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Why do babies of other races seem to be a little extra cute?
July 27, 2011 12:13 PM   Subscribe

Why do babies of other races seem to have an extra level of cuteness?

Movies like "Babies" and videos like this get me thinking - why do babies of other races always seem to be just a little extra-cute?

I know it's not just me, because it happens to my wife too. (We're Caucasian.) Every our toddler is clearly more fascinated by the babies in Japan, Mongolia and Africa ("Africa baby!") in the movie than the one in San Francisco.

Is this common, or universal? Why might it be happening? Is it some weird, deep pseudo-racist objectifying going on or, hopefully, something else?
posted by gottabefunky to Human Relations (40 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
Purely anecdotal, but it may be universal: My mom was a nurse in a maternity ward, in Hawaii. She and some of her fellow nurses were white; other among her fellow nurses were not (mostly Japanese-American). The white nurses thought the Japanese babies were the most adorable; the Japanese nurses thought the Caucasian babies were the cutest. Everyone agreed that the Hawaiian-etc. babies broke the needle on the cute monitor.
posted by rtha at 12:17 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Exoticism; the "charm of the unfamiliar".
posted by 2bucksplus at 12:18 PM on July 27, 2011 [10 favorites]


I think that babies in general help us realize just how glorious and beautiful the human race is to begin with. The genetics that determine facial features fascinate me. It's definitely a function of exoticism, though, and it can be perverted very, very quickly.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 12:22 PM on July 27, 2011


during my decade at the portrait studio, we all pretty much agreed, no matter what our individual race was, that mixed babies are the cutest and white babies were the least cute (not that there weren't totally cute white babies, just on average). we usually chalked it up to the baby hamster syndrome - sometimes newly born white kids don't look quite done yet. the other races are generally darker/have more color that helps hide some of the splotchy/acne skin.

exoticism certainly makes sense - but like i said, in my situation, these views were shared by the asians, hispansics, african americans, islanders, etc...
posted by nadawi at 12:25 PM on July 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


I hope this doesn't rouse any racial fury, but speaking purely from a scientific perspective: The purpose of sexual reproduction (as opposed to asexual) is, for one, to maximize fitness by combining two different sets of genes and ideally, ending up with the best of the two sets in one's offspring. Physical attractiveness is often rooted in facial symmetry (there are plenty of studies out there to back this up--people judged by others to be 'attractive' more often than not have a high level of facial symmetry). Facial symmetry is tied to physical fitness--in an earlier time in our human history, we couldn't just tell someone we were healthy and therefore a good mating option, so it was indicated by the symmetry/attractiveness (let me say here that this is a very complicated matter and I'm simplifying it so that anyone not familiar with the concept can get it).

They've also shown that many other factors aside, people with opposite MSH profiles tend to be attracted to one another--basically people with different types of immune systems. Again to dumb this down, technically if you mated with someone whose immune system could fight off diseases that yours couldn't--and vice versa--you could end up with very fit offspring, which is a good thing. Again, remember that physical fitness is often indicated by physical attractiveness. (Another side note, this doesn't mean that all attractive people are healthy, or that all healthy people are attractive...basically as soon as humans figured out how to alter their physical appearance--to, natch, attract mates!--the applicability of this kind of went out the window, but I'm pretty sure it's still considered to be true in theory).

That said, I would assume that when you have two people of different races, you end up with more genetic diversity and maybe that's why they are (major quote marks here) "more attractive"? I don't know for sure of course, but I took a lot of physical anthropology/evolutionary biology in college and everything I learned has led me to this probably-poorly-described conclusion. Let me reiterate that no race is better/more attractive than any other--THAT would be racist--I'm just waxing hypothetical from a scientific perspective. Now I will wait for the villagers to come after me with their torches.... :/
posted by lovableiago at 12:29 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


CRAP--I just realized I totally read the question wrong. I thought you meant babies of mixed races.....awkward. Don't know how to delete that--MOD, feel free to delete.... :(
posted by lovableiago at 12:31 PM on July 27, 2011


lovableiago - i always figured it was something like that going one when basically everyone who was around when the topic would come up (which is a lot at a portrait studio, weirdly) agreed that mixed race babies are cuter.
posted by nadawi at 12:33 PM on July 27, 2011


I think we can explain it without accusations of race. Babies are cute -- we're genetically programmed to think so. But there is a sort of invisibility of familiarity, the way Helvetica, as a type, had become rather neutral, because we see it all the time.

But babies of other races, or mixed races, are generally a little less common than our own race, and so retain that novelty. So they probably aren't actually cuter than babies from our own race, but they stand out due to novelty, and we notice they're cuteness more.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:36 PM on July 27, 2011 [9 favorites]


It's definitely a function of exoticism, though, and it can be perverted very, very quickly.

