It’s okay if you’re not mestiza. Really.


MANILA, Philippines – It’s okay if you’re not mestiza. Really. That is one of the most profound truths I wish to impart to my 6-year-old daughter. It may sound silly, but I’m serious.

She is growing up in a country where skin-whitening products are a billion-peso industry, as companies are cashing in on a national insecurity about our brown skin. Today, flocks of women buy potions with mercury or hydroquinone and other chemicals, practically poisoning themselves in an effort to be — you guessed it — whiter.

Many local ads that all essentially say: <i>If you’re brown, you have a problem. </i>The message is particularly insidious to young girls. Oh, if only you were shades lighter, life will be better! Boys will like you! You’ll have confidence! My daughter won’t just hear this message from all sorts of media, she will also hear real, live comments echoing this damaged part of our culture.

Right in front of her and her brother, an elderly relative once admonished me, “Why are they so dark?” I explained that they’ve been taking swimming lessons. To which followed the advice, “Stop it! They are sooo dark!” Skin cancer wasn’t the issue here, mind you, she was just concerned about the color of their skin. Upon seeing our daughter for the first time, someone had blurted, “Oh … she is … so … Filipina.” Her implication being who knows what, but I did trace some disappointment in her voice. What is so wrong with dark skin?

All this has an impact on the self-esteem of Filipino girls everywhere — whether morena, mestiza, chinita or any other racial mix. Comments about looks seem to have become the standard conversation-starter with young women. You’re so pretty! <i>Ang payat mo!</i> I’m guilty of this, but now I realize it has to stop. That girl in front of me may be a real beauty, but I’m going to skip the discussion on how cute she is and move on to more relevant topics. I can talk to her about her art projects, the books she reads, music she listens to, how she’s doing in school or what sports she’s into. I’ll ask for her opinions. Listen to her ideas. Move on to … what she is doing with her life that bears real meaning. If we change the way we talk to girls around us, one day we may have more Filipinas comfortable with themselves however they look.


Extracts from a Rappler article (original) by Anonymous. Published 13 March 2012.

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