Color complexes in the Philippines

by Lulu Maginde

In ‘Filipinos and the Color complex,’ Joanne Rondilla questions the reader, especially readers here in Asia, what the ‘ideal’ concept of beauty is, and how different people within Asia perceive beauty. As Rondilla focuses specifically on the Philippines and how skin whitening is utilized, or rather highly emphasized, it was interesting to find how skin-lightening products are marketed and sold as well as what these products are saying about beauty.

Rondilla claims that this concept of having a fairer complexion/lighter skin, stemmed from the Philippines’ deep history of colonization, after having been occupied by Spanish for over 300 years. This history most indefinitely influenced the way of life, culture and traditions, not to mention language and the concept of what is deemed beautiful.

After the departure of the Spaniards, then came the Americans, and many Filipinos will claim that until present, the Philippines is still a colony of the US, as most of the way of life in the Philippines has been greatly structured around a more Western way of life. Of course the country still has its rich culture and heritage, as well as its strict religious value system, however it is not hard to deny that US presence has greatly affected life in the Philippines.

This ties in perfectly to my next point of how Rondilla compares standards of skin color between Asian immigrants to the US to Asian Americans born and raised in the US. The main difference between these two groups is that while Asian Americans chose to tan, as it symbolizes wealth and a more luxurious life, Asian immigrants, for instance the Filipinos who immigrate to the US, are more likely to use skin lightening products in order to assimilate  into society. In the Philippines, having darker or more of a tanned complexion immediately reflected what social class one belonged to. If one had a fairer or lighter complexion, they belonged to an a higher social class, simply because they were not as exposed to the sun as working-class laborers.

This notion of a ‘relatable ideal’, or the claim that a certain type of beauty is the shared/common ideal amongst women in the Philippines is what is striking. Consciously or unconsciously, these women buy into an industry, in conjunction with certain media institutions, that greatly influences what may be deemed as beautiful. Thus, they buy into the idea that, due to capitalism, ‘everything can be bought and exchanged’.

Reference

Rondilla, Joanne L. (2009). “Filipinos and the color complex.” Pp. 63-80 in Glenn, E. Shades of Difference: Why skin color matters. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press

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