- Feb 19, 2022
- 61d 22h 52m
Do men hold African-American and Caucasian women to different standards of beauty?✩
AbstractRacial differences in men’s preferences for African-American and Caucasian women’s body size and shape were examined. As expected, there was a trend for African-American men to choose ideal figures with a lower waist-to-hip ratio (WHR), which is associated with a more curvaceous figure. Contrary to expectations, however, African-American men did not choose heavier female figures as ideal. In fact, both groups chose underweight and normal weight figures as ideal. The results from this study suggest that while preferences for WHR may continue to be associated with cultural factors, African-American and Caucasian men may have become more similar than different in their preferences for female weight. Also, the results suggest that within the African-American sample, there were two subsamples with regard to WHR preferences, with one subgroup endorsing the same ideal WHR as their Caucasian counterparts. The results are discussed in terms of possible changes to cultural values that may be reflected in a change in what is considered attractive.
Keywords: African-Americans, Caucasians, Waist-to-hip ratio
1. Women to different standards of beautyRecent estimates are that over 73% of African-American women are overweight or obese compared to 63% of Caucasian women (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, NHANES, National Center for Health Statistics, 2005). On the other hand, Caucasian women, especially those of higher Socioeconomic Status (SES), have been thought to be disproportionately represented among those with anorexia nervosa and other types of unhealthy, restrictive eating patterns (Crago, Shisslak, & Estes 1996; Striegel-Moore et al., 2003). Other research alternatively suggests that the rates of eating disorders among ethnic minority women may be comparable to a similar sample of Caucasian women (Mulholland & Mintz, 2001). Similarly, Striegel-Moore and Cachelin (2001)concluded that the rates of eating disorders in ethnic minority women are underreported due to the lack of participation of ethnic minority women in treatment studies. The investigations based upon research showing differential rates between groups have suggested that different beauty ideals between the two cultures may contribute to the differences seen in eating pathology and weight, especially among women (Abrams, Allen, & Gray, 1993; Harris, 1994; Greenberg & LaPorte, 1996; Parker et al., 1995; Wilfley et al., 1996).
2. Body sizeResearch exploring differences between African-American and Caucasian male preferences for female body size over the past two decades has generally found African-American men to be more accepting of larger body sizes for women than Caucasian men (e.g., Cohn & Adler, 1992; Fallon & Rozin, 1985; Greenberg & LaPorte, 1996; Thompson, Sargent, & Kemper, 1996). For example, Thompson et al. (1996), examined adolescent males’ perceptions of ideal female body size. They found that African-American males preferred a larger female size than Caucasian males. Furthermore, when subjects without girlfriends were asked to estimate the height and weight they would desire for a girlfriend, the calculated Body Mass Index (BMI) was significantly different between ethnicities, with African-American males desiring a BMI in the appropriate weight category for 15 year old females and Caucasian males desiring a BMI value that fell into the underweight category (Thompson et al., 1996). Thompson et al. (1996) also assessed social norms and found that Caucasian males surmised that their parents, male friends, and female friends would prefer an ideal female size smaller than what African-American subjects felt their parents, male friends, and female friends would prefer.
When the authors of this study from the “male perspective” compared their findings to other studies from the “female perspective,” using the same silhouettes, they found that their Caucasian male participants selected an ideal female size larger than that chosen by Caucasian females of similar age in the previous studies (e.g. Fallon & Rozin, 1985; Kemper, Sargent, Drane, Valois & Hussey, 1994). Additionally, their African-American male participants selected as ideal female figures that were larger than those chosen by African-American females of similar age in other studies (Kemper et al., 1994; Cohn et al., 1987). One limitation of this study lies in the failure of investigators to assess what participants believed members of the other ethnic group would select as ideal. This limitation is addressed in the current study.
