Saturday, 6 July 2013

White skin privilege


 
A new arrival (painting by Giuilo Rosati - source). The privilege of white skin …


Earlier this year, fashion model Cameron Russell condemned the unbearable whiteness of her industry:

[…] I won a genetic lottery, and I am a recipient of a legacy. For the past few centuries, we have defined beauty not just as health and youth and symmetry that we’re biologically programmed to admire, but also as tall, slender figures with femininity and white skin. This is a legacy that was built for me, and that I’ve been cashing in on. (Russell, 2013)

Yes, Ms. Russell did win a genetic lottery, being certainly more attractive than average. But she also mentioned a second unearned windfall: a beauty privilege due to the “legacy” of the past few centuries, when Europeans lorded over the world. Without that legacy, she would presumably be a very ordinary woman, perhaps even ugly.

This presumption can be tested. There was a time, not so long ago, when Europeans were weaklings on the world scene, when large parts of their continent were ruled by other peoples, and when the center of geopolitical power lay in the Middle East. In such a context, women like Cameron Russell would have had much less beauty privilege to cash in on.

In reality, they had plenty, and not just in Europe. ‘White slavery’ today means the international trafficking of women for prostitution. Back then, it meant the provisioning of the Muslim world with European concubines, who were valued for their white skin (Lewis, 1990, pp. 11-13, 56, 72). This trade was considerable in Muslim Spain:

The same convoys of booty also included women, these Frankish women who were all the more sought after in Cordova because they were blond and fair-skinned. It was among them, as among the captive women from Gascony, that the Umayyad princes chose their most pampered concubines and who, once they became mothers, were themselves raised to the rank of veritable princesses, of proven sultanesses (umm walad) who were influential and quick to enter, with the assistance of Slav eunuchs, into secret and complicated palace intrigues. But the Frankish women did not populate only the caliph's harems; the dignitaries of the khassa and the rich burghers of the cities also procured them at lavish prices, like, in the modern period, the Circassian women who have so curiously tinted the upper classes of oriental Muslim society. (Lévi-Provençal, 1953, p. 179)

Such women came from places that were poorer and less advanced than the Muslim world. Neither they nor their future masters knew what white skin would signify over a half-millennium later. Indeed, no one foresaw the rise of Europe to geopolitical preeminence, certainly not this 11th-century Muslim author:

For those who live furthest to the north between the last of the seven climates and the limits of the inhabited world, the excessive distance of the sun in relation to the zenith line makes the air cold and the atmosphere thick. Their temperaments are therefore frigid, their humors raw, their bellies gross, their color pale, their hair long and lank. Thus they lack keenness of understanding and clarity of intelligence, and are overcome by ignorance and dullness, lack of discernment, and stupidity. Such are the Slavs, the Bulgars, and their neighbors. (Lewis, 1990, p. 47)

Nonetheless, their women were considered strikingly attractive, even to the point of being simply called ‘beautiful girls.’ An 8th-century Arab musician wrote: “They used not to train beautiful slave girls to sing, but they used only to train yellow and black girls. The first to teach valuable girls to sing was my father” (Lewis, 1990, p. 56).

What gave rise to this desire for light-skinned foreign women? It seems that fair skin has long been key to Arab notions of female beauty:

Praise of a girl's looks is traditionally couched in such terms as: Her face is like the full moon, her mouth is an almond, her nose a cardamon, she is plump, and dimpled etc. [...] The highest praise is perhaps that she is as white as snow — strange praise indeed to come from a people very few of whom had ever seen snow. (Haim 1978, p. 88)

[The moon] is the most common image used to represent female beauty. When attempting to draw the attention of a beautiful girl on the street, a young man may call out, “’Es ya qamar?” (roughly, “What’s happening, O moon?”). Two important components of the image, brightness (fairness of skin) and roundness (of face), convey the popular conception of beauty in Palestinian and Arab culture. (Muhawi and Kanaana 1989, p. 60, cf. also 122, 181)

Not just in Arab societies …

In general, traditional human societies share a belief that women should be fairer-skinned than men (van den Berghe and Frost, 1986). This cultural norm runs parallel to a physical norm, i.e., in all human populations, women are less pigmented than men from puberty onward. Both melanin and cutaneous blood are involved, with the result that women look paler and men browner and ruddier. Women also display a sharper contrast between facial skin color and eye/lip color. These visual cues are subconsciously used by the human mind to determine whether an individual is a man or a women (Dupuis-Roy et al., 2009; Frost, 2011; Russell, 2010; Russell, 2003; Russell and Sinha, 2007; Tarr et al., 2001).

In addition to aiding sex recognition, these visual cues may also trigger feelings that in one way or another depend on the sex of the person being observed. Since lighter skin is specific not only to women but also to infants, some authors view it as one of several features (smooth, pliable skin, high-pitched voice, small nose and chin, etc.) that the adult female body has borrowed for the purpose of calming aggressive impulses in the adult male and inducing feelings of care (Frost, 2010, pp. 134-135). Such feelings may feed into male eroticism but are not erotic per se. Desire for darker female skin is attested as an alternate, though secondary mode of sexual arousal, even in contexts where exotic otherness seems to play no role, such as premodern European peasant societies, specifically within a context of passionate but short-lived relationships (Frost, 2010, pp. 90-91). This alternate eroticism, previously repressed, has become popular in the Western world since the 1920s with the growing acceptance of tanned skin as a female fashion accessory (Frost, 2010, pp. 91-103).

