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Is being fair more attractive?
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Lije Offline
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Post: #1
Is being fair more attractive?

Or asked the other way, is being dark not attractive? I don't think so, but obsession with skin color is an integral part of Indian culture as evidenced by these ads.

What is it that gives rise to such an obsession? Is it due to our biology as I've seen some people claim? Or is it due to cultural influences? Anyone know what research says on those claims?
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Ajita Kamal Offline
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Post: #2
RE: Is being fair more attractive?

(05-08-2011 11:19 PM)Lije Wrote:  Or asked the other way, is being dark not attractive? I don't think so, but obsession with skin color is an integral part of Indian culture as evidenced by these ads.

What is it that gives rise to such an obsession? Is it due to our biology as I've seen some people claim? Or is it due to cultural influences? Anyone know what research says on those claims?

A. The most popular theories currently are that it is a result of nurture rather than nature. That it, it is a culturally reinforced idea. The basis of this is that social dominance is important in shaping our preferences, and light-skinned groups have been socially dominant in most cultures for various reasons. Some reasons provided for the near-universality of this bias are:

1. Wealth: Richer people stay indoors more and are therefore lighter skinned, and being rich they are socially dominant.
2. Colonial hangover: Much of the colonial history of the modern world involves lighter skinned people dominating darker skinned people. In India this goes further back than European colonization, to those earlier migrations from Central Asia.

Once such a social bias is established, it becomes easy to perpetuate it culturally. In India this is done through the caste system primarily, but through social class discrimination at large. When you consistently see dark as "low-caste"/poor and fair as "upper-caste"/wealthy, you subconsciously tend to associate 'fair' with 'better'. Its just how the human brain works.

Kids are taught at a very young age that they should strive to be 'fair' and that dark is ugly. The fairness cream ads and the constant reminders by people in everyday conversation reinforce this bias. Movies are terribly colour biased in India, and its probably worse in the South relative to the general population. Same goes for everything from comic books to TV shows. It is even ingrained into Indian mythology, with the bad evil Rakshasas depicted as soot black, and the few dark skinned good characters depicted as blue or some other unnatural hue.

In the west it was done through slavery and it continues through racism- the type of racism that is institutionalized and not explicit. Rich Americans with "old money" are obviously socially dominant. America is a great case study on this issue. There is good evidence that now, since social dominance patterns are changing (although Whites are still on average much wealthier than Blacks, for instance), there seems to be changes in the pattern as well: http://racerelations.about.com/b/2011/03...-ideal.htm

B. There are some theories about nature having some influence as well.

1. Blue eyes are the best for making out changes in pupil dilation etc, which is an important factor in establishing subconscious cues in social interaction.
2. Blond hair is common among young Europeans and becomes darker with age (I don't buy this, because White babies often have blond hair and it often turns dark well before they hit puberty.)
3. Dark skin is associated with bad things because of our evolutionary past where we feared the dark in general (this is an evolutionary psychology argument and I don't really buy it either. There isn't any evidence for it).

All said and done, I think the nurture argument is stronger one. There may be some of the latter as well, but I think it is minor if at all.

We should also keep in mind that many White skinned people would rather have dark skin (usually we think of them as liking just tanned skin, which is just a little color in their otherwise pale skin, but there are many who actually love dark olive-chocolate colored skin as a preference). But all these people are subconsciously aware of the social advantages of being White. Research done by Harvard's Project Implicit has shown that notions of bias- associating Black with bad/evil/untrustworthy etc and White with good/honest/hardworking etc, are even shared by Black people! This is how strong cultural reinforcement is.

Stereotype Threat is an important factor in cultural interactions. The negative stereotype actually affects the performance of the group that is being discriminated- this makes it a feedback loop. Skin color bias affects the way people perceive themselves, which acts to further the bias in culture. In India we are caught in a very strong feedback loop with respect to skin-colour bias.

"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
(This post was last modified: 06-08-2011 10:45 AM by Ajita Kamal.)
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Pratibha Offline
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Post: #3
RE: Is being fair more attractive?

