Racist Psychology Today article claims black women are objectively less attractive than other women

picture of a face divided up with lines and numbers

Wow. So Psychology Today published an article yesterday titled “Why Are Black Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women?” Wow. It disappeared from the website after massive, overwhelming outcry about it being obvious racist pseudo-science bullshit. The fact the article ever went up at all is appalling, though, and unfortunately must be called out. (The article’s been reposted here if you feel the need to read it, which I do not recommend.)

The author, Satoshi Kanazawa, is known for racist junk science. He works in the field of evolutionary psychology, which sadly is full of folks passing of their deduction as objective fact to prove their racist and sexist views. He’s obsessed with attractiveness and linking race and intelligence in work that’s been repeatedly debunked. He’s also said he wished Ann Coulter was president on 9/11 so we could have nuked the entire Middle East. Yeah, wonderful guy.

I feel dirty even dignifying the article with critique, so I’m going to make this as brief as possible. First, we get the notion that there are both “objective” and “subjective” measures of attractiveness. What makes a measure of attractiveness objective is beyond me. But apparently, while women are “objectively” more attractive than men (hmm, maybe “objective”=the views of a straight dude?) black women are “objectively” the exception (so make that =the views of a super racist straight dude). However, black women “subjectively” consider themselves more attractive. So, uh, the views of black women are “subjective,” presumably because they differ from the views of the author, or maybe a majority racist sampling base? OK…

Kanazawa makes sure to bring up that black women have a higher BMI than other women, by which he means they’re fat fat fatties, even though BMI is totally bogus, is not standard across races, and more importantly, fat does not equal ugly unless you’re a fatphobic asshole. Like Kanazawa. Oh, but this isn’t the real reason black women are more unattractive! Neither, apparently, are race differences in intelligence, for which Kanazawa cites his own debunked work about how black people are less intelligent. Because he’s that kind of racist.

No, the real reason black women are less attractive is probably because they have more testosterone than other women. And testosterone, while it looks fine in men (yay gender essentialism!) makes women fugly. “Objectively.” I think what he’s trying to say is butch women are gross. I think Kanazawa is gross.

This piece is so undeniably racist there’s just no way Psychology Today put it up for any other reason than to generate traffic. which is despicable. And in fact they’ve published plenty of bullshit by Kanazawa in the past, plenty more junk science and pointless racist ramblings. Maybe the fact this article was taken down means they’re finally done with him – a girl can dream. Here’s where you can contact Psychology Today. Because maybe if enough of us tell them we’re over this crap this really will be Kanazawa’s last article.

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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  • http://cabaretic.blogspot.com nazza

    I realized the other day that had I gone through transition I would have looked not dissimilar to a bull dyke. And I had I done so, I hope someone would have at least found me attractive. But with all that testosterone, you know…

  • http://feministing.com/members/sockwalker/ kathy

    Against advice, I read the “article” as reposted. I must say I’m really damn offended that the first comment I read (aside from the reposts of memes) is talking about how this article MUST be wrong since really it’s the asian women who are so unattractive. Why not point out how fucking racist this “study” is whole-cloth, rather than turning to even more racist catfighting and hairpulling?

  • http://feministing.com/members/cosmicpearl/ A

    “For example, because they have existed much longer in
    human evolutionary history, Africans have more mutations in their
    genomes than other races. And the mutation loads significantly decrease
    physical attractiveness (because physical attractiveness is a measure of genetic and developmental health). But since both black women and black men have higher mutation loads, it cannot explain why only black women are less physically attractive,
    while black men are, if anything, more attractive.”

    Um, what? There are so so many things wrong with that, I’ll just point out one: being “black” is not the same as being “African”. Thanks for knowing anything about ethnicity and genetics, Kanazawa!

  • http://feministing.com/members/mudmorganfield/ Robin Margolis

    Well said. Too eloquent by half for such a worthless work.

    I’m always torn in responding to this kind of blatant racism from the mouths of institutions and individuals lent the legitimacy of scientific objectivity. Don’t get me wrong, there’s not even a shred of legitimate scientific finding or worthwhile analysis behind this kind of bullshit. But I always feel like calling it “pseudo-science” is letting of science to easily, or perhaps letting off our era of “scientism” too easily.

