Girls in pretty dresses
Jasmine Curtis-Smith is a pretty girl. She is sister to show biz darling Anne Curtis, and is a “model, actress” who “loves to read books and listen to music.” She is also, according to Bayo Clothing, “50% Australian, 50% Filipino.” The ad has Jasmine posing in khaki slacks and a checkered blue button-down, the picture of preppy youth. The Bayo advertising campaign also includes Kharu (30% Indian and 70% Filipino), Ana (80% Chinese and 20% Filipino), Nikita (60% African and 40% Filipino) and Margo (40% British and 60% Filipino). The ads, now supposedly taken down from public viewing, implore the young women of middle-class Philippines to answer a question: “What’s your mix?”
What appears to be a manifesto of sorts is printed beside Curtis-Smith, and is still circulating online. “This is just about MIXING and MATCHING,” says Bayo. “Nationalities, moods, personalities and of course your fashion pieces. Call it biased, but the mixing and matching of different nationalities with Filipino blood is almost a sure formula for someone beautiful and world-class. We always have that fighting chance to make it in the world arena in almost all aspects.”
The images, along with the models’ various racial proportion, come from the company’s official sites, but the alleged Bayo manifesto that stirred a tempest online has not been proven to be from Bayo’s channels. That it was written like a high school freshman’s rushed home economics paper is enough to wonder if Bayo itself sanctioned the text of the ad, or if the manifesto was added by an angry blogger with a PhotoShop program and a high sense of irony. It is difficult to believe there is an ad agency somewhere in Makati whose people believe “it’s classy, basic and timeless pieces” is in any way grammatical.
Whether or not the manifesto is theirs, Bayo has released multiple statements apologizing for the “confusing” advertisement, without denying ownership of what is perhaps this year’s most ungrammatical ad copy. Silence functions as consent in a social media universe, a single tweet can cause the suspension of shock jock Mo Twister and the firing of CNN senior editor Octavia Nasr, a single legitimate denial from @bayomanila can lessen the online rage. That the company did not makes that manifesto all the more Bayo’s voice.
The heart of the “What’s your mix?” campaign are the slogans declaring racial percentages slapped across images of mixed-race models. I am not certain what odd math Bayo employs in the calculation of racial percentages, but in an attempt to answer the campaign’s question, I will admit to the existence of a grandmother who may or may not be “50% Spanish, 50% Filipino.” I am told as well of a many-times-great-aunt twice-removed marrying a Chinese fortune teller several wars back, although that story is suspect, as the source is my grandfather Mao, a journalist by day and a teller of tall tales by night. I suspect that I am in no way part of the sort of mix advocated by Bayo in this campaign, underlined by the manifesto as a “mixing and matching of different nationalities with Filipino blood” that is bound to be “a sure formula for someone beautiful and world-class.”
Whatever genetic computation is necessary for a model to truthfully claim being 60% African, Bayo does not acknowledge that each heritage—Chinese, Australian, British—is in itself fundamentally mixed. Bayo refers instead to Jasmine Curtis-Smith’s Australian father and Filipino mother, and claimed a clean 50-50, irrelevant of whether some Curtis great-great grandfather made eyes at a lass who may or may not be, say, 17% Indonesian. Instead, the advertisement appears to celebrate second- or maybe third-generation “mixes,” those who can claim a computable percentage, children of diplomats and sons of expatriates, the soccer stars and ice cream endorsers and long-legged game show hosts. Mix your race, sayeth Bayo, and produce stars and kings.
The linking of race to choice of bracelet color or print-on-print outfit makes the campaign not only an insult to most of its customers but also a simplistic appreciation of the politics of race and colonization that this country struggles with daily. That I can say that my heritage cannot be reduced to absolute percentages is not some metaphorical attempt at patriotism; it is a function of fact and a genetic mix that results from whatever fornication occurred in the Philippine peninsula in the roughly 67,000 years since the first caveman copped a feel.
That the copy was written, produced, approved, blown up into billboards and posters and shipped to Bayo branches nationwide implies that a major Filipino-owned clothing company believes—and has spent on the belief—that the Filipino public will spend hard-earned cash on clothing that claims the acquisition of an Australian husband is the near-certain way to breed children better than the average Filipino. It is difficult to believe Bayo created the campaign with the intent to offend, perhaps it is a matter of incompetence and a lack of social perception. That it was an ill-thought campaign is a given, but ill-thought campaigns with these risks generally do not make it to the company website.
The underlying offense of the ad—foreign over Filipino—is not just a belief held by Bayo, whose previous celebrations of the Filipino woman makes this particular ad more striking. A foreign bias is the same rationale that looks down from Katie Holmes’ Kamiseta billboard, Leighton Meester’s much-celebrated trek down the Penshoppe runway, and Joe Jonas shaking hands with Bench’s Ben Chan. Foreign stars have been zipping in and out of the Philippine advertising scene, smiling for the media and swinging Hilton-blond hair over Edsa motorists. Bayo is not alone in its racial snobbery; it only called it out, demonstrating that this “racism” is not only acceptable, it sells and sells well. The company has been attacked by the reliably reactive online community, and although some argue overreaction, it is only right.
There may be a reason the Younghusbands and their brotherhood of “mixes” dominate the soccer arena, and a logic behind the PBA’s acquisition of 6-foot-tall African-Americans, but there is no rationale for the claim that this race is less because it is merely Filipino. There are many who still believe this, unconsciously or otherwise, but to celebrate it, to claim its rightness and announce its validity under the banner of Filipino pride by a leading voice in industry—that is the mistake. There is nothing wrong with mixed lineage. The wrong goes deeper, under the skin and in the national memory, a result of hundreds of years when the motherland spread its legs on orders from white men. Bayo may be Filipino, but it wishes it were something else.
I do not claim superiority, but because I am Filipino, a daughter of Filipinos, I can know what snobbery looks like, even dressed in pretty prints. It is a gift from a heritage that took generations to see it.