Colourism in the Philippines: Behind the Veil of Whiteness

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:


9 thoughts on “Colourism in the Philippines: Behind the Veil of Whiteness

  1. Pingback: Pinay Snow White | The Man Is Here

  2. This is brutally true. Why can’t pinoys be proud of their G-d-given natural tanned skin? It’s a blessing cuz it’s considered by others as healthy-looking, exotic, adventurous and close to mother nature having a earthy features.

  3. This is brutally true.. WHy can’t peenoys be proud of their G-d given natural tanned skin? :/ It’s a blessing cuz it’s considered by others as a sign of bein adventurous, beach luver, exotic and healthy-looking..

    • I totally agree. While the whites are tanning their skin defying the cancerous effects of the sun or the radiation from the tanning gadgets and skin regiments, the Filipinos are trying to get rid of their skin’s natural protection which is the melanin pigment by bombarding whitening products on their brown, natural tanned skin, which is the envy of whites.

  4. Medically, dark skin is the best skin when it comes to aging because of the melanin pigment that acts as protection against the damaging effect of the sun’s rays. Next are the brown skin. Sad to say that white skin are prone to advance aging, obviously because of the lack of melanin pigment. Maybe because of the whitening products that the notion of being white or fairer is more beautiful has something to do with business. But in reality, the most sought after Miss Universe’s title holders were mostly from the brown skin and the dark skin races. For me, beautiful skin comes not what color is it but it’s quality, weather it is glowing with health, soft and clear.

  5. Pingback: Colourism in the Philippines (Revised) – Pilipinx Pride

  6. That’s a silly assumption of that older woman. Skin color isn’t a defining factor in determining ancestry, its the facial features or skull shape that determines it and even then, not everyone with mix Caucasian end up having Caucasoid face. Spaniards themselves are diverse, in the northern part like the Basques and Catalans, they look more Western European but in the southern part which where my ancestors came from, most people there look Mediterranean not only because it was the center of Moorish invasion but also given its proximity to the Mediterranean Sea and North Africa. I’m 1/8 Spanish with heavy Jewish and Moorish (North African) admixture and so I have brown skin with dark Mediterranean features although I still stand out among Filipinos and other Asians. I’m proud of my brown skin as it accentuates my features. Most of my family members look typical Southeast Asians that many thought that I was adopted. People need to stop this colorism thing, it won’t get us anywhere. We are already fast approaching 2020, its way past the colonial era now.

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