The Colorism Experiences of Black Women Studied for Undergraduate Research Project


Of them Penn State Abington students explored the colorism experiences of black women for their undergraduate research activities at Abington College (ACURA) project. Colourism is a stratification of the color of the skin which systematically favors a lighter skin given its perceived proximity to whiteness.

According to seniors Brianna Carroll and Falande Decaze, colorism gives people with lighter skin better access to resources and opportunities as well as benefits. American slavery created a legacy of valuing Eurocentric characteristics, including lighter skin that is seen as physically close to whiteness. Colorism is especially important for black women when it comes to beauty and attractiveness.

They drew on interviews with black American women with various skin tones to understand how colorism shapes their body image and what social factors facilitate satisfaction with skin color. They found that colorism shaped the types of messages black women receive about their skin color, which made them undesirable or racially inauthentic. For women with darker skin, colorism has spawned the development of strategies to mitigate negative messages revolving around their skin color.

The couple concluded that for black women, the messages they received are painful reminders that their appearance has always been deemed unappealing. So, some women with darker skin are considering ways to modify their skin to be more accepted by society. However, some women reject these ideals and values ​​and instead discover self-acceptance over time and with exposure to positive reinforcement.

“We found that a lot of self-acceptance took some resilience on the part of these women to learn to love themselves because in society their skin color is not considered beautiful. They have to fight this internally to find the beauty in themselves, ”Carroll said.

“I think it’s important to talk about colorism. Even though there have been movements to better accept and celebrate diversity, women with darker skin are still receiving messages that lighter skin is more valued. Life is hard enough, and colorism is another struggle, both internally and externally, ”she said.

“We found that much of the self-acceptance required some resilience on the part of these women to learn to love themselves because in society their skin color is not considered beautiful. “

– Brianna Carroll, senior at Penn State Abington

Elizabeth hugues, assistant professor of sociology and mentor of the project’s faculty, had collected the data used by the students in the research for her thesis.

“I did in-depth interviews with 31 black women. This was part of a project that examined the body image of black women primarily on body shape and size, but the skin color appeared organically in the interviews, ”he said. she declared. “I saved the colourism data because I knew then that I wanted to further my research and collaborate with undergraduate research students. I thought this would be a great way to engage students who are interested in body image and colorism, as well as gender and racial inequalities.

To start the project, Decaze immersed himself in reviewing the body image and skin color stratification literature in Spring 2020.

“The starting point was to read the articles provided by Dr Hughes, and I would write summaries, and she would respond,” she said.

The next step for Carroll and Decaze was to code the data last fall.

“We had the data from Dr Hughes and analyzed it to see what themes emerged, what the women were saying, what prevailed and what was common among their responses. We found that the body image stood out and the process of self-acceptance, ”Carroll said.

Hughes has found that working with undergraduate students on research is a great way to improve their qualitative skills.

“ACURA is also a good opportunity to develop research and potentially publish the results with students as co-authors in a scholarly journal,” she said.


The mission of Abington College Undergraduate Research Activities (ACURA) is to develop students who are critical thinkers and creative scholars by engaging in scientific experimentation, inquiry-based research and exploration of the arts at through research experiences of two and three semesters within our community. of scholarship-holders.

About Penn State Abington

Penn State Abington provides affordable, accessible, high-impact education that results in the success of a diverse student body. It is committed to student success through innovative approaches to 21st century public higher education at a world-class research university. With nearly 3,500 students, Penn State Abington is a residential campus that offers bachelor’s degrees in 23 major subjects, undergraduate research, Schreyer Honors College, NCAA Division III athletics and more.

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