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On Colorism in the Philippines

Thousands of eyeballs on these billboards in EDSA and other major roads

There has been a rise of companies and brands attempting to be more inclusive, in terms of weight, looks, and skin color. This is where I get most of my projects: representing fat, curly haired, dark-skinned girls.

1. DARK SKIN IS NOT A TREND

We’ve been seeing morenas in the media more often recently. While this is something to be celebrated because it’s a step in the right direction, it’s something that has been LONG OVERDUE. The exposure of people with skin tones like mine doesn’t mean dark skin is suddenly trendy, it just means WE’RE FINALLY GETTING THE EXPOSURE WE DESERVE.

Look : in these ads we are all presented as equal. And that’s how it should be done.

Dark skinned Filipinos like myself have been subjected to bullying and on the losing end of preferential treatment (“Unfair diba?”- Glutamax). We’ve had to endure mistreatment because of the color of our skin. So don’t say you’re a “frustrated morena” or that “omg I wish my skin was as dark as yours, so cute”. MY SKIN COLOR IS NOT A TREND. You’re essentially fetishizing dark-skinned people; both idolizing and demonizing us.

2. DON’T USE MY SKIN COLOR FOR PROFIT

The whole reason this is happening in the first place is because of our patriarchal and capitalist society. In the Philippine context most especially, colonial mentality still exists. It was the Western colonization that taught us to think that dark skin is inferior and light skin is superior. Dark skinned “indios” vs light skinned “mestizos” or “insulares”.

This analysis would be incomplete without even the mention of colorism in relation to class and gender. During the colonization, skin tone was used to determine class, and it was poor dark women who were most disadvantaged (Sisa?). Today, it is this section of society that is most targeted with the message that “if you had light skin everything will become better”. To this day, darker-skinned Filipinos face prejudice. Many of us are stereotyped to be lower-class, uneducated, unclean, and unworthy of respect. They want us “fixed” like something was wrong with us in the first place.

Might as well have read “Brown Girls Look Poor ” Kutis Mayaman means “skin that makes you look rich”

Over the years, capitalists have used this collective insecurity to sell us their shit for billions.

If this messaging is okay with you, I implore you to reconsider. Perpetuating negative connotations and complete myths about brown-ness makes you complicit to the oppression.

3. ON THE GARBAGE ADS BY SKIN WHITENING PRODUCTS

Glad that people have spoken up about the compete absurdity and ignorance of these ads. Yet some are quick to comment “leave them alone, if they want to whiten their skin it should be none of your business”. Glutamax’s official account even commented that they’re just there to help people who choose to whiten their skin do so.

Ok, sige. Your body, your choice. I believe in bodily autonomy. But l ask those of you who want to bleach your skin to look into WHY you want to do it. You want to look “better”, as if being tinted is not good enough? Was it the years of conditioning, being bombarded by white skinned people in the media who are presented as beautiful, successful, and admirable? When you decide to do it, make sure you have all the facts (like some treatments can make skin super sensitive or damage your liver, etc) and that you’re doing it because you feel like it’s the best decision for you, not because you’ve become a puppet who will consume and believe everything offered to you.

4. RAISING A BETTER GENERATION OF FILIPINOS, DEINSTITUTIONALIZING COLORISM

Let’s deepen the meaning of “beautiful”. “Beauty is skin deep” is a cliche for a reason: it’s true. While phrases like “You are beautiful, whatever the color of your skin” and the like are somehow empowering and feel-good compliments, I think they make us forget about the things that truly make someone beautiful. Let’s focus the message to “be kind”, “have integrity “, “help others”, “be yourself”, “have courage”.

Let’s stop commenting on how little boys and little girls look like because that will teach them that their worth is dependent on the way they look, and nothing can be further from the truth. Compliment our children by saying “you’re creative”, “you’re a good friend”, “I learn a lot from you”, “you’re so talented”, “your potential is unlimited”. Feel free to make this list as long as you like.

Plenty of our trauma as dark skinned Filipinos were comments (nice list on Moreno Morena ‘s page) from adults close to us and from kids who’ve learned what they think and say from the adults in their lives whom they look up to as role models.

Let’s not be those adults. LET’S DO BETTER.

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