For many years, the Filipino standard of beauty has always been heavily influenced by Spanish colonization and Western mainstream media. Aside from foreign influence, there is also an old Filipino belief that rich people have lighter skin because they don’t have to work under the sun. In turn, many Filipinos, especially morenos (brown-skinned) are told growing up not to stay out in the sun too long otherwise they’d get too dark. Whitening skin products like lotions, soaps, and glutathione treatments are very much in demand on the Philippine market, even to the extent of cheaper black market ingredients for skin bleaching being sold under the government’s nose. The ‘ugly person’ in Filipino movies is always dark-skinned with typical Filipino-esque features and used for comic relief, only to be rivaled with a tall, fair-skinned, mestizo (mixed-race) counterpart that outshines them in everything (maybe except in attitude). To add, Filipino children, are usually told to keep pinching their noses in hopes that they will grow longer. This affects both genders but women are usually the ones who get a harsher judgment and greater pressure to fit into this standard.
It is quite ironic that even Filipino mainstream media showcases the typical Filipino morena look as a “problem” rather than a norm. Because of this mentality, many celebrities in the Philippines who are mostly mestizas and sometimes, chinitas (Chinese-looking) are made to advertise to young Filipinas what most of them don’t have: fair skin with foreign features. As a result, many Filipinas resort to extremes, sticking needles in their arms for IV glutathione drips or bleaching their skin with products not approved by the FDA so much to the point of irreversible damage.
As a local, I can say that colorism is very evident in the Philippines and it can be observed in many scenarios. I’ve noticed that chinitas (Chinese-looking which I fall under) and mestizas tend to get special VIP treatment by other Filipinos because to them, looking ‘foreign’ equates to being wealthy, classy, and attractive. They could also be mistaken for tourists and Filipinos have a tendency to be very accommodating to foreigners. Oftentimes, mestizas are recruited for acting, modeling, and pageantry even when they don’t display interest or talent.
Morenas, the majority of the Filipino population, are ironically subjected to harsh prejudice by their own people. They receive a lot of backhanded comments like, “She’s beautiful but she’d be so much prettier if she had lighter skin.” They also tend to get bullied for their skin tone and be called names like unggoy (monkey) or agta (black giant creature in Filipino folklore), to name a few. They also tend to be considered ‘inferior’ compared to others with fairer skin. They’re even advised to marry foreigners, especially Caucasians just for the sake of having “a beautiful child” hopefully with foreign features and fair skin. It is a problematic mindset that needs to be fixed.
Many Westerners wonder why Filipinos hold these beauty standards of wanting whiter skin when most foreigners go to the beach for a tan or invest in tanning treatments to make themselves darker. Probably, it boils down to the fact that people want what they don’t have. However, that is not enough to reverse the long-standing mindset implanted in many Filipinos, especially those in the older generation.
Lately, many Filipinas are rejecting this unrealistic beauty ideal with the movement called Magandang Morenx (Beautiful Brown Skin; derived from the term ‘morena’ but the letter ‘X’ replaces the ‘A’ to allow gender neutrality). This movement was started by Asia Jackson, a half-Filipino and half-African American influencer who experienced shaming and bullying for her skin color but eventually learned to embrace it. Even if it was a brief movement and although not everyone is familiar with its name, it has made an impact on the Filipino millennials. Younger morenas (brown-skinned) have now discarded their whitening products to embrace their melanin. Beauty products made to clear but not whiten or bleach the skin have been launched. Brands that celebrate brown skin are making their mark. More morena actresses are now appreciated and admired just as much as mestiza ones.
There is still a long way to go to remove colorism in the Philippines but it shows a more promising future for Filipinos that there is beauty in embracing what they were born with. The first step to joining this revolution can be as simple as enjoying the sunny weather without worrying about getting dark.