    Eugenics, physiognomy, and the myth of substantive biological validation for the social constructions of gender, race, and sexuality are an integral part of scientific history. After all, Saartjie Baartman’s unburied remains were held hostage by the French Musee de l’Homme (Museum of Man) until 2002, seen as essential to the history of French Anthropology. Modern day gynecology exists as a result of forced experimentation on black female bodies without the permission or consent of the women forced to participate.

    I believe we both dishonor those sacrificed to scientific progress (sometimes responsible for practices that save lives today) and let science off the hook when we allow it to distance itself from its multitude of biased, despicable, culturally rooted mistakes (some are not even seen that way today). Science makes mistakes (and should, though not in this way). It requires great humility and discipline. It never escapes the culture it operates within and need explain itself to everyone around it. Scientists are often one of the earliest and most important groups co-opted in supporting fascist societies.

    “Junk science” makes perfect sense to me as a way of putting it. I do believe in the importance of the scientific method as one of humanity’s creative answers to our inevitable culturally specific/subjective lenses through which we view the world. But we live in an era of “Scientism” where many elevate the sciences (which are fundamentally about asking good questions, avoiding false certitude) to Science, a secular replacement for Divine Truth as a justification for the dominant prejudices of the society its practiced within.

    A friend at Berkeley in the chemistry department tells me how often he hears his classmates dismiss the importance of ethics or political consequences as beneath their consideration because “they are trying to save the world” and their work is too important to be slowed by such concerns. That might not make this article a product of science at its best, at the level every scientist should aspire to, but however we frame it, people like these Berkeley Grad students need to see themselves connected and prone to every instance of scientists using their credentials to justify imperialism, kyriarchy, violence against humanity and human bodies. This is unquestionably part of the scientism all scientists participate within.

    • http://feministing.com/members/casatron/ Casimir

      If you’re really concerned about the misappropriation of science, then advocate for the importance of scientific literacy amongst the general public. When people understand how research, the scientific method, and peer review actually work, it will be less easy for half-wit pseudo-scientists like Kanazawa, Ken Ham, and Andrew Wakefield to float BS “theories” and have people swallow them.

      This notion of “scientism” you float is a complete strawman and once again hammers on the tired argument that “science is just another religion”, which is silly, counterproductive, and flat out false. The first and most vitriolic response against Kanazawa’s article was from the scientific community itself, which is not surprising, seeing as how scientists have a vested interest in making sure their field is not abused by charlatans like this to confirm destructive biases.

      Have horrendous things been done in the past in the name of scientific research? Yes. Are there still people who put too much trust in junk-science simply to support already existing prejudices? Yes. But the best weapon against these infractions are and always have been more, better scientists. You have no right to summarily judge and dismiss the entire discipline and all who work in it as being complicit in some sort of larger, amoral antihumanist agenda, which you are doing whether you realize it or not.

      • http://feministing.com/members/treefinger/ Candice

        You are being over-offended on behalf of science. Robin’s post didn’t suggest that what you said about combating pseudo-science with better science isn’t true. And while I’m all for greater scientific literacy, if you think that alone would remove the motivation for believing stuff like this, you’re sadly mistaken. A large proportion of people are more interested in lying to themselves than accepting the truth if the former is a comfort to them, whether they know they’re deceiving themselves or not. The best way to stop such things spreading is to give Kanazawa and the like less institutional authority. The masses should never even hear about his crackpot “findings”, because he shouldn’t have been given a platform.

        When (leftist) people say things like “to some, science is treated like just another religion”, they are talking about people like Kanazawa, who abuse it to confirm their beliefs, not normal, respected scientists. There are good scientists who make mistakes, but these mistakes are not on par with flagrant ignorance of the principles of science itself in order to come to false conclusions. Yes, some conservatives (creationists etc.) may also say that “science is a religion” (the difference being they are saying it has no more evidence behind it, and apply this to all scientists rather than just pseudo-scientists), but it’s important to distinguish between them and reasonable people. I know creationism is a real problem in the states so you might be more paranoid about the idea of science being seen as of no greater importance than religion, but try to distinguish. Kanazawa’s blog is called “The Scientific Fundamentalist” for crying out loud. It’s not a stretch at all to imagine that he sees science as a means to give authority to his beliefs. And keep in mind that while you might say that he is a pseudo-scientist who is reviled by the scientific community, he works at LSE and has a pretty good career. Until people like him are not as successful as that, you can’t blame some people who aren’t hip to current science gossip mistrusting the field instead of immediately assuming he’s an outsider who Real Scientists have no time for. They’re wrong, but there is no reason to be angry with them. Direct your anger at the people who insist on employing and funding him.

