Embrace your skin

It’s almost a sin to be dark-skinned in this weary nation. The deplorable notion of having fair or white skin as a measure of beauty and social status has sickened me ever since I realized that I am — and would always be — darker than most of my friends.

In this country where the promotion of skin whitening products is so prevalent, it rouses in me a mixture of fascination and anger.

Supermarkets dedicate entire rows of these products for Filipino consumers. Hours are spent on TV commercials telling us that it is a must to have flawless skin. Pages of mainstream magazines are allocated for such imagery.

Even the sari-sari store at the corner of your street sells sachets of these stuff that will make you look like Snow White, as promised on the packaging.

Filipinos are so unapologetically Westernized. We worship Western notions of beauty. Lately, some of us have shifted gaze, trying to achieve the skin quality of the lead stars in our favorite Korean TV dramas.

We also prefer to be under the canopy of trees or the shaded part of a building when the sun is at its peak, not because of our fear of getting sunburned or acquiring skin cancer, but because “sayang ang gluta.”

In grade school until college, there were times when my eyes would linger at people who were white, wishing that I looked like them. In my eyes, they seemed superior.

As I grew older, I would often get asked, “Why are you so dark-skinned?” It felt like they were asking about the eighth deadly sin. “So what?” I would answer defensively. I have always had this irresistible urge to punch someone who gives tactless and nasty comments about my skin.

People endlessly tell me that I’d look more handsome if only I had fair skin. They always remind me to not stay beside someone fair-skinned in photos so my complexion won’t be emphasized. They also joke that they can’t see me in the dark.

I’d like to think I’ve already outgrown my insecurities about having this complexion, but at times I do wonder if I really have. People I meet or talk to remind me constantly of my skin color.

I feel that this obsessive preference for white skin is a huge slap at all hardworking Filipinos who brave the heat of the sun in the rice fields, on the treacherous seas, the narrow sidewalks or construction sites. For me, having brown skin is a symbol of being a Filipino, a part of our national identity.

Unfortunately, some are determined to forget their Filipino complexion in exchange for spotless, pinkish white skin.

Studies have shown that having dark skin leads to being bullied. Some people cry over it at night; many adolescents have already had their fair share of glutathione and other whitening products at such a young age because of the pressure to be whiter that they see around them. This is also why some people feel inferior every time they’re beside someone who’s light-skinned.

It makes me wonder if we as a people have really learned our history. Maybe we only remember the Spanish conquistadors or the mestizos, the Star-spangled Banner, or the soldiers from the land of the rising sun. What were the precolonial Filipinos like? Or maybe we’ve had it all wrong.

Centuries have passed, and we still treat our Filipino fellows who are dark-skinned differently. We have forgotten to embrace ourselves, because we have been so busy embracing what we are not.

Let’s put this stigma to rest. Having dark skin doesn’t make someone ugly; neither is having white skin an assurance of beauty. Let’s just enjoy life with the sun shining above us. Let us swim freely in our beautiful beaches, or trek up our highest mountains without the fear of getting dark.

Filipinos are the most beautiful people in the world. It’s about time we put #PinoyPride into practice and embrace and appreciate whatever the color is of our skin.

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Jackson G. Orlanda, 23, is a public school teacher at Zaragoza Elementary School, Bolinao, Pangasinan. The beautiful beaches of his province, he says, can give one a nice tan.