Thursday, March 4, 2010

Of Skin-Deep "Beauty" And Shallow Values

As I mentioned in a previous post one of the most irksome aspects of Filipino culture is the fixation on light (read white) skin, especially among women. So it was refreshing that no less than the Mayor of Makati City, Jejomar Binay, recently made a statement criticizing this sign of colonial mentality.

As Mayor Binay pointed out, cosmetics companies profit from this obsession by exploiting the popular notion that brown skin is something to be ashamed of. So they (very successfully) push skin whiteners as the path to beauty, no matter that poor quality brands of these products are often toxic.

I recall a television commercial for a whitener that told viewers that by using the advertised product, they would "look white and stay white." That is just pathetic. Think how much consumers could save instead of throwing away money on these useless products that do nothing more than appeal to a misplaced vanity and consider what these millions of pesos could do instead to improve Philippine society if properly redirected.

The main reason for Filipinos' self-identity issue is that for generations they have allowed themselves to be brainwashed into thinking that Caucasians, especially Americans who ruled this country for 50 years, are superior to their "little brown brothers" as U.S. President William McKinley referred to the people here. As a result of this now internalized racism, rarely if ever for example will you see a Filipino celebrity or even sales people in the country's leading department store chain who are not light-skin.

But skin color should be neither a source of shame or pride. Whatever one's race or ethnicity might be is an accident of birth and is something over which we have no control. So it behooves each of us to accept himself or herself as a unique individual and to not delude ourselves with pointless envy or magical thinking in trying to be who and what we are not.


Alan said...


Many of us want to look like someone else. A lot of it is conformity to social beauty standards (cosmetic surgery),some of it is pathological (body dysmorphia), and I don't know where to put transsexuals.

But ethnicity is a biggie. Among American Blacks, "grocery bag brown" is the desired norm. There used to be a big market for skin lighteners here in the US, but then we learned that "Black is beautiful (but not too black)."

Secular Guy said...


I all but forgot about skin whiteners for Blacks--along with hair straighteners.

Blacks and Filipinos aren't the only groups who chased (or are still chasing the "all-American (WASP) look. Remember the large number of Jewish girls used to get nose jobs before Streisand and Midler came along?

***my mnemosyne*** said...

I'm a Filipino,and honestly I don't like this skin-lightening/whitening mania either. And I saw this ad on TV recently, it was about a skin-whitening lotion for KIDS (ages 9 TO 13 I think is their target market)!It's really bad, I mean to the point that you influence children into thinking that they can be better if they have lighter skin...

I am morena (typical filipino color), and I looove it! I guess that's the problem with Filipinos... they worship Caucasians and want to become like them, instead of striving to be a better Filipino. :(

Secular Guy said...
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Secular Guy said...

Thanks for your reply M.M.; I didn't know about the skin-whitening lotion for kids. Some businesses will do anything to make a buck, but that's really going over the line.

My Filipina wife is also very comfortable with her skin color: bronze with a touch of yellow which is from the Chinese part of her ancestry, Like you she also scorns white wannabes.

Anyway, it's good to hear from Filipinos who haven't been brainwashed into being ashamed of their skin color.

Jonha @ Happiness said...

I really like the comments. These are usually what makes blogging more fun and scintillating. I am totally guilty about wanting to have lighter skin but not totally stripping myself with the natural Filipina color (mainly because it's way difficult and expensive to) but I thought it would be great to enhance my beauty a bit and take a little more time to take care of myself than before. I have always been so contented with what I have to the point of neglecting some beauty regimen. I think it's normal to try and enhance your potentials but not to totally take away something nature has given you. I am very enlightened by this post. So far, this has been the most edifying among the many expat blogs I've been to.

Secular Guy said...


Thank you very much for your for your comments.

I had never considered that there might be a middle ground for wanting lighter skin as you have proposed. You've certainly given me food for thought about this topic.