Men thus seem to be innately oriented toward paler female skin, if only as part of a mechanism for sex recognition. This orientation can, but does not always, translate into erotic attraction and mate choice. One notable exception is the modern Western world, where tanned female skin has become increasingly popular. Another seems to be the high-polygyny region of sub-Saharan Africa and Papua-New Guinea, where attitudes toward female skin color tend to be ambivalent (Frost, 2010, pp. 83-97). First, the relative scarcity of female mates ensures that all available women have takers. Second, due to the higher polygyny rate, fathers invest less in their offspring and mothers invest more. Darker women may thus benefit from a perception that they are better at hoe farming and providing for their children. Ardener (1954) makes this point with regard to the Ibo of Nigeria:

In the choice of a wife, yellow-skinned girls are regarded as beauties, and, other things being equal, they command higher bride prices.  On the other hand it is generally held, especially by dark-complexioned persons, that yellow-skinned people are not as strong as the dark and do not live as long.  A 'black' girl is said to be a harder worker. […] A Mission headmaster was of the opinion that the preference for yellow girls was greater nowadays than in his youth.  He thought that the reason for this was that people formerly looked for strength rather than beauty and tended to marry black girls.

Conclusion

There is a widespread belief, particularly among proponents of whiteness studies, that notions of beauty are determined by power relationships. The strong and mighty are inevitably ‘beautiful.’ This belief is so entrenched that little concern is shown for counterfactual evidence, such as the medieval trade in fair-skinned women for clients in North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia.

This trade existed for two reasons. On the one hand, European states were too weak to stop it. On the other, European women were considered beautiful by people in geopolitically stronger states to the south and east.  Again, this pattern is inconsistent with the belief that power relationships determine notions of beauty.
 

References

Ardener, E.W. (1954). Some Ibo attitudes to skin pigmentation, Man, 54, 71-73.

Dupuis-Roy, N., I. Fortin, D. Fiset, et al., et al. (2009). Uncovering gender discrimination cues in a realistic setting, Journal of Vision, 9(2), art. 10, 1–8.

Haim, S.G. (1978). Love in an Arab Climate, Encounter, 50, 86‑91.

Frost, P. (2011). Hue and luminosity of human skin: a visual cue for gender recognition and other mental tasks, Human Ethology Bulletin, 26(2), 25-34. http://media.anthro.univie.ac.at/ISHE/index.php/bulletin/bulletin-contents

Frost, P. (2010). Femmes claires, hommes foncés. Les racines oubliées du colorisme, Quebec City : Presses Universitaires de Laval.

Lévi-Provençal, É. (1953). Histoire de l’Espagne musulmane, tome III, Paris: G.P. Maisonneuve.

Lewis, B. (1990). Race and Slavery in the Middle East, New York: Oxford University Press.

Muhawi, I. and S. Kanaana. (1989). Speak, Bird, Speak Again, Berkeley: University of California Press.

Russell, C. (2013). Model Cameron Russell: I get what I don’t deserve, February 18, CNN Edition International
http://edition.cnn.com/2013/02/17/opinion/russell-model-genetic-lottery/index.html?hpt=hp_c3

Russell, R. (2010). Why cosmetics work, in R. B. Adams, N. Ambady, K. Nakayama et al. (eds.) The Science of Social Vision. New York, Oxford.

Russell, R. (2003). Sex, beauty, and the relative luminance of facial features, Perception, 32, 1093-1107.

Russell, R. and P. Sinha. (2007). Real-world face recognition: The importance of surface reflectance properties, Perception, 36, 1368-1374.

Tarr, M.J., D. Kersten, Y. Cheng et al. (2001). It’s Pat! Sexing faces using only red and green, Journal of Vision, 1(3), 337, 337a.

Van den Berghe, P. L. and P. Frost. (1986). Skin color preference, sexual dimorphism, and sexual selection: A case of gene-culture co-evolution?, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 9, 87-113.
 

47 comments:

Sean said...

Premodern societies that emphasised white skin as the feminine ideal seem to have been very concerned with the chastity of women. I think whiteness of female skin is not sexually arousing in and of itself; it was desired as a cue for other qualities, such as youth and sexual inexperience.

It seems to me that tawny skin (white skin with a tan rather that naturally olive skin) is the ideal for young women today. Perhaps the untanable pale skin that goes with natural red hair explains why red hair is so little valued now.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that tawny skin (white skin with a tan rather that naturally olive skin) is the ideal for young women today. Perhaps the untanable pale skin that goes with natural red hair explains why red hair is so little valued now.

There's the type of white skin that seems to associate with "Celtic" populations and appears to be predominantly in the British Isles. It's a very solid white color, like bone or eggshell or printing paper white. Or like white paint or white-out. This type of white skin doesn't tan at all and burns immediately.

Then there's the type of white skin that seems to be common among the "Germanic" populations such as the Scandinavians and Germans. It's not a solid white, but more like white with a peach-ish hue. This type of white skin seems to tan very well into honey, golden, bronze, tawny colors.

Is it simply that tanned skin is preferred, or is it also that the type of white skin that tans well, the peachy hued kind, is preferred over the more solid white, untannable white skin? The "blonde bombshell" types that are popular, with or without tans, tend to be of German or Scandinavian background and have the peachy hued white skin, rather than the solid white skin.

