An examination of our cultural obsession with skin color.
I grew up in the Philippines, a country whose colorful history is evident in the very faces of its people and the richness of its traditions. The original indigenous Filipino population, characterized closely by native tribes that still occupy the northern and southern main islands of the country, are very distinct physically compared to the current mix of the population’s physical attributes. These tribes are known to be descendants from the indigenous people of the prehistoric Malay Archipelago. The present day Filipinos commonly associated with the country are a mix of different cultures. With an outstanding historical influence from the neighboring trade partners in China and Japan to the colonizing nations of Spain and Portugal, the territorial acquisition by the United States of America and all other relative relations with approximate Asian countries, the Philippines has truly become an archipelago mold of different nations. What does this mean?
This simply means that Filipinos these days may look like some variation of this:
(Both are television and film celebrities.)
And the aboriginal Filipinos may look like some variation of this:
They go by different names depending on where they naturally reside in the country: Aeta or Ayta or Dumagat or Igorot or as a whole, Negritos.
I opted to use photos of famous actors to draw the reality of extremes. The physical differences are quite stark, and it’s important to point out because there’s a real problem that exists not only in this country but also in other parts of the world. In addition, it’s pertinent to look at these comparisons without malice and subjection. I’m merely addressing an issue that is deep-rooted in the nation.
Indigenous Filipino traits include a wider jawline, wider nose and flatter profile, thick and curly hair, and most obvious of all, dark-colored skin. This is besides the shorter stature and smaller frame altogether.
With the mix of evolution and colonization, these Filipino traits have transformed the look of the nation completely. Many Chinese, Japanese, and other Asian cultures have always considered the Philippines home. When the Spanish colonized the archipelago for 300 or so years, intermarriage was normal and expected. Much of the current culture is owed to this Hispanic influence. The same happened when the Philippines became America’s territory for 50 or so years. All of these scattered events became the introduction of new traits and new genes. Better genes, apparently.
Growing up back there, I was always considered average in the subject of beauty. Coming from a mixture of a somewhat Indo-Japanese-Spanish mother and a predominantly Spanish father, I was pretty much just above the line. My great grandfather was Spanish, so I had mostly Spanish features. As a kid, my hair was black and straight; my nose was small and tall, and my eyes were big and round. I was born with pale, almost transparent skin, but this changed as I got older. By the time I was eight, my skin was darker than what the normal beauty standards preferred, and this is when it became troublesome.
Most people will tell me now how much they envy my skin color. I have that natural tan, so they say. Back then as a kid, I was considered dark. This meant that I was less attractive compared to my fairer-skinned friends. Even though my features were beautiful, my skin color made me less desirable. Did it bother me then? I’m not so sure I remember. I know I couldn’t try out for the majorette team because I didn’t have the mestiza look. Mestiza literally just means light and fair and all the features that come along with that, and basically not the opposite Morena, which just means brown-skinned but okay. Then people added malice to the word Negrito and used that to describe someone with predominantly indigenous features, negatively.
I remember having to bathe with soap that was supposed to make your skin lighter. My brother even bathed in milk one time, thinking that it will make his skin lighter as well. We weren’t allowed to play in the hot sun, as it would cause our skins to burn and get darker. And if we walked home from school, we always had to use an umbrella not because it would protect us from dangerous rays, but rather it would help us keep our skins fair. Even to this day, (no offense Ma) my mother still disapproves of me going to the beach for so long that my skin looks so dark. She tells me to look at myself and see how much I look like an Ayta or Igorot.
It’s a cultural problem and a really big one at that.
Maybe it was the colonial influence. Maybe it was the false truth established as governing rule by the Spaniards that came and conquered the little island nation and its men and women. Maybe these men and women were forced to believe that everything colonial was just better. Even the way they looked. Maybe. I don’t know.
Maybe it was the American influence. Maybe it was the western notion of beauty that changed the way this small nation looked at itself. If you were an actress in the Philippines, I guarantee you have light skin and a fair face. If you don’t, then you must be a comedian. Or a really talented singer. I really don’t know.
For us expats, it’s a totally different ballgame. Here in the United States, if we are ever ridiculed, it’s mostly for our slanted eyes or mongoloid-shaped heads. We get the yellow skin stigma here and there, but that really translates to gray. We could be brown, red, yellow, green, or pink, but the skin issue in this country is mostly black or white. The more black people talk about white skin and the more white people talk about black skin, the more we are teaching our children that there is a negative distinction. Much like how skin color in the Philippines falsely equates a person’s beauty and desirability, skin color here in the United States falsely equates a person’s complete being. The tint of your skin should not tell me anything about your mental capacity or socioeconomic status. The shade of your skin should not tell me anything about your capacity for violence or your musical preference. True, it’s very easy to succumb to the prejudices and unquestioned traditions that history has almost forcefully engrained in the back of our brains. But history is made in the future.
History is made in the future, not the past. Maybe we should stop watering deep-rooted negative traditions of cultural hatred and separatism. Maybe we should stop cultivating old, ugly notions of genetic supremacy and start learning how to really look at each other as equals in all manners of physical, mental, and emotional attributes. Maybe we should start believing that we are all equal citizens of one beautifully diverse world. Each one unique in its own pattern. Each one with a solid purpose of positive nature. Maybe it isn’t so difficult to do, to just simply get along and see past what light is reflecting back into our eyes.
Here’s a picture of our children. I want to show you how beautiful diversity truly is. Listed below it are all the different genes running through these three children alone.
A concoction wonderfully imagined and mixed together in varying amounts by God himself!
Let’s all stop limiting ourselves to one dimension. You might actually just be more than what you think you are.