3. Body shapeOther studies have identified body shape, or waist-to-hip ratio, as an important feature of female attractiveness for which Caucasian and African-American men may have different preferences. Low WHR, typically defined as .68–.80, has been suggested to be an indicator of reproductive health and fertility (Henss, 1995; Singh, 1993, 1994a,b,c) and also a signal of the absence of major diseases (Bjorntorp, 1988, 1991; Leibel, Edens, & Fried, 1989). Thompson et al. (1996) found African-American males were 1.9 times more likely to select a larger ideal female hip/buttocks size and 1.7 times more likely to choose a larger ideal female thigh size than Caucasian subjects. Evidence from other investigations demonstrated that African-Americans indicated a greater attraction to heavier figures than did Caucasian men, including a higher ideal weight and a preference for larger buttocks (Cunningham, Roberts, Barbee, Druen, & Wu, 1995). Similarly, in a recent study, Freedman, Carter, Sbrocco, and Gray (2004) found that African-American men often preferred WHRs in the range of .55–.65. They found that in addition to being more accepting of larger body sizes for women, African-American men preferred a WHR that was lower than the WHR preferred by Caucasian men. Such findings lend support to the notion that men’s weight and shape preferences constitute cultural variants that may contribute to the maintenance of unhealthy weights among African-American women. However, not all studies have supported these conclusions. Although Singh (1994a,b,c) found that African-American men did not prefer heavier women, the range of WHRs presented to participants was restricted (.70 through 1.0). Additionally, participants were only presented with figures that were Caucasian in appearance.
4. Acculturative factors and ethnic identificationAcculturation to mainstream culture may impact ethnic differences in women’s body image and beauty ideals, as well as men’s perceptions of female beauty. Several studies have suggested that African-American women who ascribe to the values of mainstream Caucasian culture are more at risk for eating disorders and maladaptive eating habits (Abrams et al., 1993; Crago et al., 1996; Osvold and Sodowsky, 1993; Rucker & Cash, 1992). Abrams and colleagues (1993), for example, demonstrated that African-American women who embrace Caucasian culture also endorse eating disorder-related attitudes. Furthermore, scores on the pre-encounter subscale of the Racial Identity Attitudes Scale (Helms, 1990), a measure of stage of racial identity, were significantly positively correlated with measures of eating pathology including Restrain, Fear of Fat, and Drive for Thinness subscales. It should be noted African-Americans in the pre-encounter stage of identity development typically exhibit a desire to be more like Caucasians culturally. As such, they may behave in a manner consistent with Caucasian culture and believe more in traditionally Caucasian values (e.g., individuality, competitiveness). Therefore, it is not surprising that such African-Americans would also adhere to Caucasian attitudes regarding eating and beauty. Conversely, it would seem likely, then, that African-American men who ascribe to pro-Black viewpoints and who are less acculturated will select heavier ideal figures due to a rejection of Caucasian culture, however this has not been successfully investigated to date. Additionally, one’s level of acculturation may impact an individual’s beliefs about what a member of the other ethnic group would choose as ideal. For example, a Caucasian man living in an integrated community might begin to become aware of differences between what he and what African-American men find attractive about women’s bodies. This awareness may or may not influence his own preferences and ideals of beauty.
5. Inter-racial preferencesGreater acceptance of a variety of body sizes and shapes and even idealization of heavier body sizes seem to be factors that serve to buffer African-American women from restrictive eating and body image pathology (Cunningham et al., 1995; Thompson et al., 1996). However, such cultural variants may also be factors that serve to maintain unhealthy attitudes and practices that contribute to the higher rates of overweight and obesity in African-American women (Hebl & Heatherton, 1998; Steele, 1992). Alternately, African-American women’s awareness that African-American men may be more accepting of heavier body sizes (Freedman et al., 2004) may contribute to the perception that there are few incentives to lose weight. The role of cultural variants, however, becomes even more complex, when the prevalence of inter-racial relationships is considered.