Benjamin Franklin may have been alluding to this difference in white skin types when he said that the Swedes and Germans were "generally of what we call a swarthy Complexion" and that the Saxons and English "make the principal Body of White People on the Face of the Earth":

http://websupport1.citytech.cuny.edu/faculty/pcatapano/IMM/IMMdocs/franklinobservation.html

Anonymous said...

I strongly disagree that pale-skinned women are attractive. That is not my experience as a man, nor that of many of my friends that I've talked to (and I'm very pale myself).

I am much more aroused by women with tanned/dark complexion and dark hair, such as South-Asian and Italian women (black women too occasionally if they're not fat).

Anonymous said...

"Men thus seem to be innately oriented toward paler female skin, if only as part of a mechanism for sex recognition. This orientation can, but does not always, translate into erotic attraction and mate choice."

Maybe there's been a divergence since the pill where erotic attraction and mate choice can be two separate things or at different times for example tan = more slutty?

.

"I strongly disagree that pale-skinned women are attractive. That is not my experience as a man, nor that of many of my friends"

And that relates to Arabs buying white slaves in Moorish Spain and the Levant?

Anonymous said...

"I strongly disagree that pale-skinned women are attractive. That is not my experience as a man, nor that of many of my friends"

I think the point is not that pale skin is seen as naturally more attractive but *paler* skin thsn the males in whatever population is in question is seen as more attractive - so paler rather than *palest*.

Anonymous said...

I think you might want to compare how much slaves from Indian women and East African women were bought.

I say this as a person from the UK who doesn't really notice any big difference in attraction to Indian women and White women, other than can be accounted for by the fact that men prefer women from the same culture.

There is a trouble here that European women are both white and more related to Middle Eastern folks.

So while West African slaves were not used this way, that may be due to low relatedness leading to low koinophilia, rather than a strong skin color effect.

A similar preference in both Middle Eastern and European cultures, also, does not indicate a transcultural human evolution base. If we look in small hunter gatherer populations and find such a thing otoh....

Anonymous said...

There's the type of white skin that seems to associate with "Celtic" populations and appears to be predominantly in the British Isles. It's a very solid white color, like bone or eggshell or printing paper white. Or like white paint or white-out. This type of white skin doesn't tan at all and burns immediately.

Then there's the type of white skin that seems to be common among the "Germanic" populations such as the Scandinavians and Germans. It's not a solid white, but more like white with a peach-ish hue. This type of white skin seems to tan very well into honey, golden, bronze, tawny colors.


The perception I have is that Britons and Irish have more pink tones, while Eastern Europeans have a more sallow complexion without being darker (more like the very light skinned East Asians, but obviously with far less difference) and Germanics are intermediate.

Peter Fros_ said...

Everyone,

There is strong evidence that the human brain uses lighter skin as a visual cue for sex recognition. There is more suggestive evidence that this visual cue has a calming effect on men and induces protective, care-taking behavior.

This "hardwired" mental substrate can give rise to a "softwired" sexual preference for lighter-skinned women, particularly in traditional societies with high paternal investment. Nonetheless, we also find references, even in premodern European societies, to a sexual preference for darker-skinned women. This alternate channel of eroticism was culturally marginalized until the 1920s and was associated with intense but shortlived relationships.

Anon,

Celtic populations have a high incidence of red hair, which is associated with pale skin that doesn't tan. I suspect that red hair was the last European hair color to emerge, towards the end of the period of intense sexual selection. If this period had been longer, the red-hair alleles would have been replaced by variants that produce red hair without fitness-reducing side-effects. These side-effects include not only a higher risk of sunburn but also a number of other deleterious risks (see: http://www.examiner.com/article/health-risks-associated-with-red-hair).

For red hair to have become as prevalent as it has, despite these risks, there must have been a selective pressure pushing very hard in the other direction.

Anon,

In the Arab world, fair-skinned women fetched the highest prices. Next came Abyssinian women and finally black women.

Since transcontinental trade requires a certain level of material development, I would not expect to see it in hunter-gatherers. Even in Greco-Roman antiquity, this trade in fair-skinned women doesn't seem to have existed, at least not on a large scale. The Mediterranean world of the Greco-Roman period was dominated by people who themselves were fair-skinned or relatively so. They also had a low polygyny rate. All of this changed with the rise of the Muslim world, and a corresponding rise of darker-skinned and more polygynous elites.

Jordan179 said...

It helps that the politically-dominant racial groups in the Muslim world were (and are) among the lighter-skinned Muslims: specifically, the Arabs, Iranians and Turks (I say "among the" because the even lighter-skinned Balkan and Caucasian mountains Muslims generally weren't politically dominant).

Why was this important? Because it meant that they were light-skinned enough that if they stayed out of the sun, they might be very fair-skinned indeed. And what do we know about the wives and daughters of rich men, especially in very male-dominated cultures? They spend most of their time indoors and only go outside protected by parasols and veils. The wives and daughters of poor men, on the other hand, have no choice but to go out and work with little protection from the Sun. They become as dark-skinned as is possible for their genotype.

Hence, fair skin -- especially in a woman -- becomes an indicator for wealth and high status. Dark skin becomes an indicator of poverty and low status.

Sean said...

