A controversial Psychology Today article arguing that black women are less attractive than others got me thinking about real beauty.Give beauty back, beauty, beauty, beauty, back to God, beauty’s self and beauty’s giver.(Gerard Manley Hopkins, “The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo.”)
“Why Are Black Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women?”
That’s the title of a recent (and promptly removed) Psychology Today online article by London School of Economics psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa. It should be a dead giveaway that the content to follow will be nonsense. It doesn’t take a scientist to figure that out. Kanazawa rated survey responses from the Add Health project, a somewhat select questionnaire completed by a small pool of participants. He concluded that black women are “objectively less physically attractive than white, Asian or Native American women.” Kanazawa added, “The only thing I can think of that might explain the lower average physical attractiveness among black women is testosterone. Africans on average have higher levels of testosterone than other races . . . .”
The public and journalistic uproar has died down. I’m sure Psychology Today has since had some interesting staff meetings. Naturally, I am tempted to cite the litany of painstakingly beautiful black women. But responding this way would be moot, suggesting the premise of the “scientific study” is legitimate discourse. Still, I have found myself reflecting on some deeper concerns it gets to, besides issues of racism that most critics have noted.
For me, a Christian Nigerian-American woman, it’s equally important to debunk Kanazawa’s ridiculous query as it is to examine how tempting it still is to allow ourselves to fall captive to the popular imagination that insists that physical attractiveness encapsulates the highest definition of beauty, and is the chief means by which we measure our and others’ value. Women have never been strangers to this cultural temptation. Beauty, as our culture defines it, lures us to want to both “put it on” and possess it for our personal gratification and public flaunting.
For people of faith, a fuller understanding of beauty is that it always points us back towards God’s self and God’s goodness. If we Christians believe Scripture, then even though we recognize that all creation mirrors the beauty of God, we most fully recognize God through the person of Jesus Christ. To look for God is first to look to the Word that bears witness to the Triune God, and then to match up the witness of the illuminating Word with the Spirit’s movement in the world. Following this trajectory presumes that beauty is that which reflects the life of Christ.
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