Lately, I’ve been fascinated by the psychology of celebrity crushes and what they say about us, particularly about our racial biases. Take, for example, Twitter’s White Boy of the Month, which never fails to intrigue me. Why is the internet so obsessed with mediocre white men?
I don’t want to go after y’all’s fave, but I’m confused. First people claim to like him, then say Tom Holland has a frog in his mouth. Adam Driver is called weirdly attractive with his acting talent being the main propellent for the positive reactions. This Reddit user questioned why they find Jack Harlow extremely attractive. I’m not entirely a hater, because I completely understand the duality of man — both opinions can coexist. However, something about debating whether a man is ugly-hot or hot-ugly feels like you’re trying to convince yourself that you find them attractive.
The “ugliness” of people’s celebrity crushes has been come a hot topic on TikTok lately. In response to people favoring “kinda ugly white guys,” TikTok user @youwillknowali expressed indignation, calling it “blasphemy at its finest” and comparing it to an instance in which Dev Patel didn’t receive the same fanfare as Timothée Chalamet. Another user brought attention to a larger phenomenon of how celebrities of color are typically considered “unconventionally atttractive.” More accounts are highlighting diverse beauty with underrated celebrities like Idris Elba, Henry Golding, Jason Mamoa, Oscar Isaac, and many more who get drowned out during the praise for white actors.
Why don’t super attractive celebrities of color receive the attention they deserve?
There is a double standard that makes it harder to perceive BIPOC as classically beautiful. @youwillknowali calls it as they see it, blaming racism. I say let’s also blame white or Eurocentric beauty standards. I’m reminded of earlier last year when Vice reported that Robert Pattinson was named the most beautiful man in the world seemingly out of the blue, and according to so-called “science.” Using a Greek measure of beauty, the other frontrunners (Henry Cavill, Bradley Cooper, Brad Pitt, and George Clooney) were also other white men. This is no accident. Following global colonization, European ideals touched every part of the globe, making us aspire to have fair skin, straight hair, and small noses. We desire these features for ourselves, and find them appealing in prospective partners. In other words, being white can bump you up a few points on the hotness scale.
Because of these standards, it feels like BIPOC celebrities have to work twice as hard to get half the same amount of recognition. This isn’t only limited to “hotness” but also presents a roadblock in their careers; accolades like the Emmys were criticized as recently as this year for failing to have actors of color win in major categories. But when it comes to celebrity crushes, we’re a little quicker to brush off our proclivity for white men over men of color as simply having a “type.” Is implicit bias rearing its ugly head? I reached out to DEI trained psychologists in order to get credentialed perspectives.
Shirani M. Pathak, a licensed psychotherapist and author, tells Her Campus, “We’ve been programmed over centuries to believe that white males are the standard of what’s human and anyone else is not. We’ve been taught to believe that women and bodies of color are savage (or alternatively exotic, thereby fetishizing us), and are not attractive. This is programmed so deeply within our subconscious minds that we don’t even know we’re doing it, which is what leads to our implicit biases.” So while on the surface we may think we’re paying attention to all hot celebrities equally, the reality is much more skewed.
In the same vein, Michele Paiva, a finance therapist and licensed psychotherapist, shares that her “biggest concern is that white men are seen as attractive and successful but when a man of color, especially a Black male, is seen as attractive it is sexualized and thus, degraded.” Instead of being seen as beautiful, many people of color, especially Black people, are more often perceived as sexy or hypersexualized. She elaborates, “Early on, no one seems to notice and Black young men might even enjoy this attention; but later on in the workforce, the sexualization is almost as repressive as women being objectified; and objectified people seen for their sexuality are often managed by white men or white management. This management that is still in place will often pay the marginalized, sexualized person less.”
With her finance background, Paiva connects how objectification and a resulting lower pay is a form of dehumanization, a practice that started in the colonization era. She provides historical context: “In slavery days, the stronger Black man was actually studded, raped and set to have sexual relations with stronger Black women and thus this was the start of the sexualization and dehumanization of the Black man as a sexual being,” she says. “This carries on now and until we are open about this and we stop having the Black man as a fetish or game piece, they will not have the equality that they deserve.”
Viewing Black people only as sexy or sexual because of their physical attributes is anti-Black. It dehumanizes them by reducing them to their body parts. This prompts further questions of whether it is racist to have a “type.”
But maybe none of this sounds familiar to you, or maybe you’ve seen the white male hype but don’t relate. Natasha Sandique, a psychologist and consultant for Mom Loves Best from the Philippines, qualified the claim that the internet loves white men. She tells Her Campus, “This may be the perception due to what is depicted by the media — that more people prefer white men, but I disagree. It really boils down to a personal preference.”
Further slamming on the media, Sanique tells Her Campus, “Though it may not necessarily affect who you are attracted to, societal beauty standards may influence what we find attractive or not. What we see in the media is highly associated with what we consider as ‘beautiful.’ In a way, these beauty standards are dictated by the media. Again, these vary from country to country. What’s funny about this, though, is that we find differences in beauty standards. Some white people find that being darker is beautiful, hence tanning and sunbathing, while Asians (or at least where I’m from), we prefer to be whiter, hence bleaching, skin whitening products or staying away from the sun.”
I’m down to add media to our list of culprits. Structural racism governs our cultural infrastructure, from our social media to our Eurocentric predispositions. The same way race is actively crafted, so is beauty, as the two are connected. A strict definition of beauty can be incredibly limiting and cause potential insecurities. People craft the concept of beauty every day in our language, fashion and overall values. Embracing inclusion by having more representation in the media of what we want beauty to be will open the gates to diverse beauty. This is why it is important to not have white-washing media.
By celebrating more people of color and destigmatizing what may be deemed “unconventionally” attractive, we are acknowledging that all colors and all people are beautiful.
Shirani M. Pathak, Licensed Psychotherapist and Author
Michele Paiva, Finance Therapist and Licensed Psychotherapist
Natasha Sandique, Psychology Consultant at Mom Loves Best
Chen, T., et al. (2020). Occidentalisation of Beauty Standards: Eurocentrism in Asia.
National Humanities Center. (2007). On the Masters’ Sexual Abuse of Slaves: Selections from 19th- & 20th-c. Slave Narratives.
Matamoros-Fernández, A., Farkas, J. (2021). Racism, Hate Speech, and Social Media: A Systematic Review and Critique. Television & New Media.
Hall, R.E., Livingston J. (2003). Psychological Colonization: The Eurocentrism of Sociology vis-à-vis Race. Current Sociology.