In his forward to FWDM Van den Berghe argues for lighter skin signifying greater fecundability. He seems to be saying there may be lighter skin at the most fertile part of the cycle (presumably though reduced subcutaneous blood flow). Is there any hard evidence for this?

If neither a face with small delicate features or white skin is erotic in and of itself, then no aspect of appearance specific to European women is.

White women are big on getting a tan, so I can believe white skin may be un-erotic. However, if it's common for women to want a bigger nose, then I have never heard of it.

Anonymous said...

Attractiveness in women is both a racial/ethnic/national thing and a skin colour spectrum. In rates from the top to the bottom:

#1 - European women. This includes pale white skin, the more "normal" white skin and the olive skin tone.

In #2 and #3, there's a tie between two groups. Both of their skin tones range from honey brown to light yellow.

#2 - Asian women. This goes from the honey brown skin of East Africans and Indians all the way to the light yellow skin of Chinese, Koreans and Japanese.

#3 - Hispanic women. Most Hispanic women are half-white, sometimes even 3/4 white, ranging from mestizas to mulattas, and hence again replicating the range from honey brown skin all the way to olive skin.

Full-blooded, pure very dark Native Amerindian or black African women aren't chased nor desired by anyone. And their men aren't that desirable either, contrary to stereotypes.

It's interesting how white European men, Asian men and Hispanic men who go outside of their ethnic/racial/national zone into the interracial stuff, tend to go for either Asian women or Hispanic women.

That's because while those women aren't white, but they are "white" enough (Caucasian), have tolerable and pleasant features and demeanor.

While most places and societies are homogenous (>90%), I've noticed certain patterns in interracial dating.

White men-Asian women families and children
White men-Hispanic women families and children
Hispanic men-White women families and children

Unfortunately, there seems to be a certain proportion of white women who go for black men, but these women are typically Anglo, meaning American, British, Canadian or Australian.

Anonymous said...

Both Hispanic women and Asian women have tanned skin, straight to wavy hair, pleasant facial features (oval and round face, nice eyes, small round nose) and a good body type.

Anonymous said...

White skin privilege is a myth, because Caucasian features are loved by various more tanned populations throughout the planet.

kevin said...

It not only skin color the reason behind higher ratings of attractiveness in whites. Another important question is overall facial shape.

benjamindavidsteele said...

Here is what this post proves. In societies where lighter skinned people rule over darker skinned people, there tends to be a lighter skinned privilege. Muslim societies are to varying degrees historically, culturally and genetically related to European societies, especially in the regions surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. Even Asian societies were connected by trade with the West for millennia. To test if this skin bias is a universal condition of all societies, you'd have to look at societies that are the most separate from Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia. A study of the original societies of the Americas would do the trick. Did the Aztecs, Mayans, the various Native American tribes and First Nations, etc prize lighter skinned concubines and wives?

Johnny Sins said...

Peter focuses on skin color uniquely, but there are 2 factors affecting the preference for Caucasian features:

1)Skin color:

Most humans in most populations prefer light skin. In the Human Relations Area Files (HRAF) database, skin color preferences are reported for 51 cultures. 30 prefer lighter-skinned women, 14 prefer both men and women with lighter skin, 3 prefer lighter-skinned men and 4 prefer darker skin. The skin color factor is acknowledged by many African-Americans and many of their dark counterparts,‭ ‬by their behaviors.‭ A few examples:

Accomplished African-American men disproportionately end up with lighter-skinned women. In American samples, anywhere from a substantial minority to a majority of African-American men and African-American women prefer lighter skin. In sub-Saharan Africa, many populations prefer lighter to darker skin.‭ ‬Lots of dark people do not fancy spending much time in the sun to avoid getting darker.‭ ‬Some dark Africans go to extremes trying to lighten their skin with hydroquinone and other bleaching agents.‭ ‬African-American children prefer to play with white dolls than African dolls,‭ ‬which was initially proposed to be a consequence of lower self-esteem,‭ ‬but research showed that African-Americans have higher self-esteem than American whites.

In multicultural societies, blacks are particularly sensitive about the darkest skins, getting offended even if whites put black paint on themselves (blackface) to celebrate their holidays such as St. Nicholas day in the Netherlands, where black paint is put on to represent Zwarte Piet (Black Pete), with the act having no racist connotations whatsoever.
Some blacks get offended when reminded of how dark they are. A dramatic example comprises of former high-profile fashion model Naomi Campbell. She burst with anger when an advertisement compared her to milk chocolate. The milk chocolate in this case happened to be lighter than Ms. Campbell, and one would think this is a compliment, but she reacted as if her skin had been compared to charcoal.

In the ADD Health study itself, lighter-skinned African-American women were rated more attractive:
skin color and attractiveness among black American women. A clear trend for lighter-skinned African-American women being rated more attractive. Since the attractiveness ratings of the African-American women are with respect to skin colors, which include light brown and white, their blackness is an inappropriate concept and one must refer to their Negroidness to avoid confusion.
We have a proportion-Negroid sequence: (full Negro) 1,... 15/16, 7/8, 3/4, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/16,.. (no Negro) 0. Since most variation in skin color is due to additive genes, one can use any of the following approximations:
An additive gene at a particular locus either results in the production of melanin or not. A large number of such loci will result in a skin color distribution approximating the continuous distribution of skin color observed.
The additive genes come in variants resulting in different amounts of melanin production. A large number of such variants results in the chi-squared distribution approximating a normal distribution. The proportion-Negroidness can be roughly partitioned into 5 groups ( ≥ 7/8, 3/4, 1/2, 1/4, ≤ 1/8 ) that correspond to the skins black, dark brown, medium brown, light brown and white, respectively. Assuming that the Negroidal element is entirely the blackest peoples of Africa and the non-Negroid element is entirely European, we can estimate the Negroidness of the African-American women in the ADD Health study as roughly 62%.

