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Skin Tones and Beauty Perception Among College Students Research Paper


The concept of beauty varies from culture to culture and depends not only on a current understanding of beauty in a given culture but also on such specifics as skin tones, perceived masculinity/femininity, skin lightness/darkness, etc. The paper aims to determine how skin tones affect the perception of beauty among college students at Florida Memorial University. The paper will consist of the following sections: literature review, methodology, analysis, and results. Using interviews, the author aims to understand how skin tones affect the understanding and perception of the beauty of students from different ethnic backgrounds.

The differences in skin color can have opposite impacts on individuals. Due to the “other race” effect, some individuals can label the representatives of their race as “more attractive” compared to representatives of other races (Stephen et al. 265). At the same time, due to the existing “European standard of beauty”, which dictates that the closer a face is to having European features (light skin, thin nose, and lips, straight hair), the more attractive it seems, some individuals tend to find representatives of this standard more attractive than others (Bryant 80). Another important aspect that has to be considered when evaluating the perception of skin tones among students is the inherent intraracial inequality that can affect individuals’ understanding of beauty. The “other race” effect might not be the case here, as the individual perception of beauty could be affected by the judgment and stereotyping within the race. At the same time, students’ perception of beauty can also potentially be affected by internalized racism dictated by discrimination. Thus, the paper focuses on investigating how students’ opinion on beauty changes depending on the skin tone of an individual.

Literature Review

The internalization of the standards of beauty does indeed have an impact on individuals; individuals who are seen as attractive have more social opportunities compared to individuals seen as less attractive. Bryant points out that lighter-skinned women may have greater access to success compared to darker-skinned black women exactly due to “European beauty” standards (82). Monk argues that differences in skin tones do not simply create a different understanding of beauty between races but also serve as the foundation for intraracial social differentiation (Skin Tone Stratification among Black Americans 18).

Maxwell et al. found that black individuals with darker skin color were less satisfied with their skin tone than lighter-skinned black individuals (442). At the same time, Telles and Paschel report that in some countries in Latin America high status in the society or wealth is used to label oneself as a “white” by some Latin-American individuals, which again links the white skin color to a specific characteristic (wealth, in this case) and makes it “more desirable” in the eyes of surveyed individuals (869). In another study, the reaction of White individuals to photographs of Black individuals was studied; the authors found that Whites had more negative reactions toward darker-skinned Blacks) compared to whiter-skinned Blacks) (Hagiwara et al. 896).

An important notion is made by Dunham et al., who points out that children’s perception of race, skin color, and beauty varies significantly from that of adults, and they do not tend to base their perception of beauty/attractiveness on race (3). Thus, it is possible to expect that age has a direct influence on the link between skin tone and beauty. When examining the relationships between self-esteem, skin color, and body dissatisfaction, Mucherah and Frazier found that biracial women were most satisfied with their skin color, while Afro-Caribbean and African women were most satisfied with their body shape (1178). An interesting notion was that education and work had a direct effect on women’s perception of themselves. A direct link between a specific skin tone (White, in this case) and the popularity of skin bleachers is mentioned in the research conducted by Charles, who also makes an interesting point about tanning among White women (157). While White women also use skin bleachers to remove age spots and wrinkles, the tan (that makes the skin darker) serves in this case as a status symbol.

The target market of skin bleachers is not White women but they are used as models in advertisements dedicated to the product. This fact is explained by the already mentioned “European beauty” standards, which use the appearance of Northern Europe’s youth as a basis. Stephen et al. provided intriguing findings as well: “variation in color cues strongly predict[ed] attractiveness in own ethnicity faces, while this relationship was absent for raters viewing other-ethnicity faces” (265). Such results were explained by the fact that participants had less experience reading and recognizing color cues in other ethnicity faces than their own. Skin color discrimination amongst Black Americans is also discussed by Monk, who points out that perception can be significantly affected by this discrimination, which also affects the health status of African Americans (The Cost of Color 402). Interestingly enough, there is no similar phenomenon among White individuals, even though White people can also be lighter and darker-shaped; apparently, this problem is directly tied to the perception of White color as “the standard”. Chavez-Dueñas et al. emphasize that it is necessary to learn to see color and accept it as a part of our individuality and self-image (14). Thus, as can be seen, skin color has a direct influence on the perception of beauty and oneself both between and within races.


Using twenty photographs of white Caucasian males and females and black African males and females (five photographs of White males and five photographs of white males plus the same number of photographs with Black males and females), the author asked the participants to evaluate the attractiveness of the photographed individuals. Overall, 22 individuals took part in the study (12 White (8 male, 4 female), 8 Black (4 male and 4 female), and two Asian students (two females).

