For Glory, by Lemuel Cantos

Gandang Filipina, kayumangging-kaligatan: Going or gone?

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Saturday, 16 August 2014 - Last Updated on August 16, 2014
For Glory, by Lemuel Cantos

For Glory, by Lemuel Cantos

White has many cultural notions built into its state as a color (though white’s state as a color itself is always good for an argument between kids, scientists, and artists). One of these notions is that there a certain aesthetic, a purity that defines it as the “good color.”

Unfortunately, that reputation for being a preferred color seems to have become an issue of skin in our country as well, with lighter-skinned people being preferred in terms of beauty over brown-skinned beauties.

Are Filipina beauties, the Kayumangging-Kaligatan, becoming a “rarity” because “being white is right?”

The brown and the white
Historically, Filipinos have always been of a darker color. Thanks to the mixture of cultures and races that have been living on our shores long before Europeans (Spaniards!) “discovered” the Philippines, we have had many types of skin colors aside from white: from the dark-skinned aboriginal races who are arguably the first to come over on land bridges, to the varying skin colors of those from Islamic and Chinese backgrounds.
One could say, then, that “being white and beautiful” at that point was mostly a mystery, except perhaps for those who came from Indian or Middle-Eastern bloodlines, who were probably the true first “Caucasian” beauties.

We could then reasonably trace back this preference for white skin as a sign of beauty to the coming of the Europeans themselves (Spaniards, etc.). Filipinos, ever being flexible and able to absorb other cultural traditions and make it their own, eventually absorbed the idea of lighter skin as preferable over other skin colors.

The waning of the Indio
These days, it seems that practically every female celebrity has lighter skin, and practically has dominant Caucasian features. And as for our duskier-skinned beauties? Well, to be honest, we don’t treat them so well. On one hand, we think of them as “exotic,” which begs the following questions to be asked: Are they exotic because they are beautiful in spite of having brown skin? Are they exotic because we think that brown-skinned women shouldn’t be beautiful, and yet these women are?

It’s like a gigantic cultural joke – because by implication, that means that our brown-skinned Filipinas who make the majority of the population are not pretty enough.

And that mode of thinking just leads to more issues.

Glutathione: Bleaching for beauty
For many (One technically should say “some,” but let’s not kid ourselves) Filipinas, the choice is now to look beautiful by bleaching their skin, to give it a whiter hue.

Now, it’s a sure bet that many people would argue that some of these skin products don’t bleach, but rather “promote a lighter skin tone through biochemical means.” That’s probably a nice way of saying: the product makes you whiter. However it is done, the shorthand term for it is that you are still bleaching your skin.

If you think about it, bleaching the skin to become whiter is basically compartmentalizing and simplifying the whole concept of beauty to one of skin color. The sad part there is, while you may have lightened your skin, you still have not changed your actual physical features, nor have you changed the way you “carry” your face, in terms of expression. So even if you had whiter skin… all you would have done is to give yourself lighter skin, but not necessarily make you more beautiful.

The racism card
Of course, right about now would be the best time to condemn the aesthetics of lighter skin as being a part of racism. And for sure, many people would probably defend the aesthetics of lighter skin, regardless of it being pointed out as racism. That’s because the logic is simple: white people look better. While that may exasperate many critics of the whole idea, it pays to remember that this whole thing isn’t really about skin color (even if it has been simplified to that level). This whole thing is about aspiration.

The meaning of being white
The idea of having lighter skin – even if it’s only lighter skin – is actually a symptom in our culture of a much deeper need: the need to be lifted from the poverty and hardships that many face.

It’s all about cultural programming. All those movies where foreign film stars live the glamorous life, seeing all these American and European celebrities being voted to the “top ten” lists for beauty are all propaganda for how being whiter is better, so to speak.

So, in a way, having lighter skin isn’t just about imitating the skin. In our society, which has deep mystical and animist roots, it’s like wearing another’s skin entirely – that by wearing the other skin, we can become the other. It is glutathione as the magical trinket, bleaching as the magic spell that can call on good luck and prosperity, aside from beauty.

Beauty on a budget
On a more practical side, lightening one’s skin is also an exercise in doing what you can within limitations. After all, plastic surgery isn’t necessarily within reach of many. It’s the ages-old idea for make-up, as well: you can fake it ‘til you make it.

How does the brown survive?
Unbelievably, there is a resurgence of brown skin as a standard of beauty. For those who are athletic, having pale skin is actually a bad thing, as it denotes a sedentary lifestyle.

Now a sedentary lifestyle may have been favorable for some women, given the reading that for one to be sedentary, one has to be rich – hence the link again to being fortunate and being white. However, with a growing number of people – not just women, but men as well, brown skin has, in a somewhat ironic way, become a “password” for a whole lifestyle.

But even then, that is still a bit of a danger, as now, the mix of beauty and brown skin has become a niche market, which is ironic, seeing as most people in our country are brown-skinned. Therefore, until we can shake off this disturbing and annoying facet of what can only be termed as colonial mentality aesthetics, then we shouldn’t be surprised if pale-skinned women will still be seen as beautiful, while brown-skinned beauties will forever remain “exotic.

It really is time for us to appreciate our own natural skin color. Because, really, it’s just a color. What makes for true beauty is how well we carry ourselves.

“For Glory,” by Lemuel Cantos, c/o www.flickr.com

Richard Leo Ramos (73 Posts)

Richard Leo Ramos is a writer, editor, and pop culture enthusiast. When not working, he is a bass guitarist of the metal band Cog. He is also the founding "bar owner" of an online hangout for mecha anime enthusiasts in Facebook, known as Mecha Toys.


About Richard Leo Ramos

Richard Leo Ramos is a writer, editor, and pop culture enthusiast. When not working, he is a bass guitarist of the metal band Cog. He is also the founding "bar owner" of an online hangout for mecha anime enthusiasts in Facebook, known as Mecha Toys.

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