Filipina Beauty: The “White Skin” Standard
From the pasty white and plump standards of the Victorian times up to the tanned complexion popularized by Hollywood in the 1950s, humanity no doubt has changing ideas of beauty.
This doesn’t seem to apply to this country of Malays, though. Our idea of beauty has been fixed on the mestiza standard since the 16th century: that a woman has to have fair skin to be beautiful. Obviously, this proves how ingrained the Western-standard of beauty is to us Filipinos.
During those times, the mestiza beauty used to be a rare find. Now, it’s different. Everywhere we look, we can find “beautiful” faces. Our narcissistic and image-conscious culture is further amplified thanks to TV, Facebook, and the ever-reliable Photoshop.
Clearly, beauty has its benefits. Beauty can win pageants. It can make the masses vote for someone undeserving. It can make one famous and could even be the ticket to winning a political seat.
As an aside, though, I am not amenable with how Pinoys mocked [Nancy] Binay’s complexion. She didn’t deserve the position because of her inexperience, not because of her skin color.
Beauty makes one attractive to the opposite sex. It sells magazines. It gets high TV ratings. Beautiful people lure us into a purchase. Nothing sells better than an impossibly gorgeous face.
But the sad thing is, the Pinoy’s fascination with the standard of “unattainable” beauty makes everyone miserable and discontented. In a country where the majority possess the skin color influenced by genes from our brown, Malay forefathers, scouring and scrubbing their colors off doesn’t seem enough. Our well-off ladies go a notch higher to attain beauty through bleaching and other surgical operations.
Historically speaking, the fixation with the mestiza standard of beauty is one of those cultural influences we got from our Spanish colonizers. During Hispanic times, when Filipinos were considered second-class citizens in their own country, the archetype of beauty was the standard of the conquistadores. That yardstick where indios are ashamed of their own skin color.
No wonder we had people like Doña Victorina who abused facial powder just to look more like the Caucasian colonizers.
After the Spaniards came the Americans, and this pigment-less ideal of beauty was carried over, too. With the advent of technology and mass media, this love for the Western standard of beauty has been preserved by Pinoys up to this day. It is the kind of thinking where we consider the colonizers’ standards as better and superior; a standard we have to imitate.
That’s just how this white skin fascination of the Pinoys came to be. The more mestiza you look, the more you’re considered beautiful in this country of Malay slash Pacific islanders.
There was a controversy about Spanish chocolate bars branded as “Filipinos” in 1999. Accordingly, those chocolates resembled us Pinoys, who are “brown on the outside, white on the inside”. It’s quite unfortunate that the standards of beauty applied to Filipino women are still based on skin color.
It is like a mortal sin to have a darker skin tone. It seems that some sensitive racial barometer in the Pinoy still equates blackness with being dirty and unclean, or that having a darker shade of melanin is something to be ashamed of.
Many Pinays feel pressure to have whiter, lighter skin. Pinays want to be white; Pinays need to be white. In fact, dark skin is frowned upon and they are sometiems harshly called baluga, negra, uling, ita, kulay-duhat, etc. You’ll notice it in the common Tagalog expression: Mahiya ka naman sa balat mo! Or jokes like “Black is beautiful. But too much is charcoal.”
Having darker complexion can make you a laughing stock here.
A tour around Manila’s thoroughfares will make you realize that there’s not one dark-skinned endorser on the billboards. Products that are endorsed by fair-skinned gods and goddesses, who are commonly of mixed-race descent. The American tourist who made the “20 Things I Hate About the Philippines” video famously noticed this Filipino fascination with fair skin.
From the day we learned to use our eyes to watch the idiot box, we have been bombarded with images that project a nearly unattainable physical ideal, these images form the foundation upon which our generation’s self-esteem and body image are based.
For example, our brand of showbiz is dominated by white-skinned tisoys and tisays, that’s why the masses adore these mixed-bloods. But if one really thinks about it, it’s just that these gorgeous people had the luck of the genetic draw.
The adverts don’t help, either. Some ads tell us that we need their products to unleash our “natural whiteness.” Television commercials feature whitening product endorsements of aquiline-nosed celebrities who are already endowed with white skin, while another product promises “kutis artista.” Now, this makes me wonder: just what exactly is “kutis artista”? Well, for one, Tado is an artista. And so is Tsokoleit.
There’s also rhinoplasty, skin bleaching, facelift, breast lift, face peel, tummy tuck, and what-have-you that are options just to make you happy about your appearance. For me, it seems that they are fixing parts of themselves that were never broken in the first place. But maybe it’s human nature? It’s that part of us that can’t be satisfied with the things we have.
With the grand slam win of the Philippines at the Miss World pageant, has this changed our perception towards those we call “black beauties”? Because most of these beauty titlists don’t possess the mestiza looks our society prefers. I don’t know, but one thing is for sure: in some ways, our international pageant wins lets us realize that foreigners appreciate the natural beauty of our Malay race; something we fail in.
I’m not among the fashion-slash-beauty police but I guess we just have to be comfortable in our own skin instead of trying to change it. It is a personal issue, but hopefully Filipinas learn to love and accept things as they are.
For one, our brown complexion is a beautiful hue without blemishes and freckles. Our flat noses come in handy, too, perhaps even in boxing where there’s less nose to be targeted and broken. Maybe that makes Pinoys better boxers? That theory still needs to be proven.
We don’t need to look foreign to be beautiful. That’s why I commend Pinays who are happy with their natural skin color and shape of their noses.
My mom, I believe, is an example. She may not be a beauty title-holder but I have always admired her strength, kindness, and dedication. She is not fair-skinned but she has many qualities that transcend complexion.
This may be a cheesy way of ending this, but the truth is we have to focus on the more important things. True beauty is not skin-deep; it is timeless and doesn’t expire.
JR Lopez Gonzales was political science Professor at MSU-IIT. He blogs at www.politikalon.blogspot.com. This article is being republished here with his permission and originally appeared in his blog in two parts on October 9.
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