The Standard of Beauty in the Philippines

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I look white. I stay white.”

I took the above photo in a department store in Antipolo, but these kinds of ads can be found everywhere, from in-store ads to billboards to TV and radio commercials.  This slogan is the defining characteristic of the Filipino ideal of beauty.  To some degree, it applies to men as well.

Filipinos have a mixed heritage that can be traced back to Malay, Korean, Chinese, and Spaniard origins, but the original inhabitants of the Philippines, called ‘Atas’ I believe, were dark skinned and had tight, curly hair and flat noses.  The Spaniards referred to these people as Negritos because they resembled small native Africans.

During the course of hundreds of years of colonization the Filipinos began to associate power and dominance with people of lighter skin tones, with long straight hair and sharp, ridged noses.  The word ‘Atas’ became a derogatory slur hurled by children in the schoolyard to describe someone that was ugly, dark, or to indicate a person that behaved in a primitive fashion.

Today, the average Filipino TV star, movie celebrity, music artist, and even sometimes politicians are mestizo, meaning they’re of mixed parentage, with one parent being Filipino and one parent being a foreigner, usually a Caucasian.  This is also sometimes referred to informally as being tisoy or tisay, depending on whether a person is male or female, respectively.  In the old days of Spanish colonial rule, these mestizos were placed on a higher social status, between pure Spaniards and pure Filipinos.  That idea of being in a higher social caste based on mixed parentage has survived in the form mentioned above until today.  Some mestizos take this mentality to an extreme and strut around with airs of superiority that generally piss off everyone around them.

For everyone else, there’s whitening products galore available in every ‘sari-sari’ store, grocery store, convenience store and department store in the country.  Whitening soaps, whitening creams, whitening bath salts, whitening deodorant, and even whitening cleanser for the genital areas.  Also, the standard hair treatment for Filipinas (female Filipinos) is to have their hair straightened and rebonded, which leaves the hair hanging straight down and flat, as far from short and curly as possible.  Also, nose jobs are popular among the more well-to-do Filipinas to give them a more Caucasian looking appearance.

The end result of this is narrow ideal of beauty is that most Filipinas wind up looking the same.  Oddly enough, this is more true of Filipinas in other countries, like Singapore, than it is in the Philippines themselves.  I’ve seen quite a few Filipinas in the Philippines who are working hard to achieve this standard look, but in Singapore I used to joke that the Filipinas there are part of a drone army, because they all look the same and you can pick them out of a crowd from behind, without even having to see their faces.

Men in the Philippines seem to have more leeway when it comes to standards of fashion with hair and skin tone (as long as they’re not too dark), but nose jobs are still popular if affordable.  Thankfully there are soap products available for men that don’t whiten the skin.  I’m white enough already.  In fact, I’m trying to get a tan.  The sun in the Philippines is like the sun at the beach and I still equate a tan with being healthy.

This is a matter of personal taste, but I always found that diversity breeds uniqueness, and uniqueness is what’s truly beautiful.  If everyone looks the same, with the same haircut, the same artificially whitened skin, the same nose job, then there’s nothing special about that ‘look’ anymore and it becomes bland and unappealing.

Standing Out Like A Sore Thumb

When you’re a white guy and you’re in the Philippines you’re something like a superstar.  It feels like you’re being followed around by the paparazzi or something.  This isn’t really the case in the Manila area, well not so much anyways, but out in the provincial areas, everyone takes a look at you.

I get the feeling that in the Philippines people who live in the provincial areas don’t travel too much, so they probably don’t see foreigners very often.  When I was walking around the Pampanga area people would sometimes plainly stare.

There was an instance where I was riding on a Jeepney with my wife and my father-in-law.  Two Filipinas were sitting across from us at opposite ends of the bench.  Every time I looked their way they were eyeing me.  One of them had a distasteful or maybe a hateful look on her face.  Maybe she had something against me being there, or maybe the look was aimed at my wife, who’s also a Filipina.  The other one looked like she was hoping I would come talk to her.  When the latter one got off the Jeepney and walked past us, she gave me a funny looking smile, like she was trying to be cute.  I thought it was even more strange, because she didn’t seem to care that my wife was sitting there with me.  It’s not as if I was trying to hide my ring or anything.  My wife told me that it’s normal.  Just the fact that you’re from another country makes you extra attractive in the Philippines and she says a lot of the girls there are very unscrupulous when it comes to married men.

Other times the stares weren’t quite so pleasant.  When we were traveling from Porac to Antipolo I was carrying my laptop in a bag.  Quite a few people looked me up and down like they were sizing me up and contemplating what might be in my bag and whether or not it might be worthwhile to try to rob me.  My wife says that a lot of Filipinos have the mentality that all foreigners in the Philippines must be rich.

That mentality definitely has its downsides.  Everywhere you go people call out “Hey mister! Hey mister!” to you, trying to get you to purchase something from their stall or something they’re carrying around.  Like I mentioned in a previous post, it’s like having a cloud of mosquitoes buzzing around you all the time.

Being a foreigner in the Philippines has its ups and downs.  Sometimes you feel like a superstar.  Other times you wish you could just blend in and enjoy the scenery without being bothered.