Level of acculturation may also differentially affect the ideal figure chosen by those African-Americans who are and are not willing to date women outside of their own racial group. Acculturation may either indirectly impact choice of the ideal figure for the other ethnic group, via one’s beliefs about inter-racial dating, or it may directly impact the selection of an ideal female figure, due to level of exposure to individuals of the other ethnic group. For example, Jackson and McGill (1996), in their investigation of African-American and Caucasian men’s body type preferences for women, found that when looking at same-race females, African-American men preferred a larger female body type than did Caucasians. In addition, African-American men associated fewer unfavorable characteristics and more favorable characteristics with obese same-race females than did Caucasian males.
6. The present study: rationale and purposeTo date, there have been no studies investigating men’s body size and shape preferences for women of different ethnic backgrounds. Using silhouette drawings of Caucasian and African-American female figures, Caucasian and African-American men’s preferences were assessed for both sets of silhouettes. In doing so, this study attempted to clarify whether men apply differential standards to African-American and Caucasian women, in terms of overall body weight and waist-to-hip ratio. In addition, men’s levels of acculturation were assessed in order to discern the influence of acculturation on dating preferences and subsequent female body size and shape preferences.
Three primary hypotheses were put forth. First, African-American men were expected to prefer a heavier body size and a lower WHR than their Caucasian counterparts. Furthermore, African-American men who were more acculturated to Caucasian culture were expected to show preferences more aligned with those of Caucasian men. Second, men who date inter-racially were expected to hold all women to standards of beauty similar to those of their ethnic group. That is, Caucasian men who date inter-racially would choose women with thinner, more tubular figures as ideal for both groups, while African-American men who date inter-racially would choose heavier, more curvaceous figures as ideal for both groups. Third, when asked about their beliefs about the preferences of the other ethnic group, participants were expected to cite an ideal female figure that aligned with cultural stereotypes for the other ethnic group. For example, African-American men were expected to report that Caucasian men prefer a thin, tubular figure. Conversely, Caucasian men were expected to report that African-American men prefer a heavier, curvaceous figure.
7.1. ParticipantsThe participants were 100 non-Hispanic males (50 Caucasian; 50 African-American) between 18 and 58 years of age. Participants were recruited from the Washington, DC and surrounding communities through flyers and newspaper advertisements. All participants self-identified their ethnic group membership.
7.2.1. Demographic questionnaireThe demographic information form assessed age, ethnicity, current height and weight, marital status, employment, and level of education. It also assessed level of occupation and education for participants’ parents. The answers were used to determine participants’ SES according to a derivation of the Hollingshead Four-Factor Scale of Socioeconomic Status (Hollingshead, in press). Socioeconomic scores were computed using the formula (Occupation × 5)+ (Education × 3). Participants were placed into one of five social class categories ranging from 1 = lowest to 5 = highest. The cut-off scores that were used were the ones advocated by Hollingshead (in press).
7.2.2. Dating preferences questionnaireParticipants were asked questions about their current and past romantic and sexual relationships in order to assess whether or not they had flexible dating practices with regard to ethnicity. In addition, if participants did not date individuals of ethnic and racial groups other than their own, they were asked to respond in an open-ended fashion about their reasons for not doing so. Since the vast majority of participants (93%) endorsed flexible dating practices, the open-ended responses of the few remaining participants were not analyzed.
7.2.3. African-American Acculturation Scale (AAAS-33)The short-form of the African-American Acculturation Scale (Landrine & Klonoff, 1995) measures the extent to which African-American individuals participate in the cultural traditions, beliefs, assumptions, and practices of the dominant Caucasian society vs. remaining immersed in their own cultural traditions. This version correlates well with the original 74-item long form (r=.94) and has good concurrent and group differences validity. The total score is computed by summing across the 33 items and can range from 33–231 with lower scores indicating greater acculturation to Caucasian culture.
7.2.4. Height and weightBody weight and height were self-reported by participants. Body mass index (BMI) was calculated as weight (kg)/height (m)2. Participants were classified as underweight, normal, weight, overweight or obese based on the NHLBI standards (NIH, 1998).
