Do you agree that Mestiza is an outdated ideal beauty?
Being mestiza, one of the most frequent “compliments” I receive is that I am light-skinned. I can’t count how many times someone has told me “maganda ka”, quickly followed by “ang puti mo”.
As a child, I did not think much of it. I was constantly being told that I should be an actress or a model. Once, in a shopping mall in Manila, I was approached by a talent agent who wanted to represent me and put me on TV. I was too young then to realize the implications of such incidents, but as I grew older I began to understand that people were not attracted to my bone structure or my face, but to the color of my skin. They were not complimenting my looks so much as praising my fairness.
This link between beauty and light skin is disconcerting. It’s an outdated ideal of beauty that has thoroughly permeated Filipino culture. Look on TV or watch a Filipino film and you will see that the leading roles typically go to mestizos or other fair-skinned actors. Ads for SKIN WHITENING creams are plastered everywhere. The message is clear: Lighter is more beautiful, more desirable, better.
This mentality is not restricted to the Philippines. The attitude is prevalent in many areas of the world, particularly in Southeast Asia where the skin-lightening business is a multibillion-dollar industry. In India, sales of SKIN WHITENINGproducts totaled 258 tons in 2012.
Historically, the preference for light skin originated from a link between skin tone and economic status. Darker skin typically indicated that a person worked outside as a laborer and was, therefore, not as well-off as someone with untanned skin. Once a global trend, the light-skinned ideal has been largely abandoned in recent times as tanned skin has slowly become the new indicator of social status.
In the Philippines, however, the attitude prevails, calling to mind the Spanish-instituted caste system in which the “blancos” of European descent had higher social standing than the native Negritos and Indios. As the Spaniards began to intermarry with the natives, those with Spanish blood and, consequently, lighter skin, maintained a higher socioeconomic status. More than a century after the end of Spanish colonialism, Filipino culture still echoes the attitudes of an oppressive society.
Members of my family have a variety of skin colors, ranging from light to dark. You can see the family resemblance, despite differences in skin tone. The idea that the lighter members of my family are more attractive — solely based on skin color despite having similar features — is laughable to me, but the fact remains that a lot of people believe just that.
The attitude is persistent — and dangerous. Products which bleach the skin lighter can often be harmful. There is also the psychological damage which comes from the stigma associated with darker skin. In the (supposedly) enlightened 21st century, children are growing up convinced they are unattractive because of their darker skin.
Of all the challenges facing the Filipino people, this is one of the worst because it turns a person against his/her own self. The problem is more than skin deep; it reflects an internalized racism that should have been abolished when the Philippines declared independence from Spain. In clinging to antiquated ideals, we are subconsciously submitting to the image of Western superiority.
It is time to reject the idea that lighter skin is more appealing than darker skin. The Philippines is a multiethnic country, and we should not be ashamed of this. Instead of upholding an outdated standard of beauty, we should be celebrating the diversity of our heritage.