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My child will be colorblind

I was born and raised in a society where being fair-skinned is marketed as a necessity.

Growing up, I noticed that being mestiza saved a girl from comments and criticisms often received by a morena. A mestiza was always prettier and therefore more ladylike than her counterpart. I was told to “keep out of the sun” like “good girls” did.

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When you’re fair and you show your bare face, you’re called beautiful. But when you’re colored and you let people see you raw, you’re called brave. Why is that? Beautiful and brave are such different contexts for two women who made the same decision — to show skin.

I know it’s a vague assumption to claim that mestizas have it easy. Some of you might still have to face other beauty standards — body silhouettes, hair types, the height of your nose, etc.

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At a very young age, I was told I’d be more beautiful if I were whiter. There were people who pitied me because I didn’t take after my mother’s complexion. She has fair skin. That became my biggest insecurity. I would scrub harder in the shower, thinking that if I rubbed off my outer skin, a whiter one would show. But, of course, it never happened. Like a lot of Filipino girls, I turned to whitening soaps for help. But they were no good as well.

For a country whose majority is brown-skinned, we Filipinos seem to find every possible way to ridicule our own kind. Sales in whitening products have been booming, coming from a society that proudly sings we are kayumanggi in a lot of Filipino songs. The use of whitening products is so prevalent that it has become a norm. Products containing glutathione take up a lot of space, or even a whole aisle, in grocery stores. They’re advertised widely in all campaign platforms. Products promise that you’ll get whiter in just seven days to a month of continuous use.

For a girl being called names like “Baluga,” “negra” or “pusit,” that promise will sound like an answer from God. Because of this, girls have accepted the repetitive messages of these ads to be true: That it is absolutely necessary to be white. Sure, being white is just one of the things in the long list of standards on being beautiful, but here in the Philippines, it’s right at the top.

Another factor contributing to this phenomenon is the fact that Filipino movies and teleserye often cast fair-skinned actors and actresses, even for roles that would have been more appropriate for those with darker skin. The fact that these dramas often cast mestizo and mestiza actors has a huge impact on our culture and mindset. It sends the message that fair-skinned people can have better, more interesting lives. The characters, although faced with many challenges, get their happy ending. This is not to demean the traits of a character, only to say that their being invariably white contributes to the notion that fair-skinned people are happier and more successful.

So, yes, after years of having been called names and told that my complexion should be lighter, I also turned to whitening products. Not because I thought that I would be more beautiful, but because I knew that having a lighter skin tone would make people address me properly, not through demeaning nicknames. What’s in a name? Names speak multitudes and attach a person to an identity. It can haunt you everywhere you go.

Someday, if I am blessed with a daughter, I would tell her that there is so much more to her than her skin color. I would encourage her to play under the sun and enjoy the beach without worrying about getting a tan. She would see beauty as a treasure more everlasting, not as fleeting as skin. Her eyes would seek personality over complexion, and that is where she would decide whether a person is beautiful or not.

If I would have a son, I would tell him that respect and admiration are due everyone, not just the fair. His eyes would see people, not their complexion. He will see beauty only after digging deeper into someone else’s soul.

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Shouldn’t we all be like that? In fact, shouldn’t all our children, even those who have not been born yet, be colorblind? If we are all colorblind, how truly colorful the world would be.

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Niza Mae Cañedo, 21, is mass communication student at the University of the Philippines Cebu.

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