Interracial Attractiveness Femininity And Phenotypic Prototypicality Cultural Studies Essay

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It has been suggested by popular authors that the standards held for judging attractiveness differ depending on ethnicity. Furthermore, it has been assumed that different cultures have different standards of beauty (Darwin, 1871; Ford & Beach, 1951). In the United States, interracial marriages have increased remarkably in the past couple of decades by nearly tripling from 651,000 in 1980 to 1,674,000 in 2002 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2004). Even though the overall number of interracial marriages has increased, different groups have different degrees. For example, a White man marrying an Asian woman is much more common than a White woman marrying an Asian man (Fryer, 2007). The intermarriage of Whites with Asians may reflect racial stereotypes that associate with attractiveness. It is of this research's interest whether there is a link between racial stereotype, femininity and attractiveness, whether people have a preference for their own race in terms of facial attractiveness, and whether men and women have the same taste when it comes to the judgement of facial attractiveness.

The focus of the current study will be facial attractiveness instead of bodily attractiveness, and part of the reason is that facial attractiveness has a greater contribution to overall attractiveness than bodily attractiveness (Currie and Little, 2009). Rhodes (2006) stated that facial attractiveness is determined by a variety of facial cues, such as sexual dimorphism, averageness, and symmetry. A more recent study identified an additional facial cue of perceived facial adiposity, or the perception of weight in the face. Perceived facial adiposity is said to significantly affect judgements of both facial attractiveness and health, and health is reported to be an evolutionary important aspect of attractiveness (Jankowiak, Gray and Hattman, 2008). Perceived facial adiposity is also significantly associated with actual health measures (blood pressure, antibiotics use and respiratory infections), making it a valid cue to health as well (Coetzee et al., 2009). Generally, men find female faces classed as feminine more attractive than female faces classed as masculine (Rhodes, 2006). Similarly, women prefer men who possess masculine facial characteristics to those with more feminine characteristics (Rennels et al., 2008).

Asian Femininity and Attractiveness

Literature from cultural studies has suggested that stereotypes of the Asian race depict both genders as being feminine. Asian-American women are often characterised as subservient, delicate, lovely and graceful (Sue & Kitano, 1973). These characteristics, though not all necessarily positive, are traditionally known to be female qualities a man has desire for. To further this, Mok (1999) stated that the media portrays Asian women as exotic, subservient, or simply nice, which, again, are all feminine traits. In contrast, Asian men are portrayed as lacking in the social skills and physical appearance needed to attract women (Mok, 1999). They are viewed as insufficiently masculine, in other words. Studies with empirical evidence have also made an association between Asian men and femininity. Cheng (1996) found that when participants were given choices of different racial and gender groups to choose group leaders, they prefered leaders with masculine traits and Asian men were the least likely to be chosen. In 2011, Wilkins, Chan and Kaiser conducted a study with 32 White university students rating the femininity and masculinity of three race groups: Asians, Blacks and Whites, to see how Asians were stereotyped by people self-identified as White in terms of their femininity compared to Whites and Blacks. They found that both Asian men and women are regarded as more feminine (M =5.05, SD= 0.82) and less masculine (M =2.67, SD =0.69), t (29) =9.90,p <.001, r =.88. For Asian women, they found that the higher the masculinity rating, the lower the attractiveness scores.

In a meta-analysis conducted by Langlois et al (2000), 919 data was selected from an initial sample of over 1,800 empirical articles found. They found a remarkable similarity in attractiveness ratings both within and between cultures. The effect size they got of cross-cultural and cross-ethnic agreement on attractiveness was more than double the size than what is considered to be large (Cohen, 1988). They suggested that there could be a universal standard for judging attractiveness. Their findings question the general thought that different races have different tastes of attractiveness, as brought up earlier, and that the standards are affected by the media.

