Psychology Today recently published, then retracted an article entitled, “Why Are Black Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women.” The website seemed to be using racism and sexism in order to attract attention. Clearly they got it, after all I am sitting here writing a post about them. Such happenings do need attention, but not for the marketers’ intended reasons. It needs attention so we can remember how dangerous such mainstream media sources can be. Such outlets spend a great deal of time driving viewership through sensationalized or downright false information. And it seems that the author of the article, Satoshi Kanazawa, is a fan of spreading false information (aka “junk science”). For any individual who has an awareness of racism and sexism, the title alone sets off rage. You know this is an article full of pure bullshit in order to backup the commonsense beliefs of bigots. The scary thing is that there are people out there who want to believe such concepts, such as Mr. Kanazawa and his readers who support him. Stereotypes are lies created by fear and ignorance. When publications that are supposedly educated attempt to verify prejudice through science, they cease to have credibility. Despite the fact that the article was removed soon after an online outcry, it wasn’t fast enough to avoid damage. The words were out there and met the eyes of many, from the racists and sexists who condone such thoughts to the black women who had to read it and realize the only ugly thing was Kanazawa’s thoughts. The article (or the reaction to it) showed the strength that people have when they say “fuck you” to hate speech, to racists, to misogynists, to sexists, to xenophobes. But even as I try to look at the positive of the situation, I know that I can’t erase the pain that many individuals felt when they read the article. I know how I have felt in the past, being judged by others for being female and of color. I remember letting racist and sexist comments break down my self-esteem. I remember letting many people tell me the definition of beauty and obscure my subjectivity. I remember finally getting that, that was just it – beauty is subjective…only measured through my eyes. And from there I started healing my esteem and learning to be happy with me…brown, female, and all.
One major point I want to make is about the concept of statistical significance. As a sociologist by training, I get upset when I see statistics being used to support a flawed hypothesis. Kanazawa’s scientific conclusions are something we have seen since the subject of science was studied. In a patriarchal world, where men outnumber women in most fields, including science, it’s not surprising to find studies like this. The majority of science as a whole comes from a white, hetero-male’s point of view (aka “Western standards”), and therefore science reflects this bias. Therefore we find researchers publishing findings that have no significance, but support a biased belief that works better for marketing purposes. An article published in the “Journal of Theoretical Biology” explains the flaws of statistical significance eloquently:
“…another problem is the confusing connection between statistical significance and sample size. It is well known that, with a large enough sample size, one can just about always find statistical significant, if small, effects. But it is not so well realized that, when effects truly are small, there is little point in trying to find them with underpowered studies.”
The paper goes on to explain the flaws in findings such as Kanazawa’s previous research. The take home point is to always check the validity of statistics and hypotheses, and to never blindly believe supposed correlations. That way when you see a “shock-factor” title for an article such as Kanazawa’s you don’t waste your time absorbing lies. In the age of sensationalism, statistics are skewed to meet planned agendas. Don’t get lost in the notions of numbers.
Finally, I hope readers take time to reflect on the concept of beauty. Humans spend a great deal of time concerned about how they appear to others. Think you’re above it? Well if you’re human you’re not. Just think about choices such as picking out clothing to wear, deciding how to cut your hair, picking a job, or even buying a vehicle. Such processes involve a moment of decision where we imagine how these things represent us. There is no “right/ wrong” or “good/ bad” choice, until we add our subjective beliefs. Just as we are judged by the clothes we wear, we are judged by the face and body we happen to have. As a personal exercise, spend the next week observing how you judge others physically. Next reflect how you judge yourself. See any similarities? A wise friend once told me that we are all about ourselves. Many times when we find ourselves judging others harshly on their looks, it may be because we judge ourselves that hard as well. Our reactions to others can be an extension of our reactions to ourselves. After doing this exercise, journal about your experience and see if your notion of beauty has changed. Realize that beauty is a social construction, influenced by your own view and society’s. In many ways, the concept of beauty is exploited to control people’s choices. We see this when a person cuts into their body to change its shape, objectifies another and breaks them into desired “types” and “parts”, or believes pre-conceived notions based solely on physical attributes. In the end, beauty is a meaningless term when applied to physicality, because there can never be a definition for that which is completely subjective. We are all “beautiful” and “ugly” because any one individual can subjectively feel that way about us. All the scientific brainwashing in the world won’t change that. So let’s not just say “fuck you” to racism and sexism, but also to the concept of beauty as a whole. Accept that you are exactly the way you are supposed to be…by the laws of nature, by the laws of the powers that be, by the laws of reality. Your uniqueness is your attraction.
Want to give Psychology Today a piece of your mind? Contact them here. Each person who speaks up against false beliefs strengthens the cause for equality…let your voice be heard.