I knew a German girl in Israel who told me she wanted to marry a Jewish guy because she wanted her kids to have curly hair. Yeah.

I wonder, too, though I have nothing scientific to back this up, if "other' babies seem cuter to a lot of people because they're seen less often. If you live in an area that is primarily X race/ethnicity, you might see people of Y race/ethnicity occasionally or even somewhat often. But babies (being small and new and vulnerable) are less likely to be out in public and visible to strangers. So seeing a different kind of baby might have the same effect as seeing those hidden camera videos of a baby animal that's usually kept in the den. That sounds sort of awful, but...hopefully you all know what I mean. (On preview - what Bunny Ultramod said much more succinctly.)
posted by DestinationUnknown at 12:44 PM on July 27, 2011


I think it also might have to do with the "All people-of-other-race look the same" phenomenon, which happens to everyone from every race. I think when I see babies from races with which I am familiar, it's easier for me to start picking out facial features and thinking "that baby looks like an old man" or "that baby looks like that person that is not cute." With a baby from a race where everyone looks the same to me, I can just go "awwwwwwwww."
posted by thebazilist at 12:51 PM on July 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


But babies of other races, or mixed races, are generally a little less common than our own race, and so retain that novelty.

Depends upon the race/ethnicity of the observer. In this country, if you're white, then yes. But if you are a person of Chinese descent then to call say, a white baby "less common" than an Asian baby wouldn't work.

But otherwise, the rest of your statement is it to me. It's the unfamiliar.

Though there is the element of expticism, and it can be really pervasive.
posted by cmgonzalez at 12:52 PM on July 27, 2011


I've traveled across this grand earth and noticed:

- Asian babies are nearly-universally considered *cute.* In fact, in some non-Asian cultures, a really cute baby is referred to as a "chinese baby."

- in 2nd place - Latin babies, and these include Mediterranean countries such as Italy, Spain, Middle East and Central/South America

- there is a direct correlation between the cuteness of babies and the cuteness of baby animals - babies remind us of animals that we find cute (kitten, puppy, baby tiger cub, etc.)

The more character to the face, the more cute we find them (which is why caucasian babies don't rank high).

One big point: in advertising, Caucasian babies still rule in the safe-bet category.
posted by Kruger5 at 12:56 PM on July 27, 2011


I've read somewhere that babies being cute provides survival advantage. The mother's preference trait and the infant's cuteness trait reinforce each other throughout generations. We find babies to be cute so we become more likely to invest in and nurture them. Babies have to attract our attention, or we wouldn't bother with them at all. Or something like that.
posted by mooselini at 1:02 PM on July 27, 2011


Exoticism and maybe ascribing certain traits to a child that haven't even formed yet. Babies don't really look all that different to me. In other words, they all look kinda like Winston Churchill.
posted by FJT at 1:13 PM on July 27, 2011


@Mooselini: I've read this too. I've also read that this is part of how they think dogs and cats became domesticated--the "cuter" ones had infant-like features (puppies and kittens are cute for the same reason babies are--large features relative to head size) so humans gave them scraps and the smart ones hung around and became docile over time...(probably interesting to anyone already on this thread but admittedly off-topic so I'll shut up now!) :)
posted by lovableiago at 1:18 PM on July 27, 2011


Well, !!**SCIENCE**!! has attempted to determine the exact components of baby cuteness. Science determined that "a cute infant is likely to have short and narrow features, large eyes and pupils, and a large forehead." It seems possible that these could be more characteristic of some races than others.
posted by yarly at 1:25 PM on July 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


we all pretty much agreed, no matter what our individual race was, that mixed babies are the cutest

This is a pretty common stereotype of multiracial people, and I think it's likely just as damaging as other allegedly 'positive' stereotypes.

The more character to the face, the more cute we find them (which is why caucasian babies don't rank high).

What? What does this even mean?

There is a whole lot of wackadoodlery in this thread.
posted by threeants at 1:26 PM on July 27, 2011 [27 favorites]


It is a question of exoticism, but one major thing to remember is that, despite our diversity, white is still the "default" race in the US (and Europe and other cultures in many other parts of the world, even surprising ones where caucasians are a minority).

In the US, whether you're caucasian or not, seeing a white baby as a "baby" and a black baby as a "black baby" is pretty highly ingrained.

In addition, babies, unlike fully grown humans, are not threatening enough for the negative stereotypes to kick in, so in the competition between exoticism and hate/disgust, exoticism wins out with children. (We see something similar in how women of other races are often fetishized, whereas the men are denigrated or feared when women are perceived as less threatening.)
posted by lesli212 at 1:30 PM on July 27, 2011 [9 favorites]


ThreeAnts: my statement is based on science (take a look at the article that Yarly quoted)

Character = defined characteristics, notably in the facial features. Caucasian babies have definition, it just does not rank as high compared to specific other races.