Phenotypic Prototypicality (PP)

There are stereotypes for all ethnic groups. Each individual in a group are stereotyped to different extents. Phenotypic Prototypicality (PP) is a measure of how stereotypical of their own race someone is.  People with higher PP in their physical appearance are stereotyped more than those with lower PP (Maddox & Gray, 2002). Fuller cheeks, smaller eyes and darker hair are characteristics attributed to Asians that are high in PP. (Mok, 1998) and thus they might be associated more with Asian stereotypes. In this case, Asians with higher PP should be perceived as more feminine than those with lower PP. Wilkins, Chan and Kaiser (2011) conducted a study with 71 self-identified White female and male university students, with a mean age of 19.4 years to examine the role of PP in Whites' perceptions of Asians' physical masculinity, femininity, and attractiveness. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three conditions in order to avoid potential insight into the hypotheses and shared method variance: rate faces on PP, rate faces on physical masculinity and femininity or rate on attractiveness. Interactions were found between PP and gender of the faces on all dependent measures: masculinity, F(1, 95)=188.41, p <.001; femininity, F(1, 95)= 204.89, p <.001; and attractiveness, F(1, 95) =4.87, p =.03. They also found that for Asian men, higher PP was associated with being less masculine, F(1, 45)=3.94, R²=.08, b= .11, SE =.06, p =.05, but this did not significantly affect their femininity ratings. Higher PP Asian men were overall seen as less attractive than their lower PP counterparts, F(1,45)= 12.0, R²= .21, b= .67, SE=.20, p =.001., so both PP and masculinity are a predictor of attractiveness in Asian men. For Asian women, there was found to be no significant links between PP and masculinity, femininity or attractiveness (ps >.48), therefore the current study is set to test again the links between the three factors. What they did find was, the more feminine a female face was rated, the more attractive she was rated as being, F(1, 48)=93.24, R² =.80, b =.92, SE  =.07, p <.001.

Racial Preferences

Asian-American first-hand accounts often refer to the power the media has in shaping their perceptions of what is attractive, and what is not (Mok, 1996). For some Asian-Americans, White Americans seem to represent the standard for what constitutes attractiveness. As well as this, Fox and Jordan (1973) investigated racial preferences and identification in African-American, Chinese-American, and White American children, and concluded that, overall, Chinese-American children demonstrated significantly less own-race preference and identification than either African-American or White American children.  Furthermore, Amrith (1991) concluded that Asian-Americans often refer to family pressure or expectations from the media, to have surgery on themselves, with double-eyelid surgery being one of the most popular requests from Asian patients. Other types of surgery that are popular amongst Asian-Americans are: breast implants (for women), cheek implants, and nose reshaping, most likely done in an effort to look more White. In fact, Asian-Americans are the most likely to pursue cosmetic surgery than other any ethnic minority group (Chen, 1994).

Chang (1975) compared the self-concept of Korean-American children with that of African-American children, using the Piers-Harris Children's Self-Concept Scale (PHCSCS). she found that although Korean-American children had higher total self-concept scores than did African American children, African American children had higher scores on Physical Appearance and Attributes and Popularity than did Korean American children. Pang, Mizokawa, Morishima and Olstad (1985) conducted a similar study, but on the self-concepts of Japanese-American children, compared to White children. They also used the PHCSCS, but slightly altered it by adding nine additional items at the end. They found that Japanese-American children are more sensitive about their lack of height, disliked their noses more and showed more dissatisfaction with their general appearance, compared to White children. White and Chan (1983) also investigated the idea of self-concept, but with Chinese-Americans, compared to that of White Americans, and they used the Wallace Self-Concept Scale. Their results indicated that Chinese-Americans had lower overall self-concepts than White Americans did. Specifically, Chinese-Americans reported themselves as less beautiful, sharp, attractive, flexible, and active than White Americans did. In addition to this, Asian Americans purport to have internalised Western beauty standards and thus do not think of themselves as being as attractive as White Americans (Sue & Morishima, 1982). It is shown that results from experimental studies indicate that the racial and physical self-concepts of Asian-Americans are lower than those of White Americans, and Mok (1988) reports that sometimes these self-concepts are even lower than those of other ethnic minorities in the United States.

All the Asian participants in the current study are Oriental Asians, which means their origins lie in East or South Asia. We will be measuring the attractiveness of White and Asian female faces, rated by both White and Asian participants, of both genders. This is to see if the rating is affected by the ethnicity and the gender of the participant, and if there is a preference for own-race races. We will also be measuring PP and femininity, to see if these measures correlate with facial attractiveness in women.