        Your last sentence is bullshit. No one in this thread suggested anything like that, and I’m tired of seeing scientists acting like any criticism whatsoever means one is anti-science. Science is a human product (albeit one of our best) and thus flawed by nature. Using science we get closer to objective truths and innovation, but the method is not infallible, and like all disciplines, it is affected by warped individuals like Kanazawa who are influenced by social power systems. This doesn’t mean that science is inherently bad. We need good science, as you said. But acknowledging that there are problems in science (and that it’s not ALWAYS shunned scientists that cause them) is important to ensuring that good scientific work continues.

        • http://feministing.com/members/mudmorganfield/ Robin Margolis

          @Candice: Thanks for noticing I was trying to draw a distinction, not universally decry all scientific disciplines and all scientists as equivalent to religions and zealots. Hilarious about him calling himself “the Scientific Fundamentalist.”

          @Casimir: While I appreciate your oh-so-condescending tone, I don’t actually disagree about your point of needing greater scientific literacy in the general populace, but would add there needs to be a more comprehensive culture of talking critically about ethics/politics/subject position built into the way ALL forms science are taught and practiced.

          Here’s something that Kanazawa quoted elsewhere:

          No other criteria besides the truth should matter or be applied in evaluating scientific theories or conclusions. They cannot be “racist” or “sexist” or “reactionary” or “offensive” or any other adjective. Even if they are labeled as such, it doesn’t matter. Calling scientific theories “offensive” is like calling them “obese”; it just doesn’t make sense. Many of my own scientific theories and conclusions are deeply offensive to me, but I suspect they are at least partially true.

          Once scientists begin to worry about anything other than the truth and ask themselves “Might this conclusion or finding be potentially offensive to someone?”, then self-censorship sets in, and they become tempted to shade the truth. What if a scientific conclusion is both offensive and true? What is a scientist to do then? I believe that many scientific truths are highly offensive to most of us, but I also believe that scientists must pursue them at any cost.

          It is not my job as a scientist to “use” scientific knowledge in any way to improve the human condition; that’s the job of politicians, policy makers, physicians, and other social engineers. Their goal of helping people and improving their lives is a noble and important (albeit nonscientific) one. Any successful intervention, however, must be based on the true understanding of nature. If these social engineers don’t know the true causes of what they are trying to create or eliminate, how can they possibly hope to succeed? By opposing and entirely disregarding certain scientific theories and conclusions a priori on ideological and political grounds, because they believe they could not and should not be true, they risk the chance they might not achieve their goal of helping people

          I don’t for a second believe this attitude to be fringe within the scientific community, and would argue its presence even amongst some of the best and most professional of scientists. My point is that from this kind of arrogance and lazy mindedness, this refusal to be held accountable because they respect “no criteria other than the truth,” springs the pseudoscience of his post. This is not unique to the obvious bigots who engage in laughably bad “junk science.” The Scientific Method is one of the best tools humans have constructed, but we did construct it and it’s a continuing process, not a source of unquestionably authority or unassailable facts.

          • http://feministing.com/members/samll/ Sam Lindsay-Levine

            I don’t understand what other criteria other than correspondence to factual reality you think we should judge scientific conclusions on.

            The proper response to Kanazawa is to point out the many ways in which his reasoning is laughably flawed and his methodology is crap, assailing his assumptions and ignoring any claims to authority.

            I don’t think that scientists wanting their conclusions to be accountable only to the truth is arrogant or lazy-minded at all. What is arrogant and lazy-minded is when scientists are unwilling to be held accountable to the truth and start printing their own cognitive biases as objectivity. The scientific process demands a degree of humility that in practice is rarer than we would like.

