How Skin, Hair and Coloring Affect One’s Attractiveness

This study investigates the importance of skin tone, hair color and hair length as a measure of physical attractiveness, health and fertility in women. The mode of research considered ratings of a series of line drawings of women having different skin tone, hair color and hair length. More than a hundred people participated in these ratings. It was shown that these three physical characteristics are correlated with each other. Each of these characteristics also had its own significant effect on physical attractiveness, health and fertility. Light-toned figures were rated most positively; brown-haired drawings were rated more attractive than blondes. Hair length appeared to have a weak effect on the ratings of attractiveness.

Recent research has focused on analyzing the physical characteristics that people find attractive in their potential partners. In general, women with lighter skin tones and men with darker skin tones are preferred within an ethnic group. Across these ethnic groups, due to the effect of the inherited colonialism and racism in some societies, the fairness of skin is associated with goodness and power. Among the societies in Western countries, being able to get tanned skin from traveling to a warmer climate in winter implies higher socioeconomic status. Hair color and hair length are important markers for physical attractiveness. Among common people, these two characteristics also change with fashion and political preferences. In this research, it was predicted that British participants would get more attracted to long hair, light-toned or tanned skin and blonde hair. It was hypothesized that the ratings of health and fertility would reflect the ratings of attractiveness.

* In this study, 130 men and 112 women volunteers of European Caucasian descent and belonging to the upper middle class were selectively chosen from Greater London for the ratings.
* Line drawings with three levels of skin tone (fair, medium and dark), two levels of hair color (blond and black) and two levels of hair length (short and medium) were used as visuals for the study.
* The volunteers in small groups (10 to 20 participants) were invited to participate in this study in campus settings like cafeterias, communal spaces and libraries.

* Participants appeared to rely on the interaction of skin tone, hair color and hair length when rating for overall physical attractiveness, health and fertility.
* The results showed that for ratings of physical attractiveness, overall the preference was for light-toned and dark-haired women. However, hair length was not considered an important attribute for physical attractiveness.
* The ratings of physical attractiveness, health and fertility were not always identical in nature, indicating a discrepancy in feelings for the three different qualities.

Next steps/Shortcomings
Line drawings compromised on reality and future research; the use of photographic or three-dimensional images would have been a more realistic approach. The data from the subjects of the research could possibly be colored by their respective racial and ethnic biases and established stereotypes. Thus, “a tan African woman may not be perceived or evaluated the same way as a tan Caucasian woman.” There is a limitation of how each race with a particular physical characteristic is perceived. In stimulus-based studies such as this, a fine balance needs to be maintained for interpersonal judgments, which are difficult to determine. The use of observational or field studies can improve this limitation. Such studies have the advantage of realism but may face difficulties in evaluating the variables of interest.

This research highlights the influence of three important physical characteristics, namely skin tone, hair color and hair length in human beings, on the concept of attractiveness. Although the study is constrained by the use of two-dimensional drawing stimuli and possible subjectivity of data sources, the authors claim that, “By examining the impact of skin tone, hair color and hair length on interpersonal judgments, it is possible to arrive at a more complete picture of the way in which such judgments are made.” This claim can be useful in the study of incidents in which judgments based on skin tones and hair types can lead to discrimination or creation of stigma.

For More Information:
The Influence of Skin Tone, Hair Length and Hair Color on Ratings of Women’s Physical Attractiveness, Health and Fertility
Publication Journal: Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 2008
By Viren Swami; Adrian Furnham; University of Westminster, London, England; University College London, England

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.

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