The key element of the paper by Wilkins, Chan and Kaiser (2011) is the ethnicity of the raters; they only used white participants. In this study, Asians will also be rating the attractiveness, PP and femininity of Asian and White faces. In addition, their study only rated Asian faces, whilst this study also rates White faces. As well as this, they did not specify what the term "Asian" meant. In this study, "Asian" will be used to refer to Oriental Asians, such as Chinese, Japanese and Korean.

Men and women tend to agree on how attractive faces are, regardless of whether faces are of the same or the opposite gender (Langlois et al., 2000). Therefore, we hypothesise that there will not be a significant difference between men and women's ratings of attractiveness. From the conclusions of the above studies on the subject of self-concepts in Asian-Americans, we also hypothesise that Asian participants will rate White faces higher than faces of their own race and White participants will rate faces of their own race higher than Asian faces. Therefore, it is predicted that, overall, participants will find White faces more attractive, and that there will not be a preference for their faces that are the same race. Attractiveness score should have a positive correlation to attractiveness scores. Female Asians that have a higher PP score should also have a higher femininity and attractiveness score.



An experiment of mixed factorial design with two between variable design (the ethnicity of the rater and the gender of the rater) and one within subject factors: the ethnicity of the faces.  The dependent variables will be measures of attractiveness, femininity and phenotypic prototypicality (PP). The design will be (participant sex: male, female) x 2 (participant ethnicity: Asian, Caucasian) x 2 (face ethnicity: Asian, Caucasian) repeated measures ANOVAs on attractiveness ratings. A regression will be conducted to measure the relationship between attractiveness scores, femininity scores and PP scores.


61 participants took part in this study including 15 male Caucasian students, 15 female Caucasian students, 15 male Oriental Asian students and 16 female Oriental Asian students. Participants were students from the University of Manchester aged from 18 to 22. The majority of participants recruited were first and second year psychology students, recruited on the basis of receiving course credits, whilst the rest of the students were recruited using opportunity sampling, often in populated areas around campus, such as the library.


Participants were told that they were participating in a study on rating the attractiveness of female faces and that they would be asked to rate 100 female faces on their attractiveness, femininity and how stereotypical they were of their race. Before the experiment, each participant was given full information about the study and asked to sign a consent form. All participants completed demographic measures. Each participant was shown a series of females faces in the form of a PowerPoint presentation, 100 in total. Half of the faces were of Oriental Asian ethnicity and the other half of Caucasian ethnicity. After seeing each face, participants were asked to rate its attractiveness, femininity and PP on the questionnaire sheet provided. Each measure used a standard Likert scale from 1 (not at all) to 7 (very much so). To eliminate order effects, four different presentations were created, two of which placed the faces in a random order, with the other two in the reverse of these random orders. Each participant was shown one of these orders. Both genders and races were rating the attractiveness of the same female faces.  

Experimental stimuli

Stimuli were colour images of 100 female faces (50 Oriental Asian, 50 Caucasian) presented on the computer program, PowerPoint. All of the 100 images were derived from a database for research purposes. All faces had a neutral expression, were shown only the face and the neck, and were displayed in frontal view with all features fully visible. The images were resized to the same size and were shown to the participants in full screen. A rating questionnaire sheet was provided to each participant, consisting of three rating questions: "How attractive do you this person is?", "How feminine do you think this person is?" and "How stereotypical of their own race do you think this person is?".


Perceptions of attractiveness. Participants were asked to rate the attractiveness of female faces on a 7-point Likert-type scale (Likert, 1932) from 1 (not at all attractive) to 7 (very attractive).

Perceptions of physical femininity. Participants were asked to rate female faces about their femininity on a 7-point Likert-type scale from 1 (not at all feminine) to 7 (very feminine).

Perceptions of PP.  Participants were asked to rate female faces about how stereotypical of their own race their physical appearance was, rated on a 7-point Likert-type scale from 1 (not at all stereotypical) to 7 (very stereotypical).