Wow....that's a really neat bit of explanation. I'd never thought about the basis of colour discrimination.

I guess this would also explain the obsession for the tanned look. As in people who're able to get a tan are those that are rich enough to afford the expensive vacation to a warmer, sunnier climate.
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LMC Offline
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Post: #4
RE: Is being fair more attractive?

Ganesh will be on air on fm 104.8 tomorrow 9-10 on about a similar topic , you may all want to post your views regarding it on an ongoing discussion at chennai freethinkers group

Quote:The most popular theories currently are that it is a result of nurture rather than nature.
I'm tempted to think that association of dark with dirty may also be a strong reason for that, since people may still find blacks attractive even when they associate them with crimes and weapons infact that may also increase sexual appeal for some, besides Wealth and colonial history point , do you think it has any think to do with dark being associated with dirty, accumulation of dirt on skin makes skin tone darker and washing restores the fairer tone so , having a hygienic lifestyle may be linked with fairness ?,

I thought tanned look is attractive because for pale tones , it makes people took healthier ,that may be the reason for majority preference but ofcourse people can have their individual preferences and also have dark olive-chocolate colored skin as preference
(This post was last modified: 17-08-2011 05:38 PM by LMC.)
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Ajita Kamal Offline
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Post: #5
RE: Is being fair more attractive?

Quote:I'm tempted to think that association of dark with dirty may also be a strong reason for that

This is a loose evolutionary psychology argument, and I don't think it holds water.
Of course being dirty can make the skin look darker, but isn’t this effect worse for fair skinned people? The colour prejudice against dark skin occurs even after knowing that a particular dark person is cleaner than a particular white skinned person. In other words, people in most cultures have these preferences for lighter skin in general, not just for specific individuals. Moreover, it just doesn't make sense that we evolved a genetic predisposition for light skin because of an inability to differentiate between dirty skin and dark skin. We evolved most of our genetic preferences over millions of years in Africa, when all humans were dark. A very dark skinned person who hunts on the grasslands and deserts wouldn't look darker when dirty and covered in dust. In fact, s/he would probably look darker when washed and clean!

Quote:accumulation of dirt on skin makes skin tone darker and washing restores the fairer tone so , having a hygienic lifestyle may be linked with fairness ?,

From a genetic point of view, sure, unhygienic people are less desirable. However, hygiene is usually not related to temporarily being covered in soot etc. It is connected to habitual aspects of cleanliness. In fact, a genetic predisposition to think of light-skinned as hygienic would actually be disadvantageous, because it would result in false positives.

But culturally (as opposed to genetically) hygiene is more directly related to economic well-being and education. It may indeed be true that most people who are less hygienic in India are dark, because of economic reasons. The poorest sections of society are on average darker than the more wealthy sections, and the former are probably less hygienic. This is probably the reason why even you and I subconsciously associate less-hygienic with dark skinned people. In other words, cultural reasons (nurture) are far more powerful than genetic reasons for this association. It is a product of the feedback loop I mentioned in my comment above.

Quote:I thought tanned look is attractive because for pale tones , it makes people took healthier ,that may be the reason for majority preference but of course people can have their individual preferences and also have dark olive-chocolate colored skin as preference

Just the way the sentence is formulated demonstrates the cultural bias against dark skin, depicting preference for it as anomalous. Yes, having a little colour in one’s skin is considered healthy, but why would having a lot of colour be “individual preference” instead of more healthy or less healthy?

Moreover, you can easily demonstrate that the healthy-tan idea which is based on fact is in reality superseded by cultural factors. For example, in South India or Africa where darker skin should be healthier (because melanin is more useful in places where the UV index is high- see below), the preference for light skin is actually greater. And if we want to talk about pale skin, there are cultures where there is preference for it over tanned skin. In the Middle East, the Arabs highly value pale skin over tanned skin (or even over golden skin).