Using survey questions such as “Do you find this individual attractive? Why?”, “Do you believe the skin tone of this individual is similar to your skin tone?”, “Would you want your skin tone to be similar to that of this individual?”, etc., the author interviewed the participants of the study, presenting the pictures of the Black and White individuals in random order. The age of participants varied from 19 to 24, the mean age of the sample was 21.09. Photographs used in the research included males and females with a neutral facial expression and were not altered in programs used for photo editing to avoid any bias that such editing could cause. Each of the participants was interviewed independently to avoid possible influences from other participants. As some of the photographs used for the research included individuals from the same education facility, any former participants that were familiar with these individuals were excluded from the research to avoid recognizability bias.

Analysis and Results

The majority of the respondents evaluated the representatives of their races as more attractive than representatives of other races. Ten White individuals stated that they found White individuals more attractive than Black individuals (in general, 9 photographs of Whites rated as attractive vs. 6 photographs of Blacks rated as attractive), although they did not agree with the statement “this [Black] individual would be more attractive if he/she had lighter skin color”. Two White individuals rated Black individuals as more attractive than White individuals (in general, eight photographs vs. five photographs).

It is unclear whether such results could be produced by the social desirability bias (i.e., individual’s unwillingness to be perceived as “racist”, “judgmental” if they had chosen differently). Seven Black participants found Black individuals more attractive than white (in general, nine vs. seven photographs). One Black participant found White individuals more attractive than Black (eight vs. seven photographs). Interestingly enough, both Asian participants rated photographs of White individuals as more attractive compared to Black participants (Participant number one: seven (Whites) rated as attractive compared to four (Blacks) rated as attractive; participant number two: nine (Whites) rated as attractive compared to seven (Blacks) rated as attractive).

As can be seen, the findings of the research support the argument in the literature that White/Black individuals find representatives of their race more attractive than those of the other race. At the same time, Black participants did not always indicate that lighter-skinned Black individuals were more attractive than darker-skinned individuals, which does not correspond with the findings in the literature. It is possible to assume that such perception is connected to the rising popularity of Black pride movements, include Black lives matter, Black excellence, Black History Month, etc. The perceived attractiveness of White individuals reported by Asian participants could be connected to the “European beauty” standard mentioned previously. The popularity and aggressive advertisement of skin bleachers among Asian users could also affect their perception of beauty.

Works Cited

Bryant, Susan L. “The Beauty Ideal: The Effects of European Standards of Beauty on Black Women.” Columbia Social Work Review, vol. 4, no. 1, 2013, pp. 80-91.

Charles, Christopher. “Skin Bleaching: The Complexion of Identity Beauty, and Fashion.” The Meaning of Dress, vol. 2, no. 4, 2012, pp. 154-159.

Chavez-Dueñas, Nayeli, et al. “Skin-Color Prejudice and Within-Group Racial Discrimination: Historical and Current Impact on Latino/A Populations.” Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, vol. 36, no. 1, 2014, pp. 3-26.

Dunham, Yarrow, et al. “The Development of Race‐Based Perceptual Categorization: Skin Color Dominates Early Category Judgments.” Developmental Science, vol. 18, no. 3, 2015, pp. 469-483.

Hagiwara, Nao, et al. “The Independent Effects of Skin Tone and Facial Features on Whites’ Affective Reactions to Blacks.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, vol. 48, no. 4, 2012, pp. 892-898.

Maxwell, Morgan, et al. “What’s Color Got to Do with It? Skin Color, Skin Color Satisfaction, Racial Identity, and Internalized Racism among African American College Students.” Journal of Black Psychology, vol. 41, no. 5, 2015, pp. 438-461.

Monk Jr, Ellis P. “Skin Tone Stratification among Black Americans, 2001–2003.” Social Forces, vol. 92, no. 4, 2014, pp. 1313-1337.

Monk Jr, Ellis P. “The Cost of Color: Skin Color, Discrimination, and Health among African-Americans.” American Journal of Sociology, vol. 121, no. 2, 2015, pp. 396-444.

Mucherah, Winnie, and Andrea Dawn Frazier. “How Deep Is Skin‐Deep? The Relationship between Skin Color Satisfaction, Estimation of Body Image, and Self‐Esteem among Women of African Descent.” Journal of Applied Social Psychology, vol. 43, no. 6, 2013, pp. 1177-1184.

Stephen, Ian D., et al. “Cross-Cultural Effects of Color, but not Morphological Masculinity, on Perceived Attractiveness of Men’s Faces.” Evolution and Human Behavior, vol. 33, no. 4, 2012, pp. 260-267.

Telles, Edward, and Tianna Paschel. “Who is Black, White, or Mixed Race? How Skin Color, Status, and Nation Shape Racial Classification in Latin America.” American Journal of Sociology, vol. 120, no. 3, 2014, pp. 864-907.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Skin Tones and Beauty Perception Among College Students." September 22, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/skin-tones-and-beauty-perception-among-college-students/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Skin Tones and Beauty Perception Among College Students'. 22 September.

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