Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Boiling Waters PH.
One day, I was walking in a mall with a very pretty friend- a mestiza, she’s thin with curves just on the right areas, has a small face and almond brown eyes. We passed this store with three staff, all men, and one of them said, “Miss, can I take I photo with you?” I immediately turned to see who was talking, not because I assumed he was talking to me, I know he wasn’t. But it was an automatic reaction for anyone, I guess, when you hear something spoken towards your direction. Anyway, when I looked, that guy immediately said, “Just her”, pertaining to my friend, and another chided “The other one who’s pretty”, and then they all laughed. I was stomped, pissed, and stupefied. Not because they don’t want to take a picture with me, but because they basically and shamelessly insulted me and my appearance. They could have just kept their mouths shut; instead, they’ve let their uncalled for opinion make bullets out of their lips.
I’m brown-skinned, short, flat-chested, and with what they call a Filipino nose, and I live in a country where fair skin, thin body, a small face with a small and narrow nose are the standards glorified as beauty. Growing up, all I’ve been hearing from my extended relatives was how dark I was, or how my nose looks a little big. My ancestors are a mix of Chinese, Spanish, and Filipino descents, so most of my grandfathers, grandmothers, aunts, and uncles are on the mestizo/mestiza category. With me belonging to the small number of family members who are not blessed with milky white skin and a drop of “foreign” genetics, I was pressured to become white- not light, white, and to have a “better” nose.
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Watching TV didn’t help either, as all advertisements, almost all products, are geared towards helping every Filipino to be white. As early as 12 years old, I tried my very first papaya soap and whitening lotion (that was supposedly for teens).
I was constantly insecure about my color, seeing that even in school, the white-skinned students are more favored. I remember this one time when a senior came to our classroom to recruit dancers for a folk dance number. I eagerly raised my hands because I wanted to dance. Can you guess who she picked? White student 1, white student 2, and white student 3. None of us was experienced in dancing; it was supposedly open for all who were willing to join. “You, you have a fair skin” was all that it boiled down to. I didn’t understand the relevance of having that particular skin color in what is supposedly a folk dance (Filipino folks are kayumangi, meaning brown-skinned), and I sure don’t understand it still until now.
Fast forward to teenage years and high school, the most brutal era of all. Now, a little lighter (my old self says yaaas) and still using my trusted papaya soap, my self-esteem went from middle to downhill. I felt like as I was growing up, the pressure and the need to be “pretty” is growing as well, thus leading to my insecurities to pile up. It didn’t help that I had acne during these years. In one traumatizing incident that I still remember clearly with a heart-pinching ache even to this day, a classmate heard me asking my best friend what soap she was using, and said “Why bother? You’re never going to be pretty, anyway.” He used the word never. Not “not”, but “never”. I wanted to cry at that moment, but I was only able to look at him, dumbfounded for a few seconds, before falling completely quiet.
Those comments scarred me for life. I think it was when I completely lost my self-esteem- I would try to hide my face with my hair, walk with my head down, sit in the corner of the classroom, and have anxiety attacks even in the idea of just introducing myself in front of the whole class. It scarred me so much that even when someone notices something beautiful about me like my eyes, or my lashes, or my legs, I take it as something people would just say because they pity me. I didn’t believe I have something good in me.
I didn’t believe there’s beauty in me.
Until one day, I came upon a spiritual article where it was discussed how no one is perfect, and how God intended it that way. There, it said that God blessed each of us with different gifts because we have different purposes, and we are ought to help one another. It explained how you are given one thing and not another because you are ought to help while you are also meant to receive help. Right then and there, I felt like the article asked me to look into myself, scrutinize my whole being, and find something good that not only can make me feel better and confident, but also something that I can share with other people.
That night, I stared at my room’s ceiling and mentally listed down all the good things people said about me: Smart, helpful, kind, funny… I was surprised as the list went on and on. I realized how shallow my interpretation of beauty was. I was eaten by a mindset that prioritizes appearance when the world does not even revolve around it. I listened too much to other people’s voices, to television ads, and to society’s qualifications, that I overlooked the positive qualities I have. The thing is, beauty does not begin and end in your face, your body, or your skin color. Now, before anyone says here that I’m bashing or trying to shove negative ideas about people who are physically beautiful, this is just what I’m trying to tell you: beauty is simply limitless and it shouldn’t be caged in a single idea or thought or standard. Whether it’s your face, your personality, or your intellect, everyone has their own beauty. You just have to search for it in you and believe in it once you find it.
Life isn’t perfect so I’m not saying every day is a walk in the park and I don’t get insecure. I still do, often. And I think, everyone experiences the same, one way or another. What’s important is, in every insecurity that seeps in your head, remind yourself of what’s good in you. There are still and there will be a lot of standards out there, trends that come and go, but don’t let yourself get caught up in these. Focus on what you’re blessed with. Continue to improve yourself- whether physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually- make your beauty bigger and share it with everyone else. Finally, do what makes you happy. Instead of listening to the pressures of the society, listen instead to your needs. Your voice should be the loudest one in your head. Give yourself love so you can give love to other people too.