photo blog_head_zpsfzwide7v.jpg
Valar Qringaomis

Get email updates of new posts:        (Delivered by FeedBurner)

Friday, May 13, 2016

Men, Women and Skin Colour

Skin color preference, sexual dimorphism and sexual selection: a case of gene culture co-evolution?

"(1) Why is there a widespread cultural preference for lighter skin, a preference seemingly unrelated to the skin color of the group in question?

(2) Why does there seem to be a sex bias in this preference, lighter skin being more often valued in females than in males?

Our explanans is a genetically based sexual dimorphism in skin pigmentation...

Studies ranging back to 1939, and using increasingly sophisticated methodology have established largely consistent sex differences in skin pigmentation amongst varied human populations from virtually all the major geographical and climatic areas of the world. Almost all these studies show adult women to be lighter than men of the same age group, although the differences are often not large...

Table 2 shows an overwhelming cross-cultural preference for lighter skin. Of the 51 societies for which any mention of native skin color preference (or of a cosmetic practice from which color preference can be directly inferred) is made, 47 state a preference for the lighter end of the locally represented spectrum, though not necessarily for the lightest possible skin color. In a few cases, Europeans and albinos are considered unattractive... none of the four cases we classified as negative or dubious shows an unequivocal preference for darker than average skin...

A light skin is a more consequential asset for women than for men in the vast majority of societies... The preference is just as prevalent among dark-skinned peoples as among light-skinned ones. Sub-Saharan Africans, for instance, do not show a single case of preference for darker skin...

Preference for lightness often antedates European contact. This was clearly the case, for example, for the Aztecs (Soustelle, 1970: 130), the Japanese (Wagatsuma, 1967), and the Ancient Egyptians (Lhote, 1954; Mekhitarian, 1978)...

A strong preference for lightness is found even in societies that were never colonized by the West (e.g., Japan), or in societies where the ruling class was darker than the indigenes (e.g., Moorish Spain), or in ethnic groups where the urban upper class, after conquering a darker population, became darker (through polygyny with conquered women) than the rural lower classes of the same ethnic group (e.g., the Fulani of Nigeria and Niger).

Even in areas colonized by Europe, preference for skin lightness is often accompanied by explicit rejection of European phenotypes...

Of the Ngoni of Southern Africa, Barnes (1951: 30) says: '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... Women say they like a man who is well dressed, who has a good job working for a European, and who has a parting in his hair'...

There are at least two possible evolutionary explanations, both speculative but suggestive as such explanations almost inevitably are. One has to do with neoteny, the other with fertility signaling.

Perhaps lighter skin in females evolved, along with other neotenous traits such as body fat, a higher-pitched voice, less pilosity, and a less prominent chin and nose, as a sexual attractant and elicitor of male nurturance. Just as adults find babies 'cute,' men may find child-like characteristics in women attractive, and neotenous female traits may induce male investment. As infants have less pigment than adults, and as skin continues to darken throughout childhood, lighter skin can be seen as a neotenous trait, an interpretation already suggested by Darwin...

Lighter women are more attractive because they are presumably more fecundable. In the words of a Hopi: 'I preferred a light complexion, for we say that a woman with a dark skin may be half man' (Talayesva, 1942: 281-2)...

The last link in our chain of reasoning is that, once a cultural preference for light skin in women has been established, there results preferential mating between fair women and high status men...

Of the world's complexly stratified societies, our thesis has been best documented for Japan. In this Asian society which strongly associates light skin with feminine beauty (Wagatsuma, 1967), Hulse (1967) did, indeed, demonstrate that the upper class is lighter than the middle class, which, in turn, is lighter than the lower class...

Upper class men have seldom if ever shown any reluctance to copulate with women, irrespective of pigmentation, when the opportunity arose. Slave systems all over the world offer abundant evidence. But this is not to say that they did not discriminate in favor of lighter women...

A common device was to make a sharp distinction between marriage and concubinage, and to exclude the offspring of concubines from membership in the upper group. Even within the group of concubines, it was not uncommon to show preferential treatment to the lighter-skinned. Also, concubines were often preferentially drawn from among lighter-skinned women. The complex racial stratification systems of the West Indies, with three or more pigmentation categories, for example, bear witness to these practices (Lowenthal, 1972)...

Preference for light skin is not a random and capricious artifact of culture. Either cultural randomness or cultural narcissism would lead one to expect that many groups would prefer darker pigmentation, especially those which are themselves dark. Yet, this is not the case. The sexual asymmetry of the preference is also well beyond chance. The combination of these two biases simply begs explanation...

Our argument is that the cultural dice are not simply loaded. They are loaded genetically, in this case, through sexual dimorphism in skin pigmentation which is most pronounced during the years of female fertility. We suggest that we have here an instance of gene-culture co-evolution"


This is cross-cultural evidence from anthropology that fair/fairer/lighter/light skin is considered more attractive than dark/darker skin.

Furthermore, fair skin is more prized in women than men, and the theory that white people are to blame (through colonialism) is conclusively disproven.


Addendum: Related: Evo and Proud: Perception of skin color in sub-Saharan Africa (by one of the authors of the paper above)

Men prefer women who are fairer than them - unless they're so fair it's outside the norm for their area (this is why Europeans and albinos were considered unattractive)
blog comments powered by Disqus
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Latest posts (which you might not see on this page)

powered by Blogger | WordPress by Newwpthemes