During a recent visit with family, my mother lamented a change in my young niece. The 11 year old had majorly gotten into swimming and this cost, in my mom’s mind, one of Meg’s more attractive features: her fair skin. Tingnan mo ‘yan – ang itim–itim. Translated verbatim, look at that – very black-black. In my mother’s mind, having a china doll’s complexion is desirable. She has more than once been called china doll and she never once felt insulted. Afterall, this took a lifetime of avoiding the sun and nightly applications of Pond’s. And a few genes from her Chinese and Portuguese ancestors. My mom is tsinita, that is she looks Chinese, and she cherished the fact that her apo was also tsinita. Well, not anymore.
This all reminded me of a conversation my mom and I had a number of times while I was growing up. My brother could easily be mistaken for an Hispanic, while I, a Polynesian. He was and is taller and fairer while I am shorter and darker. Needless to say, when it came to my appearance, I was a very insecure child, adolescent and young adult. Thank goodness I immigrated to New York where I realized early on that there is more than one standard of beauty.
I do understand where my mom is coming from: a culture that values light complexion over dark, puti (white) over itim (black). Fairer skinned folks have some European blood in them and do not need to work outdoors, in the streets or the fields. Darker ones are not as fortunate to have their Malay blood diluted. I know more than one individual who is proud to claim a prayle (friar) as an ancestor. A google search using keywords “philippine skin whitening” nets 464,000 results in 0.14 seconds. “Filipino skin whitening” gets 133,000 entries in 0.16 seconds.
It was such a delight then, to meet over the weekend, three young Asian women who lamented their fair complexions. One, a Filipino American, told me how she found her light complexion freakish next to her parents’ and siblings’ brown hue. Another, a Filipino Chamorro, chimed in and said that she regularly tans. A third agreed and proudly flashed the bronze arms she had worked hard to achieve. All declared that they want to look Filipino, which to them means darker, less European and more Asian. Southeast Asian to be exact.
Perhaps, after growing up in the United States, my niece will be just like these young women. Beautiful and proud to be Filipino.
Image: The Ethnic Filipino Barbie Collection.