How many times have you heard yourself say, “They’re just not my type”?

Whether you’re into bad boys, funny girls, or your complete opposite, chances are you have some preferences when it comes to sex and relationships. Who you like is who you like, and that is totally okay…but how do we know when our preferences cross the line into prejudices?

You may have heard people describe their type in physical terms: “I love tall guys” or “I’m really into redheads.”

But when someone says, “I don’t date Asians” or “I’m only into skinny chicks,” that’s not a preference...that’s straight up discriminatory.

What you are really saying is “this person is not attractive because they do not fit white, Western beauty standards.” You are saying that you believe negative stereotypes are associated with this person’s appearance or culture.

This kind of exclusion works both ways. 

Fetishization

If someone says that they only date a certain race or body type, that is fetishization. They are objectifying people by reducing them to a sexual fantasy. While this sort of discrimination can apply to fat folks, disabled folks, and trans and gender-nonconforming folks, let’s use race as our main example. Wanting to only date a specific race (a race that is not your own) defines people solely by their ethnicity, and also plays into stereotypes that there is a specific way people of certain races are “supposed” to look or act. Implicit in this is the assumption that all people of a certain race look the same, which is obviously not true.

Desire turns into fetishization when someone views a person as “other” and therefore “exotic”; they regard dating that person as cool, mysterious, or adventurous. It is most definitely not flattering. In fact, it’s actually pretty gross. Wanting to date someone solely because of physical attributes related to their race relies on harmful colonialist attitudes towards people of color. If skin color alone is enough to make you attracted or not attracted to someone, it’s time to think about why.

Western pop culture's role

While some preferences are unexplainable, favoring certain ethnicities or body types is often a learned cultural bias. Western pop culture celebrates a very narrow definition of beauty, one that is mostly white, thin, cis, and able-bodied. Anyone that does not fit that standard is excluded from our cultural definition of what is ideal or attractive. 

If we are not surrounded by diverse images of what normal humans look like, there is little room for a more inclusive narrative of beauty.

As a white woman, I have to be careful to reflect on what shapes my “type.” One of my first serious partners was mixed, half black and half white. Do I find mixed black men attractive because I dated one, or did I date a mixed black man because I find them attractive? Questions like this are especially tricky when considering how colorism in pop culture favors light-skinned celebrities. Multiracial identities are also often subject to the legacy of the “one-drop rule,” categorizing mixed people as black instead of white, for example.

There is no such thing as reverse racism

Conversely, many people of color prefer to date only other people of color, even more specifically, people of the same race. For example, one of my friends, a second generation Korean-Canadian, highly prefers to date East Asian men. For her, dating men as a feminist is hard enough. Dealing with racism on top of that is just too much. After dating a Chinese-Canadian, she realized how important it was to her to have a common cultural experience with her partner.

In the same way that reverse racism does not exist, it is not racist for a person of color to only want to date another person of color, because they are not discriminating against people whom they have a history of oppressing.

There is a fine line between having a type and a fetish — so how do we find it?

Make sure that you are looking at people, not stereotypes

Being attracted to certain traits is fine, but discounting an entire group of people? Not cool. There are so many amazing, multi-dimensional people out there who deserve to be appreciated for their full selves, not just one aspect of their identity.