Think: face of baby tiger vs. face of a baby bird
posted by Kruger5 at 1:33 PM on July 27, 2011


There is a whole lot of wackadoodlery in this thread.

I think it's a touchy area, but I also think it's kind of fascinating. I study the cross-race effect, the finding that thebazilist mentioned above; it's one of those findings where people are sometimes almost hesitant to admit that they think it happens to them, but it's a real effect that causes major issues in the criminal justice system. It's possible that the way people recognize babies of their own and other races can tell us about face perception. In the case of the CRE, it's thought that social factors, motivation, past contact, and ability combine to produce it. I'd guess you have some of those similar things here. Someone with access to an eyetracker would probably be able to sort some of that out.

So, in short, it's possible that it's a real different people are interpreting from how they see the babies' faces, but then is also influenced by cultural views and expectations. I still think it's more useful to talk about it and try to figure it out vs. sidestepping it as a phenomenon.
posted by bizzyb at 1:41 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm a black/puerto-rican female and I have never noticed this. I mean, a cute baby is pretty obviously a cute baby regardless of its skin color. The same goes for those babies who happen to fall on the opposite end of the baby cuteness spectrum. My brother has a brood of mixed race children and they weren't objectively any cuter than other babies (despite being, subjectively, the cutest kids on earth). I agree with those who have said that this seems like a form of exoticism. And might, in some instances, come across as kind of patronizing.
posted by eunoia at 1:59 PM on July 27, 2011 [7 favorites]


The Mongolian (Bayar) and Namibian (Ponijao) babies that appear in Babies have distinctly cheerier personalities than the Japanese (Mari) and American (Hattie) babies. They cry less, they smile more, they display more curiosity and enthusiasm. Of course they therefore seem more attractive. Hattie, by contrast, happens to have a seemingly melancholy or thoughtful expression by default.

But moreover, the movie (subtly?) promotes more free-range parenting by showing more scenes of Mari, and especially Hattie, reacting towards the sophisticated baby equipment and classes their parents provide to them with confusion, boredom, frustration and distress. Bayar and Ponijao, whose parents offer them less structured time and fewer readymade toys, are shown joyfully playing with animals and simple household objects outdoors. A scene where the American baby weeps in terror in a spa tub, followed by one where the Namibian baby gleefully lays on her belly to drink water from a stream, serves to demonstrate the larger point the movie is trying to make. So naturally, Hattie seems less cute as a result. We're shown more scenes where she's unhappy.

I don't think it's appropriate to consider these kids as representatives of their respective races. You're just noticing personality differences between these four individual babies, which are emphasized by the way the movie is edited.
posted by milk white peacock at 2:09 PM on July 27, 2011 [15 favorites]


Nthing the exoticism of babies of "other races" going on here.

Also, the assumption that "other" babies are cuter to white people is incredibly specious. As a white person myself, I have heard many very dumb, racist things from my fellow white people about how "un-cute" non-white babies are.

There is nothing "scientific" going on here - just people universalizing their personal predilections and pet theories.
posted by RajahKing at 2:15 PM on July 27, 2011 [7 favorites]


ThreeAnts: my statement is based on science (take a look at the article that Yarly quoted)

Character = defined characteristics, notably in the facial features. Caucasian babies have definition, it just does not rank as high compared to specific other races.

Think: face of baby tiger vs. face of a baby bird


I'm not trying to be disingenuous, but I really don't follow. The article you refer to doesn't mention race once. Are you saying non-Caucasian babies have more prototypically infantile features? Also, I'll note that the OP is (ostensibly) about why people of various races find various races' babies cuter, not (ostensibly) why white people find non-white babies cuter. (I use the word ostensibly because come on, I'm white and I can tell white-people-trying-to-talk-to-white-people language when I see it.)
posted by threeants at 2:18 PM on July 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


Within myself, I have also noticed a trend in attractiveness of some babies vs others, and that it breaks down kind-of specifically. I'm really glad that you asked this question, and that so many have replied with their own thoughts and experiences on it -- it's really helping me to determine what is and is not racist within myself -- far more that the responses that are mainly judging anyone who has these thoughts as racist. Thank you.
posted by MeiraV at 2:24 PM on July 27, 2011


I'm afraid it's not universal. One of my friends adopted two Korean babies and she told me that there was a sort of waiting period between meeting the babies and getting to take them home because some mothers found on meeting their children that they couldn't love a face that was different racially.
posted by b33j at 2:27 PM on July 27, 2011