            What’s needed for Kanazawa isn’t less scientism, but more real science, and, as PZ Meyers said yesterday, “I know that not all evolutionary psychologists are this bad; more of them need to stand up and repudiate this bigoted clown and his ridiculous interpretations of sloppy data.”

  • http://feministing.com/members/steveo/ Steven Olson

    The picture accompanying the article made me initially think that maybe they had some sort of objective measure, based on facial symmetries and certain facial measurements. I remember hearing that in general people with more symmetrical faces are considered more attractive. But his “objective” measure is certainly nothing more than quantifying a subjective measure. It was a pretty terrible article! I especially ‘loved’ how there was no mention of the statistics used. Nothing even about the sample sizes, or, who did the measuring.

  • http://feministing.com/members/k8yk/ Kate

    Wow. Just wow. “Science” you say? Humph. I am too offended to comment further. Psychology Today, meet banned magazine list. Enjoy your stay.

  • http://feministing.com/members/tamanosou/ Ariadne

    Oh hell. As an aspiring paleopathologist who wrote her MA thesis on the ethics of race and racing in Japanese osteoarchaeology I feel almost as if it’s my responsibility to hit this guy upside his occipital condoyle with a 2-by-4.

    This … okay I’ve not read the actual article … but I will and unless he magically comes up with something other than bullcrap, critique it heavily, but just from the synopsis there is so much I can attack.

    Firstly, you’re right. Beauty is subjective. As is race. These are things that cannot be measured. Even when I had to nail down “race” I still had to define it about three different ways, and you can play with those definitions.

    Secondly there’s no evidence suggesting that members of one or another ethnic group have different distribution of sex hormones and even if there was there’s an unusually high proportion of hermaphrodites among super models so … by Western Society’s standards, high T levels in a woman is hawt.

    And finally … has this guy ever tried to nail down intraethnic cranio-facial features? Because it’s hard. Even in a largely homogenous population that stuff is all over the map. You can’t just say “all people in x category look like this.”

    I’m guessing when I start hitting this thing I’m going to find more. But … I’m going to try to be unbiassed. He may not be a scientist but goddammit, I am, and I’m not going to let my outrage influence me.



  • http://feministing.com/members/digamama/ DigaMama

    Great article, and thanks for pointing out the fatty reference. Ridiculous…He was basically saying:

    “Black women aren’t ugly because they’re fat, which they are. It’s because they’re ugly.”

    Completely absurd, that “scientist” who has also said that ugly people have boys while beautiful people have girls. He cited Jerry Hall as evidence. Clearly, this guy has a thing for blondes. Which is fine…just do go raining on my parade!

  • http://feministing.com/members/echidne/ J. Goodrich

    This is nothing new for Kanazawa, although I wish to stress that he is even more of a misogynist than a racist, though he is both, naturally.

    I have written extensively on his pseudo-research. A place to start would be my series of posts on his earlier Psychology Today pieces:

    Why beautiful people have more daughters.

    Or my series on his post about feminism being the worst thing that ever happened to women.

  • http://feministing.com/members/lagrinne/ Leslie

    I also blogged about this today; this about sums up my rage about the article.

  • http://feministing.com/members/rk/ Anne Marie

    Direct link to their feedback form: https://my.psychologytoday.com/feedback

    I just sent my note.

  • http://feministing.com/members/rk/ Anne Marie

    I’m in awe.

    My e-mail:

    When I was in high school, I was always excited to read your magazine. I  
    found it engaging and intelligent. Now I wonder whether it was merely being a  
    teen that led me to that conclusion or whether an editorial tumble into the  
    depths of the worst of evolutionary psychology has come to pass. Recently,  
    I’ve been told by PT that Black women are ugly, feminism is evil, “reverse  
    sexism” is rampant, there’s a “feminist cult,” all women are essentially  
    prostitutes, sexual harassment isn’t sexist, and myriad other unsubstantiated  
    claims. There is no longer much difference between PT and a sleazy men’s  
    magazine. What happened to you, PT? You used to be cool. You were my escape  
    from Cosmo telling me what was wrong with my body, now you’re the source of  
    telling me, along with many women and minorities, what’s wrong with our  

    A feminist who cares about women AND men and hates pseudoscience.

