by Adelle Tamblyn
A few days ago, my mother, who is of Filipino and Spanish origin, told me some events that happened to her not too long ago. At church, my mother had met another Filipino woman, but much older. This woman was half Filipino and half Spanish. This woman, on hearing that my mother was also Filipino, started asking about my mother’s background: “Are you 100% Filipino?”. “No”, my mother replied “I’m half Spanish”. The older woman apparently looked at her in a disbelieving manner: “Then why are you so dark?”, she questioned.
Why are you so dark? What a silly, churlish question, I thought. It seems so odd, I thought. You don’t just ask someone that. But the more I thought about this woman’s question, the more I thought about why she asked it, and what significance does skin colour hold amongst Filipinos?
I began to rack my brains for signs of fair-skin preference amongst the Filipinos I know, whether it was something they said or did. There is one saying in Tagalog: “She could be beautiful; it’s just a pity she’s dark”. I have heard harsher comments on other Filipinos: “Look at her skin colour, and her NOSE! She looks like a maid”. I know one woman who uses a concoction of bleaching creams and soaps religiously. Are these all signs of colourism amongst Filipinos?
Colourism is evident not only in India, but also in the Philippines, Korea, Japan, Nigeria, Pakistan and in South American countries, to name a few. In the Philippines, Television programs are saturated with light-skinned people, a great majority of whom are half-Filipino, typically of the highly-sought-after mestizo/mestiza variety (“mestizo/mestiza” meaning a half-Filipino with fair skin and Spanish-like features). Furthermore, there are shopping malls filled to the brim with skin whitening products in the Philippines. However, this does not necessarily reflect the look of the average Filipino. Nonetheless, the saturation of white-skin ideology in a society whose natural skin colour is typically brown are marginalising Filipinos into thinking that there is only one type of beauty: white.
In the Philippines, skin colour and nose shape are of high importance. In a country where the majority of the people are naturally dark, why are people equating white to beauty?
Whilst some would argue that having mestizas in the media and selling and producing skin whitening products is simply a reflection of what Filipinos want, others would argue that the root of this issue goes much deeper than that. In an interview by Al Jazeera’s ‘The Stream’, Yaba Blay, the Co-Director of Africana Studies at Drexel University, suggests that the desire for whiteness in many countries is due to colonialism. The colonialism argument is not a new one: the idea is that during the time of colonialisation, manual labourers would get dark as they worked all day in the sun; the wealthy and powerful lived a life of leisure indoors, therefore staying fair. The Philippines is no stranger to colonialism: the country has been colonised by the Spanish, the Americans and the Japanese. In line with Blay’s argument, fair skin ideology is linked to power, civility, social mobility and beauty.
The white ideology from colonial times has been passed on from one generation to the next: today, it is perpetuated in the selling of skin-whitening products and constant media exposure to the equation that white equals beautiful. But does it really matter so much that countries like the Philippines see white, fair skin as beautiful? On the surface, fair as beautiful may not seem like such a big issue; however, in a country where the skin colour of its people are naturally of a darker skin tone, sending messages of “white is better” only seeks to suppress its people, simply for being dark.
Link to video referred to: http://stream.aljazeera.com/story/201308212347-0022992