The evolution of skin-color differences in humans is fairly well understood. It occurred through the interplay between two selective forces.
1. Protecting the skin from harmful UV rays.
2. Allowing enough UV rays to pass through to provide essential vitamin D.

In evolutionary biology, such opposing selective forces that have varying effects on different populations are called “clines”. The effect these clines have is to form a distribution of a particular trait (a common example used is size differences in different populations of fish). Certain “clines” can be strong enough selectively to create genetically isolated populations (populations that do not interbreed because of some physical barrier). This can even lead to speciation- formation of two distinct species.

In the case of selection during skin-colour evolution, the clines are geographical. Near the equator, UV radiation is high and melanin production is advantageous. The further away from the equator you go, there is less UV radiation. UVB is required to make vitamin D (one form of it), an essential vitamin. So populations leaving Africa slowly lost their pigmentation in order to remain healthy. This is why there is a natural gradient from dark to light as you go from the equator to the poles.

Despite this, you see today that in Northern Europe, where light skin is more evolutionarily advantageous, people actually prefer tanned skin. Other cultural factors come into play as well. Today we can supplement our diet with vitamin D and therefore do not need pale skin to harvest vitamin D from the sun, thus significantly lowering our chances of getting skin cancer (and ageing the skin as well). Today there are hundreds of millions of people of European origin getting tans out in the sun and in tanning salons, putting themselves at risk. The cultural notions of beauty are a much stronger force than inbuilt genetic preference biases, when it comes to skin colour. In addition, as stated above, when it comes to the majority of people on the planet, cultural factors such as social dominance and institutionalized prejudice are much more explanatory for why the vast majority of people prefer light skin over dark.

The genetic arguments for perpetuation of skin-colour prejudice fail because they are simply not grounded in science but rather in bias. This is similar to how for a long time women were considered less intelligent than men and many genetic arguments were made by scientists, only to eventually discover that the reasons why we had been thinking of women as less intelligent were all cultural. Once the bias is present in culture, it is reinforced through social practice. Many generations of scientists (and men in general) telling people that women are less intelligent contributed to the bias, reinforcing it and resulting in perpetuation of the bias and its expression in various forms.

"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
(This post was last modified: 18-08-2011 01:10 PM by Ajita Kamal.)
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arvindiyer Offline
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Post: #6
RE: Is being fair more attractive?

While we are on this topic, the following episodes of NDTV's We The People complement the largely 'anthropological' treatment of the question in the earlier posts with a somewhat more 'sociological' one. To NDTV's credit, they have consistently been encouraging this debate in the mainstream over the years

Not just skin deep prejudice
Aired on September 14,2008 (Watch full episode here)
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unsorted Offline
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Post: #7
RE: Is being fair more attractive?

I was reading about System Justification Theory just yesterday:

System Justification Theory (SJT) is a theory of social psychology that postulates that people are motivated to bolster, defend, and justify the status quo – that is, the prevailing social, economic, and political arrangements. The system justification goal can be both conscious and nonconscious, vary according to situational and dispositional factors, and manifest itself in different forms, such as stereotyping, attribution, and ideology.

This might be an explanation for why people come up with biological/genetic explanations for biases like skin colour.
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Post: #8
RE: Is being fair more attractive?

(22-08-2011 01:38 PM)unsorted Wrote:  I was reading about System Justification Theory just yesterday:

System Justification Theory (SJT) is a theory of social psychology that postulates that people are motivated to bolster, defend, and justify the status quo – that is, the prevailing social, economic, and political arrangements. The system justification goal can be both conscious and nonconscious, vary according to situational and dispositional factors, and manifest itself in different forms, such as stereotyping, attribution, and ideology.

System Justification theory is interesting (I was in fact looking for a theory that describes such justification behaviour). Thanks for sharing.

However, I’m not sure I follow your comment:

(22-08-2011 01:38 PM)unsorted Wrote:  This might be an explanation for why people come up with biological/genetic explanations for biases like skin colour.

Is it based on the premise that evolutionary arguments somehow justify an action/bias in a way that nurture-based arguments don’t?

