What color is attractive? A look at the relationships between skin tone preference, self-esteem, and ethnic identity attitudes

Malauna Andel Crivens, Purdue University


The majority of literature regarding skin tone preference purports that an overwhelming preference for or attraction to persons with light skin tones has existed in the African American community since the days of slavery in the United States. It has been assumed that this favoritism displayed towards persons with lighter colored skin has instigated negative behavior as well as unhealthy attitudes regarding self-worth and ethnic identity. The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between skin tone preference and self-esteem, ethnic identity attitude, and the person's own skin tone within the African American community. While skin tone bias has been a heavily debated issue among many African Americans, there is a paucity of empirically validated research dealing with this sensitive topic. In the present study, African American college students were asked to rate pictures of African American women with either light, dark, or medium skin tones in terms of overall social appeal or global attractiveness. The pictures were constructed by digitally enhancing six photographs of African American women such that each woman was depicted in each skin tone. Thus, all of the women were represented across all skin tone groups. Questionnaires were also administered to assess participants, levels of self-esteem and levels of ethnic identity attitude. Furthermore, participants were instructed to indicate the shade of their own skin tone. Results indicated that preference for light skin tones were associated with increased levels of self-esteem. Higher levels of ethnic identity attitude were associated with preference for medium skin tones. Finally, there was a trend for participants with darker skin tones having a preference for medium skin tone.




Conger, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Social psychology|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology

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