I agree with b33j. I grew up a very racially diverse environment and consider myself relatively racially un-biased. However, my primal emotional "zomgcuteness" response to a baby is strongest when the kid shares my race.
posted by samthemander at 3:06 PM on July 27, 2011


I live in Korea, and whereas I think local babies are unbearably cute, Caucasian babies are seen as much cuter (personally, I believe there to be a whole lot of ugly Caucasian babies out there).
posted by holterbarbour at 4:21 PM on July 27, 2011


Just a data point- I live in China, and soooo many Chinese people have mentioned to me "how cute foreign babies (and kids) are". They love them because they are so "fat and white" (Chinese people sometimes think of foreigners as only being white).
posted by bearette at 5:56 PM on July 27, 2011


+1 moiraine. Basically they are baby mammals, so they are cute, but because they are of different ethnicities than you and your partner, they are less intimidating than adults.
posted by MidSouthern Mouth at 6:12 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Three times in a touristy area (Parliament Hill in Ottawa) I was asked permission, by non-Caucasians, to take a picture of my Caucasian infant daughter; twice, once via translator, came the explanation "We don't have babies as cute as that at home."

...+1 "exoticism"
posted by kmennie at 7:27 PM on July 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Caucasian babies tend to have bigger noses. That's why I personally find Asian babies cuter.
posted by Omnomnom at 12:13 AM on July 28, 2011


[folks, can we please not start some crabby derail here about who is and isn't racist? Please? Thank you.]
posted by jessamyn at 7:49 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Definitely exoticism. I'm a white girl who grew up in an Asian neighbourhood and my mom had similar experiences as kmennie. On vacation in Disneyland she apparently had several Japanese tourists ask to have their pictures taken with me.

Personally I can't vouch for this effect on me, but I'm a grumpy lady and hate infants.
posted by vanitas at 11:55 AM on July 28, 2011


This is a pretty common stereotype of multiracial people, and I think it's likely just as damaging as other allegedly 'positive' stereotypes.

I fail to see any reasonable way being stereotyped as a cute baby could be "damaging".
posted by jefftang at 11:57 AM on July 28, 2011


I fail to see any reasonable way being stereotyped as a cute baby could be "damaging".

Presumably because you don't know what a positive stereotype is.
posted by milk white peacock at 12:22 PM on July 28, 2011


I can see how most positive stereotypes can be damaging, I don't see that a mechanism how this stereotype can be "likely just as damaging".
posted by jefftang at 1:16 PM on July 28, 2011


I'm a mixed race woman, and I'm firmly in the "it's exoticism" camp based on my own experiences. If I casually mention my background in conversation with a new, monoracial acquaintance, I can often literally see them start to look at me differently. I don't mean just, "Oh, I'm going to put this nifty new fact about bettafish into my mental file cabinet," I mean they actually interpret things they learn or observe about me through an entirely different filter.

For example, I get way more unsolicited compliments on my looks from relative strangers who know I'm mixed than relative strangers who think I'm white. Sometimes, a casual mention that my mum is Asian results in spontaneous extemporizing on how much more attractive mixed race people/kids are in general. In answer to jefftang's (implied) question, I do find it damaging -- it's alienating and uncomfortable to get turned into some kind of race relations figurehead when I was only trying to make conversation about my favorite food or what I thought of the book I read last week, or to realize that I can't accept something nice a stranger's said to me at face value (assuming it is something nice, and not a comment like, "Oh, so that's why you look so exotic!" Um, okay?). Keep in mind that these aren't a couple of similar but isolated incidents, but a pattern repeated over the entirety of my adolescence and adult life -- probably my childhood, too, but it would've been my parents who got those comments, not me.
posted by bettafish at 6:13 PM on July 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


This is a pretty interesting question, and it got me to thinking... I have to say that it's not quite universal - I'm white and I find all babies adorable (okay, I've seen some pretty ugly babies out there - of several races) but overall, it doesn't matter what race they are - they're all pretty cute.
posted by patheral at 7:26 AM on July 29, 2011


"Every our toddler is clearly more fascinated by the babies in Japan, Mongolia and Africa ("Africa baby!") in the movie than the one in San Francisco."

w/r/t this specifically, there are studies that show that infants and small children spend considerably more time looking at differences, including people who are different than their predominant experience -- so the child of white parents who spends most of their day seeing Caucasian faces would, by this theory, look longer at people from non-Caucasian backgrounds.

(This is also allegedly why small children show vast interest in unusual (to them) hair colors, visible disabilities, significant tattoos, and other normal human variations we'd prefer they not quite so obviously stare at but STARE THEY DO and then they become verbal and feel the burning urge to comment at the tops of their lungs.)

I think Nutureshock talks about this some.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:49 AM on July 29, 2011


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