    Their response:
    letters@psychologytoday.com wrote:

    This post has been removed.  Any residual displays are the result of temporary caching issues.

    Thank you for your feedback. 

    My second e-mail:
    Why was it there at all? What about the other articles I mentioned? Why has Satoshi Kanazawa continued to be a part of your magazine when all of his work is horrifically unscientific and based on bigotry?

    -Anne Marie

  • http://feministing.com/members/grrleconomist/ Chloe H.

    Did anyone see this one from last month? http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/billion-wicked-thoughts/201104/why-feminism-is-the-anti-viagra

    A real gem. Apologies if it was posted or commented on – my internet access is intermittent enough that sometimes I miss the posts here!

    Thank you not only for the post itself but the commentary below. I love hearing the added perspectives!

  • http://feministing.com/members/xenala/ Xenala

    Dr. Satoshi Kanazawa’s previous work and his most recent article speak volumes about his inability to separate apparent personal biases from scientific work. We should ask Psychology Today to reexamine their relationship with him, asking that they no longer lend him the platform of their magazine to justify his prejudices. His words are hurtful, his science is faulty, and his hypotheses are as outdated and tired as eugenics. Dr. Satoshi Kanazawa’s article represents the persistence of a cancer that has gripped our culture for centuries in the form of the beauty myth. This is an old story, of course, intended to give lie to the very real facts surrounding racial mixture and identity in the United States. The idea of the ugliness of the Black woman was promulgated and promoted during slavery even as many male slave owners exploited and impregnated their female slaves. In many ways the cultural trope seekersto cover-up this history of abuse and non-consensual miscegenation, while making consensual interracial unions between white men and black women look perverse and unnatural.
    The very fact that Dr. Kanazawa fails to examine the manner in which “blackness” is socially constructed in a variety of ways across cultures, demonstrates he lacks the basic knowledge of the biological insignificance of what we call “race.”
    I question his credentials, the accuracy of his investigations, and his own personal prejudices. I sincerely hope Psychology Today did not choose to publish this blog to generate traffic for its website, and I do hope an official apology will be forthcoming.

  • http://feministing.com/members/gringuitainkeffiyeh/ Hani

    The MEASURING of the width of the nose, distance between the eyes, face, etc. is what really triggers me– that is some scary, scary eugenics shit.

  • http://feministing.com/members/azure156/ Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

    I’ve never met a psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist, social worker, counselor (and trust me I’ve spent a good part of my life around such people) or even beginner student of psychology who ever regarded this magazine as anything other than fluff and garbage. It’s pages aren’t even fit to yak up Geodon in after they make sure you swallowed it. Satoshi Kanazawa in particular–I won’t grant him the respect of the “Dr.” title–has written inflammatory articles against feminism and such in the past as well.

  • http://feministing.com/members/factcheck/ JD

    “What makes a measure of attractiveness objective is beyond me. ”

    It really shouldn’t be. It says, right there, fourth sentence: “At the end of each interview, the interviewer rates the physical attractiveness of the respondent objectively on the following five-point scale: 1 = very unattractive, 2 = unattractive, 3 = about average, 4 = attractive, 5 = very attractive. ”

    The actual title of this article should have been, “Why do researchers for Ad Health find black women unattractive?” If that were the actual question he were addressing, his analysis would be more or less relevant. Since those researchers are going to be overwhelmingly middle class and white, it’s really not that surprising that they don’t find black women attractive, because they’re mostly unfamiliar with black people.

    The reaction to this article scares me. It’s not wrong because it says stupid things. It says stupid things because it’s wrong. The mere fact that it was posted on Psychology Today and involved numbers does not make it science. Applying such an obviously flawed sampling method and generalizing it to be “objective” simply isn’t science. It’s a guy making #%$@ up.

    This would be a much better world if people actually tried to understand the science and see why things like this are simply wrong on their face, rather than rejecting “science” as a means of understanding the world, because they uncritically assume that bullshit that some idiot calls “science” is in fact science.