Johnny Sins said...

On the other hand, genetic analyses of the Negroidal element in African-Americans reveal a very different extent of Negroidness: Estimates reveal 10-20% European ancestry, on average, among African-Americans (review: the percentage European contribution to African-Americans by geographic area was calculated as west (19.9), south (24.0), midwest (19.4), southwest (17.0), average (21.9) (not designed to examine Indian ancestry)).
Another estimate (STRUCTURE): 72.5% Negro, 19.6% European and 8% Asian.
Two types of estimates for a dataset:
STRUCTURE: 81% Negro, 16% European, 4% Indian.
Maximum likelihood: 75% Negro, 17% European, 8% Indian.
19% average European ancestry.

Most of the sub-Saharan African ancestry of African-Americans comprises of populations such as the Yoruba, the Mandenka and the Bantu, or the blackest humans, whereas the non-Negroid element mostly comprises of the pale Northern European, a darker Southern European and a darker still American Indian, i.e., a lighter minority Negroid element in the founding populations of African-Americans is countered by a darker-than-pale non-Negroid element, and thus the color assumptions behind the 62% Negroidness calculation should not be severely violated.

In other words, we can state that the representative group of African-American women is not as black as it is Negroid. This inference should be regarded as tentative given the crudeness of the data and calculations, and, if true, is indicative of selection (sexual or natural) for something leading to lighter skin, which may be for less Negroid faces and thus lighter skin indirectly, or for higher intelligence and thus lighter skin indirectly, or specifically for lighter skin, or some combination of these (ADD Health data do not allow one to figure out).

Johnny Sins said...

2) The second major factor is facial morphology.‭ Humans generally prefer more overall derived faces, whereas sub-Saharan Africans and aboriginals in Australia,‭ ‬Melanesia and Southeast Asia have the most overall ancestral faces.‭

http://www.femininebeauty.info/derived-shape-preferences
http://www.femininebeauty.info/why-barbie-appeals
http://www.femininebeauty.info/jaw-shape-preference
http://www.femininebeauty.info/cosmetic-surgery-changing-ethnic-looks

Note also that the most attractive black faces,‭ ‬regarded as such by African-Americans,‭ ‬are disproportionately non-Negroid East African‭ (‬e.g.,‭ ‬fashion model Iman‭) ‬and thus descended from populations whose skulls are much closer to European norms than to sub-Saharan African ones,‭ ‬or obviously mixed-ancestry faces with or without cosmetic surgery to lessen the Negroid appearance‭ (‬e.g.,‭ ‬Shemar Moore,‭ ‬Vanessa Williams,‭ ‬Halle Berry (white mother and nose job‭)),‭ ‬or majority-component sub-Saharan African faces with cosmetic surgery‭ (‬e.g.,‭ ‬Tyra Banks‭ and her two nose jobs)‬,‭ ‬or sub-Saharan African faces that are natural outliers for their group by looking more derived and less sub-Saharan African.

Anonymous said...

Racial variation in some parts of the skull involved in chewing

Anonymous said...

The USA stands out as the weirdest country when it comes to interracial stuff.

In Central and South America, women from mulattas to mestizas, with tanned skin and Caucasian features, all prefer either Hispanic men or European men for marriages, children and families.

In the USA, mixed women tend to prefer darker men. That just isn't right and typical outside of the USA.

Anonymous said...

The commenter upstairs named John Sins is on to something. Negroid women aren't as attractive as East African, Indian or Mulatta women. Meaning facial features, body type and skin tone (color).

Sean said...

Is the author of the race hate comment what they're purporting to be or simply advertising a mental problem.

Cameron Russell's remarks are quite compatible with all those futile comments about Europeans being better looking. Given that European standards are the benchmark for everything in the modern world, saying how European looks are preferred just proves the received wisdom of white privilege which Russell was articulating.

It all goes to show that the comments are coming from squirrelly types who can't be bothered to read the post and are just racing to 'get off'. There is no accountability to the comments and they are 99% worthless or counter-productive.

Peter Fros_ said...

Jordan179,

People mentally associate women with lighter skin even in societies where it is not feasible to seclude women from the sun (as in the Muslim world). This is notably the case with hunter-gatherers and simple farming societies. I discuss this point at length in two of my papers (1986 and 1988) as well as in my book.

The relevant variable is the difference in skin tone. Undoubtedly, Arabs and Turks are lighter-skinned than many other Muslims, but they are still darker-skinned than northern and eastern Europeans. To their eyes, women from those regions were very light-skinned.

Sean,

A few studies have shown that women's skin darkens and lightens in color over the menstrual cycle. Pierre van den Berghe thought that this fluctuation has adaptive significance and wanted me to discuss it in my book. I didn't because I was afraid of going too far out on a limb.

