Do me a quick favor. Before reading this (but please come back), open a new tab, and Google “Filipina actresses” and scroll through the top searches carousel. Notice something? Notice a theme? A color theme?
Light skinned as fuck, am I right? Pardon my language, but it’s true, no? For years, YEARS, I was mentally thinking, “Alright, I guess to be pretty in Filipino standards, you gotta be light. I’m out.” It doesn’t help that even on American television, I never saw myself represented on TV. I had white actresses to look up to.
Frankly, me rejecting being dark wasn’t at the forefront of my mind. It wasn’t something I knowingly acknowledged as a kid. Subconsciously, this bled into my formative years. I hid in my own embarrassment if I came back from the sun looking “burnt.” (Use your sunscreen though, young Ash) I’d ask myself, “I’m pretty dark already. Why would I want to be even DARKER?”
The mentality of wanting to be lighter than our natural-born skin is a fucked up mindset many people grew up on. I never had the first-hand experience of purchasing papaya soap. Still, I’ve seen first hand how much our culture pushes whitening products in your face. As if it’s just as normal as buying some bananas at the grocery store. It’s confusing, to say the least when you’re a kid, and you see something right in front of you saying, “Get light skin fast.” Look at this freaking ad I literally just Googled for crying out loud.
Notice how the lighter you get, the more “beautiful” you become? What kind of fucked up shit is that marketing? I legit looked like the last girl on the left growing up. How is that not intoxicating for a girl at that age teaching herself, “Yo, I have to buy this soap now so I can transform to the last girl on the right.”
This rejection stems from our surroundings, what we’re taught, and what we see. In this one instance, this isn’t easier said than done. We can do this. It starts with us showing one another and opening everyone’s eyes. (A movement Asia Jackson spearheaded back in 2017) It’s now our job to instill that our melanin is nothing to be ashamed of into the minds of others. No matter what shade you are.
Dark skin isn’t less than to light skin. Scrubbing your skin won’t necessarily permanently erase who you are. We need to change our mindset (if it isn’t altered already) and teach future generations that your color is beautiful.
This is the skin we’re born into and the skin we live in. Don’t throw that away. You can’t change the skin you’re in, but you can learn to love and embrace it.
When I posted Alaine’s IG post on my story (swipe all the way to the end), I loved that so many other womxn responded in some way. I felt seen. Srsly. And now I want my friends to be seen and heard.
As a little girl, I questioned these orange bars of soap in the shower (later to find out it’s papaya soap). My mom always told me that “light skin” was always considered more attractive in the Philippines than “dark skin.” Though my mom is lighter-skinned, she would still use the soap to keep her light. I always thought that it was weird and never really understood why.
What I did know is that this was implemented in my mom’s brain since she was a little girl and most Filipino society to this day. (Funny, because I sometimes get so sad I can’t get a good tan and be dark brown like my dad). Seeing this post opened my eyes to racial stereotypes, prejudice, and racism that has been/is implemented in a child’s mind at a young age.
This was a guaranteed way to think and how “society” sees fit. We should be proud of our skin’s shade no matter how much melanin is in it or lack thereof. We need to do better. Teach our children that no race or color is better/ worst. We are and SHOULD BE treated equally.
I actually never had my parents tell me that having a particular skin color shows status. It was when I started tapping into my Filipino culture in middle school because my neighbors were Filipino and spoke Tagalog. So I had to figure out a way to learn the Filipino culture and/or language. It was then I started watching the Filipino Network. That’s where I learned that having lighter skin was elegant and gave you attention.
Growing up, I heard the word “Mestiza” thrown out when I would be at family parties or meeting my parents’ friends. I just didn’t understand why my “lightness” was admired by older Filipino people. It also never made me feel prettier in any regard because growing with up a lot of Filipino, Mexican, and other Asian kids. Our classmates would deem the prettiest girl usually of beautiful golden brown skin & straight black hair. American culture also fetishizes tan skin. I wanted was to be a golden brown Pinay, not my pasty-off-white skin. In middle school, I started Filipino Folk dancing & learning Filipino culture through dance gave me a sense of pride. But, it also made me feel not Filipino enough. It was always especially weird when someone my age would ask “Why are you light?”, “is your dad white?” “is your dad Chinese?”. When I say both my parents are Filipino, they’re like disappointed. Being light puts you on a cultural pedestal for no reason.