7.2.5. Silhouette stimuliThe silhouette stimuli used were based on those used by Freedman et al. (2004). In the Freedman et al. (2004) study, participants indicated their preferences for female body size and shape using both modified Singh (1993, 1994a,b,c) stimuli and modified Tassinary and Hansen (1998) stimuli. Singh’s (1994a) original stimuli depicted women with a height of five feet four inches. The original stimuli varied along 3 levels of body weight (underweight, normal weight, and overweight) and four levels of WHR (.70, .80, .90, 1.0). This range of WHRs encompasses some of the types of figures that occur in the general population, but does not account for females with very curvaceous figures (WHRs in the .50 to .70 range). The revised Singh stimuli used in theFreedman et al. (2004) study used 11 levels of WHR (from .50 to 1.0 with increments of .05) with the same 3 levels of body weight as used in the Singh studies. These weight categories, however, were not representative of actual women, and were skewed toward the lower end of the Body Mass Index scale. Specifically, the heaviest silhouette depicted a 68.2 kg woman, a BMI of 25.7 kg/m2, which falls in the very low end of the overweight BMI range, which is 25 kg/m2 (NIH, 1998). These silhouettes are not representative of today’s U.S. population in which over 60% of adults and over 70% of African-American women are overweight (BMI between 25 kg/m2 and less than 30 kg/m2). Similarly, 30.5% of adults and almost 50% of African-American women are obese, with a BMI equal to or greater than 30 kg/m2.
The present study developed new figures, based upon the original Singh (1994a) figures and the Freedman et al. (2004) modifications. The WHR modifications made by Freedman et al. (2004)were maintained. The two major modifications included the addition of heavier silhouettes and shading of the figures to represent African-American and Caucasian women. These figures are depicted in Figs. 1 and and22.
Depiction of African-American figures.
Depiction of White American figures.
126.96.36.199. Weight categorizationsFour new weight categories were introduced to replace the former, skewed weight categories. The five weight categories in the present study were “underweight,” “normal weight,” “overweight,” and “obese,” and “very obese,” corresponding to the following BMI values (in kg/m2): 17, 22, 27, 32.5, and 37.5, respectively.
188.8.131.52. ShadingThe Singh line drawn figures were shaded and colored by a graphic artist to represent African-American and Caucasian figures. The hairstyle of the figures is similar. Facial features were not added. Aside from shading, the figure sets are identical. The purpose of this addition was to clarify any differential standards of beauty that men apply to women of the two racial groups. The two sets of figures displayed identical weight and WHR levels.
8. ProcedureParticipants were recruited to participate in a study examining dating preferences. Participants were first asked to complete the packet of self-report measures. Each set of figures was shown to each participant. African-American participants were shown the African-American figures first while the Caucasian participants were shown the Caucasian figures first. The cover story states that “For each of the following sets of figures, you will be asked to select your ideal female figure. There are no right or wrong answers. Please look at all figures and select just one.” For each set, participants were asked the same question, ”Which figure represents your ideal female figure?” Then, participants were shown both sets of figures simultaneously and asked to choose the figure that represents the ideal female figure chosen by a member of the other racial group. Following completion of the study, all participants were debriefed. As an incentive for participating, each individual received $25.
9. ResultsGroup differences on continuous measures were examined using multiple analysis of variance (MANOVA) and analysis of variance (ANOVA). Group differences on categorical measures were examined using chi-square and Mann–Whitney tests. All analyses were examined using an alpha of .05 and 95% confidence intervals.
9.1. Demographic dataDemographic and descriptive data for age, height, weight, Body Mass Index scores, acculturation scores, and SES levels are presented in Table 1. A MANOVA, examining the variables age, height, and weight, indicated significant group differences F(5, 90)=3.346, p<.01. Follow-up ANOVAs indicated significant differences between groups on age, F(1, 94)=15.696, p<.01 with African-American participants being significantly older than Caucasian participants. No other significant differences were found. (see Table 1).
Table 1Descriptive data for African-American and Caucasian participants