The Filipino Cataract
Beauty is and will always be in the eye of the beholder. However, when sight gets stolen, and the beholder is left blind, where does beauty take refuge? In the darkness underneath the mile-long stacks of whitening creams and sample foundations, it is there we will find it.
We are visual creatures by nature. How else did the notion of ‘love at first sight’ originate? We, albeit secretly and not necessarily on purpose, judge a person by our first impression of them. However, between the actual visual observation and the resulting judgment is the glitch in every human system – that is, the checklist of attractiveness and beauty. For most of us, this is where our obsession of looking “white” comes in.
We cannot deny that having a lighter complexion is a major qualification of beauty for many Filipinos. The excessive propagation of various whitening products – such as whitening soap, whitening deodorant, whitening lotion, and even whitening pills – is enough evidence. It is borderline ridiculous, yet the desire to test these has become a norm for some. For those with foreign eyes, it begs the question, “Why?”
The booby traps of whitening products cannot be entirely blamed for this Filipino obsession. This mentality is a by-product of the Spanish inquisition. Having a darker skin tone was an indication of a lower class status that tied itself with manual labor under the scorching heat of the sun. Fair skin tone, on the other hand, signified a high social status evident in the ruling mestizos.
This bias within the system ingrained a “mestizo madness” into the Filipino consciousness. Why would it not? The Spaniards had more than enough time to purport that whiter is better. In the advent of revolution and the attainment of sovereignty from Spain, the Filipinos almost immediately fell into the spells of American commercialism, which continues to prevail. Since then, this crazed obsession has perpetuated.
It continues to be a trend for Filipinos because “white” stands out. Who would not want to stand out, right? Especially in a tropical country whose citizens are sun-kissed. It is the survival of the fairest in this highly competitive society. However, we take this survival game to the next level. Being “white” is the metaphorical ticket of acceptance to the higher level of our society’s hushed up caste system: the rank of the picturesque, ‘artistahin’ and ‘pang-commercial model lang ang peg.’ Fairer skin allows for the privilege of not having to be ridiculed and the reward of “attention and uniqueness” that comes with excessive compliments for “having a larger chance at the big screen.”
A major consequence of this obsession is the association of ugliness with darker skin tones. This has been a mark in many telenovelas and soap operas where naturally beautiful women are painted in exaggeratingly darker tones and are depicted as outcasts, being the ‘anak ng mangkukulam’ or the ‘ugly and bullied’ characters. The most ridiculous part, however, is that the removal of the dark make-up alone magically revolutionizes the characters into Aphrodite. The characters, from being the continuously shunned, becomes the good-looking love interest of the protagonists, from being the ‘anak ng mangkukulam’ to being the town’s hero and from being ugly and bullied to accepted and celebrated. These repetitive clichés influence the mindsets of the masses who view them on a regular basis. Consequently, this transformation from “ugly” to beautiful misguides viewers into thinking a better life was conclusive to undergoing transformation that renders them with fairer skin; a dream for the Filipino closet romantic.
It means a great deal for many to satisfy this notion of beauty because with its attractiveness is the underlying positivity and the chance of success. Despite having alarming financial states, whitening products are continuously bought in the name of these deluded standards of beauty. Health is risked; money is forfeited; confidence is crippled. What a bargain indeed! The obsession of looking “white” and staying “white” brings a cosmetic craze, with people easily latching onto the latest trend of beauty regimes. As this craze worsens, so do the people who take the opportunity of generating more money out of it. Mislabeled products become prominent threats to loyal patrons, who find itchy red blotches and a serious case of skin atrophy instead of the promised fairer skin with a radiant glow.
With the Filipinos’ utter obsession of this perverted definition of beauty, beauty in itself becomes nothing but a highly-commercialized and highly-priced commodity. It further objectifies the ones tagged and untagged “beautiful”, and demeans the entire meaning of what it supposedly is.
“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.” Confucius asserted in his statement of the subjective nature of beauty. Whatever is beautiful for one might be the opposite for another. This subjectivity does not necessarily trash the notion of “white” as beautiful, but it paves way to a deeper understanding of the essence of beauty. It is everything. When sight is stolen from the beholder, beauty may still reside within the darkness, and the beauty of darkness is that it gives way to the light.
In due time, when beauty remains limited within the realms of human perception, blinded by the cataracts of society’s dictation and fully altered by our own human expectation, we shall see ourselves fade within the confinement of reflections and mirrors. It shall be the very time when we will realize how true it is that beauty transcends the color and fairness of the outside, but alas! It shall be too late.