"Did the Aztecs, Mayans, the various Native American tribes and First Nations, etc prize lighter skinned concubines and wives?"

The HRAF study (Frost & van den Berghe, 1986) found an association between lighter skin and female beauty throughout the Amerindian culture area. The Aztecs had a cosmetic preparation to make women's skin lighter. Since Amerindians differ very little in skin color, there was no potential for trade in light-skinned women.

To my knowledge, the only other culture area that has had this kind of trade would be 19th and 20th century Thailand, where high-ranking Thai men would seek Chinese brides because of their lighter skin color.

Kevin,

Yes, the white slave traders focused on European women, especially those from northern and eastern Europe, because it was felt that such women were the most beautiful ones in the world. Usually, the traders and their clients would mention lighter skin as a key physical feature, but they undoubtedly had other features in mind.

Anonymous said...

"with all those futile comments about Europeans being better looking"

I think this focus on "better looking" and "more attractive" between ethnic groups gets in the way of the more interesting stuff.

If females of all populations are a shade lighter than the males that is interesting in itself, even more so if it varies over their cycle.

Obviously if that pattern was universal then when different ethnic groups of various shades come into contact then it would lead to various effects but the key part is not the inter-ethnic component it's what's going on underneath and in particular how that might play with sexual selection.

kevin said...

Peter,

"The Caucasus was the last area where one could freely buy fair-skinned women for marriage or concubinage, typically for clients in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia. Previously, the zone of recruitment had been larger, extending into what is now Ukraine and southern Russia. Further back in time, it had covered almost all of Europe."

It would be interesting if you could address why this eastern region seems to have prettier aesthetic features than others European populations.( I´d add that Scandinavians also are high attractiveness). Some blogs that discuss this issue (mainly about Russian and Ukrainian beauty)but do not provide a convincing explanation:

/another-hot-russian-babe

/why-are-russian-chicks-so-hot

Sean said...

European women were the most sought after long before European culture became dominant over the standards of other societies. There is evidence for European women being more physically attractive, which suggests there was sexual selection of women in Europe. Sexual selection can only work on one sex; it does not follow that the most attractive females would be found in the race with the most attractive males, and I am not aware of any study that has found that to be true. Not only is there no hard evidence for Europeans, irrespective of sex, being better looking than other peoples, on theoretical grounds it is highly unlikely to be true.

Being sold as a sex slave is not equivalent to winning a beauty contest. Barbary coast commerce raiders went to a lot of trouble to abduct west European women. Helen Gloag.

Peter Fros_ said...

Kevin,

The traders focused on Eastern Europe for three reasons:

- The women of that region had the physical characteristics, notably white skin, that male clients in North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia wanted.

- It was politically easier to "mine" that region for fair-skinned women. Christianity came later to Eastern Europe than to Western Europe. In Western Europe, the Church lobbied hard to put an end to this trade.

- State formation also came later to Eastern Europe. Initially, there were only chiefs who often collaborated with the slave traders. The Polish and Russian states were the only ones that could oppose this trade, and both of them appeared relatively late in history.

I have written on the reasons why sexual selection of women was strongest in northern and eastern Europe. You might wish to read the papers I wrote in 2006 and 2008. The second paper is accessible at:

http://137.140.1.71/jsec/articles/volume2/issue4/NEEPSfrost.pdf



Anonymous said...

My girl is southern european. She is a lot darker than a pale nord of the north such as myself.

Sean said...

The non sexual selection explanation for white skin says Europeans are white because they are adapted to an environment where vitamin D synthesis from the sun was weak. Black Africans are supposed to be adapted to an environment where there would be high levels of vitamin D synthesis from sunlight.

It follows that Black Africans would be more susceptible to disease at low vitamin D levels. Well they aren't! "WE would think that the populations with lower vitamin D levels would be at greater risk for heart disease," but these findings suggest the complete opposite, he said"

Anonymous said...

"I suspect that red hair was the last European hair color to emerge, towards the end of the period of intense sexual selection. If this period had been longer, the red-hair alleles would have been replaced by variants that produce red hair without fitness-reducing side-effects."

How does this tally with the ginger jewfro phenomenon?

Marc said...

The hypotheses on the evolutionary history of morphology are very difficult to verify. The evolution of the human face is characterized by its gracilization, which is commonly explained in terms of natural selection. However, gracilization can also be perceived as neotenization or feminization, and this evolutionary trend can then be explained in terms of sexual selection (namely, specific
facial perception in mating). Given that such information is typically not available in the real world, it is not surprising that most of these verbal models are of limited empirical validity. You would need a computational or mathematical model about sexual selection and human phenotipic variation model. The development of most phenotipic traits is dependent on both genes and environment, and an essential question to be answered is their relative contributions to the variation of the trait under consideration. Large gaps in facial attractiveness research exist for coefficients for heritability of morphology and preferences for facial/body attractiveness.

Timur, Destroyer of 5% of the world's population said...

Just out of curiosity, Peter but what was the role of the Byzantine Empire in this trade. I always figured that they were a major bulwark to this sort of trade in Eastern Europe.

Also, can you mention more about South East Asians acquiring Chinese brides for their fair skin? This opens up an interesting comparison in my view.

Peter Fros_ said...

Marc,

I wasn't speaking only about face shape, for which (as you note) there are alternate explanations. I am saying that within a limited geographic area, centered on northern and eastern Europe, humans have developed a suite of highly visible characteristics that tend to be located on or near the face -- which is the focus of visual attention.