I read Ajita’s post about the justification of bias against women in the past, but I think that’s a different matter. If it could be established that women’s intelligence differs from that of men’s in a way that makes them less competent ( which we now know is not true), it could be argued that free-markets have evolved (justifiably) to reward the more competent ones (in terms of jobs, responsibilities, etc.). However, the same cannot be said of preferences towards complexion (even if the nature argument had any credibility).

The evolutionary case for rape comes to mind at this point.
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Hominid Offline
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Post: #9
RE: Is being fair more attractive?

(06-08-2011 10:40 AM)Ajita Kamal Wrote:  1. Wealth: Richer people stay indoors more and are therefore lighter skinned, and being rich they are socially dominant.
2. Colonial hangover: Much of the colonial history of the modern world involves lighter skinned people dominating darker skinned people. In India this goes further back than European colonization, to those earlier migrations from Central Asia.

May I also suggest that agrarian societies probably serve to further bolster the bias (‘wealth’ explanation), since poorer farmers are the ones who spend the most time out in the sun.

Also, I seem to gravitate towards the ‘wealth’ explanation, since the bias is said to be prevalent in China also (I’ve even noticed it among Chinese friends), but they had no colonial past as far as I'm aware?
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Ajita Kamal Offline
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Post: #10
RE: Is being fair more attractive?

(31-08-2011 07:50 PM)Hominid Wrote:  May I also suggest that agrarian societies probably serve to further bolster the bias (‘wealth’ explanation), since poorer farmers are the ones who spend the most time out in the sun.

Also, I seem to gravitate towards the ‘wealth’ explanation, since the bias is said to be prevalent in China also (I’ve even noticed it among Chinese friends), but they had no colonial past as far as I'm aware?

Yeah, the agrarian explanation makes sense as a contributing factor.

The psychological and social effects of living in a post-colonial world are not necessarily a direct consequence of being a former colony. The conditions that we see in the world today, where the former colonial powers, overwhelmingly White, on average in wealthier and socially dominant positions worldwide, surely affect stereotypes about colour. What we think of as international universal standards are highly influenced by and skewed towards European culture. What I'm saying is Chinese folk may not have been colonized to a great extent by Europeans (they actually were colonized in part the British- remember the opium wars etc.) but being a major and informed part of the world, they have seen 4 centuries of global domination by Europeans and their prejudices regarding skin-colour are surely influenced by this.

"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
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Ajita Kamal Offline
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Post: #11
RE: Is being fair more attractive?

(31-08-2011 07:50 PM)Hominid Wrote:  May I also suggest that agrarian societies probably serve to further bolster the bias (‘wealth’ explanation), since poorer farmers are the ones who spend the most time out in the sun.

Also, I seem to gravitate towards the ‘wealth’ explanation, since the bias is said to be prevalent in China also (I’ve even noticed it among Chinese friends), but they had no colonial past as far as I'm aware?

Yeah, the agrarian explanation makes sense as a contributing factor.

The psychological and social effects of living in a post-colonial world are not necessarily a direct consequence of being a former colony. The conditions that we see in the world today, where the former colonial powers, which are overwhelmingly White and on average in wealthier and socially dominant positions worldwide, surely affect stereotypes about colour. What we think of as international universal standards are highly influenced by and skewed towards European culture and those countries where the population is mostly of European descent. What I'm saying is Chinese folk may not have been colonized to a great extent by Europeans (they actually were colonized in part by the British- remember the opium wars etc.) but being a major and informed part of the world, they have seen 4 centuries of global domination by Europeans and their prejudices regarding skin-colour are surely influenced by this.

"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
(This post was last modified: 31-08-2011 08:58 PM by Ajita Kamal.)
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Lije Offline
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Post: #12
RE: Is being fair more attractive?

Here is Dr. Ganesh from Chennai Freethinkers talking about our cultural bias against dark skinned people on Chennai Live 104.8FM "The Breakfast Show with Sano":

(This post was last modified: 13-09-2011 07:52 PM by Lije.)
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