asian skin. And I like the glow of a tan Caucasian, also. This black woman is extremely pretty. She is unusual to me, I don’t know of any blacks in my town, but I’m sure nature would find a way to make her highly desirable to me.

  48. And then, there was that chinese commercial ad where a young chinese lady put a negro in the washing machine, added a special soap powder, put on the machine,let it run for some time, and out he came, a lily white chinese young man. I don’t think the makers were aware how this would be judged in the US and Europe (and in Africa, where they also try to make a stance now). Anyhow, an outcry followed, and the ad was retrieved.

  49. Skept-O-Punk says

    How dare this author explore facts that don’t support the claims of white supremacy and the culpability of caucasians in all things unpleasant that occur in non-white cultures! Such audacity.

  50. Many white Americans may tan, and find tan skin tones attractive, but l have never observed white American society discriminating againt other white Americans based on gradiations of color, in terms of jobs or education.

    Also, You Tube personality and comedian Tommy Sotomayer, a very dark black man, reports that he frequently receives insults from other blacks, including black women, based on his color. His reports suggest there is also colorism against men, but perhaps it is to a lesser degree than women face.

    Considering the info in the above article about white Europeans being considered “too pale”, perhaps the blame whites are receiving for colorism might also be a form of colorism.

  51. Just Me says

    Excellent article, but I am surprised there is no reference to Coco Chanel, who made tanning glamourous to Europeans in the 20s, and the influence of class.

    Before industrialisation, darker, tanned skin in Europe was a marker of inferior class, i.e. those who had to work in the fields, i.e. peasants, vs. the nobility who led sheltered indoor lives. I suspect the same dynamic happened in the rest of the world.

    When factories and office work started to become the norm for the working class, the leisure class started to become identifiable by their tanned skins, i.e. those who had the money and time to spend on beaches, vacations in sunny climes, etc.

  52. lloyd1927 says

    I have no sympathy for this whining about so-called “colourism.” Too often it is used as an excuse to impose a false identity on people who are NOT of the same race or ethnicity as those trying to impose it. A prime example of this is the black American belief (exported around the world) that they have the imagined right to claim part-black whites and other non-blacks as “light-skinned” members of their “race.” If someone looks white because of European genes, then that person is WHITE whether blacks like it or not.

  53. Stuart Mathieson says

    Vit D production is increased by lighter pigmentation. That might have been a factor in sexual selection. Health benefits include stronger immune systems.

    • Barry Straight says

      Yes indeed. I thought the hypothesis was well known that lighter skinned women (relative to the males in any given location) have higher levels of folic acid than darker skinned women so reducing the frequency of neural tube defects in their offspring.

  54. Stuart Mathieson. says

    I don’t think of people as sexual objects. That’s a teenage preoccupation that at my age is thankfully a dim memory. But I do admire the majesty of tall black Africans as they walk around our campus and city.

  55. Pingback: Left, Right, Black Face, Colourism and Universal Morals

  56. Simon Elliot says

    Both rational and biological explanations support the fact that lighter skinned women are more feminine and therefore more attractive. On the rational side, lightness is symbolic of positivity and hope, and darkness is symbolic of intimidation and despair. So of course lightness correlates with femininity, because lightness and darkness correlate to positivity and negativity, respectively, and the female sex is the positive sex, while the male sex is the negative sex. I say this because femininity embodies softness and kindness, which are morally and aesthetically positive attributes, whereas masculinity manifests as harshness and aggression, which are morally and aesthetically negative attributes. On the biological side, there’s the simple fact that androgens cause darker skin tones. SJWs simply can’t handle any of this, because they’re wedded to their blank slate victimhood narrative.

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