For some of these characteristics, there is no alternate explanation. This is the case with the diversification of hair and eye color. This diversification has occurred at separate gene loci and is more pronounced in women than in men, suggesting a selection pressure that has acted primarily on women.

In the case of the whitening of human skin, there are alternate explanations, either relaxation of natural selection for dark skin or positive natural selection for light skin (to maintain vitamin-D synthesis). Both explanations are difficult to reconcile with the fact that this whitening took place long after the arrival of modern humans in Europe and within a relative narrow time frame (11,000 to 19,000 years ago).

With respect to face shape, there are alternate explanations. But how would these explanations explain the linkage between a more gracile face shape and blue eyes? It looks as though expression of these two different traits is facilitated by the same pre-natal surge of estrogen that feminizes the developing female body in so many other ways.

The most common accusation I get is that I'm telling a "just so story." In more than one case, I've heard this from people who never bothered to read the papers in question. Please read before you condemn.

Sean said...

Well Mark, the whiteness of European skin was either an adaptation to increase vitamin D synthesis from the sun, or in some way due to sexual selection. The timing of the mutations for white skin is not compatible with vitamin D being involved, and the research on vitamin D and health confirms that. See here and here. We don't know for a fact that European features are feminine features, but what we know about white skin makes it quite likely.

Peter Fros_ said...

Timur,

This trade existed during the Byzantine era, but most of it bypassed the Byzantine Empire, being mediated either by Jewish merchants based in Muslim Spain and Germany or by Khazars based in the Caucasus. At that time, it involved the purchase of men and women who had been taken prisoner during local wars. There was no slave raiding, at least not on a large scale.

I believe the reference to Chinese brides in Thailand is (I'll check when I have more time):

Jiemin, B.(2003). The Gendered Biopolitics of Marriage and Immigration: A Study of Pre-1949 Chinese Immigrants in Thailand,Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 34, 127-151.

Sean said...

Peter, lighter skin would make a change in blood circulation more obvious. Could ovulation be less concealed in Europeans due to lighter skin?

Beyond Anon said...

Also, can you mention more about South East Asians acquiring Chinese brides for their fair skin? This opens up an interesting comparison in my view.

Most likely more Northern Chinese.

Southern Chinese tend to be as darkly complected as Thais.

Paragon said...

@Sean,

"Sexual selection can only work on one sex; it does not follow that the most attractive females would be found in the race with the most attractive males"

Human sexual selection is a process that operates through intrasexual competition and intersexual choice for reproduction in both sexes.With an equal sex ratio 1:1, males have higher reproductive variance, therefore is stronger the effects of sexual selection on males. If there was a female skewed sex ratio (after the arrival of modern humans in Europe, see Frost´s theory), women were the sex with highest reproductive variance, so they had a strong sexual selection typically that developed in sexually dimorphic traits more exaggerated, or more attractive in European females. But sexual selection simultaneously operates on both sexes.

""Being sold as a sex slave is not equivalent to winning a beauty contest"

First, you can look at fashion models lists by country, ( see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Victoria%27s_Secret_models, etc…)

Second, regarding of female pornstars, 70.5% of them are Caucasians.( see John Millward research: http://jonmillward.com/blog/studies/deep-inside-a-study-of-10000-porn-stars/)

Ukraine, Russia and Czech Republic are among the countries with the most number of Adult Models, centerfolds and pornstars (see http://www.freeones.com/countries/) and Czech, Hungarian and Slovak regarding to another list including only pornstars. (see http://www.gnxp.com/blog/2007/11/which-countries-produce-porn-stars.php)

Anyway, if we want to assess physical attractiveness by country, is better to focus mainly on nude models and centerfolds, since fashion models and pornstars are more androgynous than those ones. Glamour and nude models have body shapes still more 'hourglass' than fashion models/pornstars and they probably do represent what most men find most attractive, i.d the maximally sexually attractive female waist to hip ratio. Russian and Eastern Europe are home to some of the world's most beautiful women, and they are recruited by most of glamour and nude modeling agencies. There are hundreds of nude modeling sites (MPL, metart, femjoy, hegre-art, etc) showcases attractive young models mainly from Russia, Poland, Ukraine, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

This pattern is the same in other jobs related to beauty business, as strippers and exotic dancers.

Peter Fros_ said...

Sean,

Yes, Edwards and Duntley studied this change in female skin color over the menstrual cycle. It seems to be visible enough on the buttocks. I know a graduate student who was looking into this subject. I'll write up a post if there's anything new.

Anonymous said...

"In societies where lighter skinned people rule over darker skinned people, there tends to be a lighter skinned privilege. Muslim societies are to varying degrees historically, culturally and genetically related to European societies, especially in the regions surrounding the Mediterranean Sea."

Yes, but at the time, muslims (overall a relatively darker-skinned group of people) were dominant over relatively lighter Europeans, so the "power relation" theory's application here is ambiguous at best. Also, how much of this correlation between paleness and social status arose specifically due to the preference of men for pale women? It should be noted that the original muslim conquerors who brought the middle east under Islam were, in the main, very dark-skinned people from the Arabian peninsula.

