A person’s attractiveness can impact all aspects of their life, from being seen as smarter and happier to allowing them to make more money.
A recent study examined how race and beauty stereotypes in the U.S. intersect, and how that changes the way other people perceive someone who is classified as black or multiracial.
“Eurocentric standards of beauty reign supreme in the United States (and indeed in the world), placing increased value on features typically associated with whiteness,” researcher Robert Reece from Duke University wrote. “Studies have shown that black people who look more stereotypically black (darker skin, bigger lips, wider noses) tend to be perceived as less attractive than those who look less stereotypically black (lighter skin, thin lips, straight hair).”
Reece wanted to know if a person could change how attractive someone else thinks they are by self-identifying as multiracial, even if that person is black.
“In other words, is the simple suggestion that a person is not just black but black ‘plus something else’ so powerful that others will think those people are more attractive irrespective of how they actually look?” Reece asked.
He examined data from a study where a diverse team of interviewers recorded information on a person’s race, skin tone, hair and eye color, and how attractive the interviewer deemed them to be. The interviewer only rated the attractiveness after the participant reported their race.
“Not only were people who identified as multiracial rated as more attractive on average, but even the multiracial people with the darkest skin tones were rated as more attractive than the monoracial black people with lighter skin tones,” Reece found. “In essence, this combination of results means that simply identifying as multiracial may make a black person appear more attractive to others, regardless of how he or she actually looks.”
These finds show that someone’s perceived race, no matter if it matches their actual race, can actually impact their future success.
“It doesn’t matter what we see. The mere suggestion of a person’s blackness creates a cognitive hiccup that leads a sweeping judgment that influences how attractive they seem,” Reece wrote. “This, in turn, may influence how happy, competent and successful they appear – and, in the end, are.”