Now that I have come to terms with my skin color through learning the colonial history of the Philippines, I acknowledge I have light skin privilege. I could be a Filipino movie star if I wanted to (hahaha eww, yeah right). But truthfully, I will never endure the struggle of someone saying I’m “kayumanggi.” I will never know what’s it like scrubbing papaya soap to clean my brownness body. But if I can help cleanse this colonial mindset from my parents and older relatives, I will continue to side with my fellow brown Pinoys / Piñays to embrace our culture. Inside and out.
Discussing anti-blackness with older conservative Filipinos at home is hard to navigate… but you have to start to teach where you can reach. By respectfully acknowledging and confronting the issue instead of staying silent, you begin to help your family understand why it is not ok and how to unlearn their oppressive perceptions.
Growing up, I was always judged for being the darkest one among my cousins/family. Even going to the Philippines, I was judged. Papaya soap, Belo beauty products, and other products were always offered to help lighten my skin. I didn’t think much of it as a child, but going into my adolescent years gradually took a toll on me. “Why can’t I just look like them?” “What’s so wrong with the tone of my skin?” It wasn’t until my cousins told me not to care what I look on the outside, but to nurture what’s on the inside. Beauty is beyond the skin, but the soul.
Growing up in my Filipino household, I was the black sheep in the family. I was always picked on a child for being dark when most of my family members were lighter than me. I’ve been called “Ms. Africa or Ms. Jamaica” for my skin tone, and often, when it came to nighttime, they would joke saying they couldn’t see me. As much as I love my family, I often dreaded and hated going to family parties because I knew my skin complexion would be brought up. And I was tired of it. I have cried numerous amounts of times over this because I had no control of my skin tone and was always picked on. They would say after that, I had a beautiful skin tone, they wished they had my tan, but after being picked on for so long, it was hard to believe them and see if they really meant it.
So, anytime someone actually complimented my skin tone, I wouldn’t believe them or change the subject immediately because I was sensitive about it. As I grew older, my mother would suggest using whitening soap to make my skin lighter, but it was painful. It stings! As a kid, who wants to stand for 5 minutes for the soap to sit on their skin? NO ONE! The soaps never worked for me anyway because I was always outside playing with my cousins.
Today, it’s still a constant battle and insecurity that I have, BUT I am now learning to embrace it and love it. It’s crazy to believe that I was taught that having lighter skin was better than darker skin growing up. The way you get treated is also very different, especially when you go to the Philippines. Honestly, I am tired of it all, and it’s just ridiculous. I realized I can’t do much about my skin tone but to own it and love it. I still am the same person I’ve always been, and my skin shouldn’t control my life.
I recognize that I have benefited from the systemic racism that has oppressed my fellow Black friends and Black communities. Growing up Filipino, I have witnessed our colonial perspectives and trauma contributing to our silence and perpetuation of systemic racism. I have stayed silent when hearing family members use derogatory terms to refer to Black people, obsess over skin whitening products, or the excited chismis of about my white partner and potential for me to have Mestizo/a children. And for this, I am guilty and ashamed of my choice to be silent and laugh off the awkwardness to avoid confrontation.
I realize that THAT is not acceptable. I believe Black Lives Matter, so what am I going to do about it? I have to turn my silence into speaking up and out, educate my family members and friends who are willing to listen and engage in difficult, productive conversations. It’s important to donate money to Black organizations, but I’m also using my time to listen to Black stories, deconstruct my current perspective on race and systemic oppression and re-learn how to conduct myself in a way that is supporting the Black Lives Matters movement.