"Even Asian societies were connected by trade with the West for millennia. To test if this skin bias is a universal condition of all societies, you'd have to look at societies that are the most separate from Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia."
Yes, but were East Asian societies dominated by Europeans, until relatively recently? No. On the contrary, the Chinese thought of the pale Europeans as barbarians from the edge of the world, certainly not their equals or superiors. And yet most evidence indicates that in the Far East, paleness of skin was seen as beautiful in women. Many upper-class women used lead-based powders to make their skin appear paler, which some historians have speculated may have contributed to such phenomena as the decline of Japan's samurai class.

"To test if this skin bias is a universal condition of all societies, you'd have to look at societies that are the most separate from Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia"

Looking at only the preferences of people separated from Eurasia and Africa would effectively restrict such a study to a minority of the human population. And there's no reason to necessarily assume that innate preferences will be absolutely uniform across populations. It might be that these groups have no innate preference for pale skin, while peoples from the Eurasian landmass do.

The question at hand is whether the association of white skin with beauty is an outgrowth of an age of European military, economic, and cultural dominance, which is clearly not the case. Societies that regarded Europeans as inherently inferior, nonetheless regarded features associated with Europeans, such as fair skin, as beautiful.

Anonymous said...

""Being sold as a sex slave is not equivalent to winning a beauty contest"
No, but commanding relatively higher prices than other sex slaves does indicate that one is considered more attractive than the others.

Anonymous said...

Your stringing together "white slavery" (In quotations because really its just slavery that has european victims) and modern day racial privilege is tenuous at best.

So recognize that white skin privilege is not literally about white skin but rather a racial privilege for those who are (or are perceived) as being of European descent and ancestry.

It is social status prescribed through features and socially normative behaviors. It also can vary for those outliers (I come from northern California and a very blended military town so people who are seen as white here get a rude awakening when they move south, to The South or back East haha) but over all it is about how one is treated in this nation built largely for white people.

Also I want to state that African ideals of skin color are different from European ideals of skin color.

Skin colors yellow/orange/red are associated with fertility and youth in many African Nations and Peoples. It moreso is the brightness and intensity of the undertone rather than the lightness of skin according to this:

http://people.bridgewater.edu/~mtembo/menu/articles/AfricanBeautyRevisedMarch162010.pdf

Peter Fros_ said...

Anon,

@"white slavery" (In quotations because really its just slavery that has european victims)

- European women were enslaved specifically because of their lighter skin.

@it is about how one is treated in this nation built largely for white people

- Yes, White folks have built a high-trust environment in North America that is conducive to the creation of wealth. They trust each other and work with each other, even when they're total strangers, to a degree that would be unthinkable in most human societies. And everyone benefits from that kind of society just by the mere fact of living in it. So the word "privilege" is apt.

It's been shown, for example, that when Mexicans immigrate to the U.S., their productivity greatly increases. It's not because they're working harder. It's because the wealth they create is not wasted to the same degree. They're working in an environment where laws are respected and where fewer resources are gobbled up by graft and theft.

Of course, all of that depends on maintaining a high-trust environment. That's not just something that comes with the territory.

@Also I want to state that African ideals of skin color are different from European ideals of skin color.

- In traditional societies, the ideal skin color for women tends to be the lightest one on the local color spectrum. The feminine ideal was thus 'white' in Europe and East Asia, 'golden' in South-East Asia, and 'red' in sub-Saharan Africa (as you note further on).

Sean said...

I don't know what is meant by 'rude awakening', but the default mode for most people is trying to be civil. Some places are more dangerous than others though, and in erring on the side of caution one can give offence. If someone passes very close or gives me a stare, I may flinch or break eye contact. A person's sex, age and demeanor are always the most relevant factors in assessing how cautious I need to be.

Where I live race is a useful index, because another white man is vastly more likely to give me problems. Some people live where the opposite is true. In a northern California military town it may well be that being cautious (or relaxed) around unknown people of another race is redundant, but not everywhere is like that.

Anonymous said...

" This trade existed for two reasons. On the one hand, European states were too weak to stop it. On the other, European women were considered beautiful by people in geopolitically stronger states to the south and east. Again, this pattern is inconsistent with the belief that power relationships determine notions of beauty."

Were women really that big of a factor? I imagine they were a significant one, but you seem to be simplifying this, and this also fails to consider the role of white men in the slave trade. Which I'm not familiar with, but I am familiar with, say, the Turkish janisarries and the subjugation of slavic men. And why hasn't this factored in with other darker skinned populations in relation to lighter ones?

I also question how you present some of those quotes:

"Their temperaments are therefore frigid, their humors raw, their bellies gross, their color pale, their hair long and lank"

This arab seems to be disparaging whites on the basis of their skin color. How does that factor in with prizing white women? I'm also aware of a quote by an arab explorer (or something along those lines) who compared arabs to europeans and blacks and used an analogy of how long they were baked in an oven by god- whites too little, blacks too long (to the point of being burnt), but arabs just right.

" Nonetheless, their women were considered strikingly attractive, even to the point of being simply called ‘beautiful girls.’ An 8th-century Arab musician wrote: “They used not to train beautiful slave girls to sing, but they used only to train yellow and black girls. The first to teach valuable girls to sing was my father” (Lewis, 1990, p. 56)."

Is this referring to white women, or light skinned women in general?

Anonymous said...

Nevermind, I came across your other posts on slavery of light skinned women.

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