Is whitening your skin still okay in this day and age?

I grew up with dark brown skin. It was strange because both my mother and father have fair skin, and my brother - born two years after me - have had their creamy color since birth. I remember not caring when I was a child, but the older I got, the more I was compared to my brother. My parents’ friends would always comment that it’s a pity that I’m dark (“sayang maitim”) and that my brother was good-looking because he had such fair skin. This is the kind of crap that messes you up when you’re young, but when I entered college, my skin just lightened by itself. I didn’t use any product other than normal body lotions so I assume that this is my natural coloring.

I’m still about two shades darker than my mother but I am nowhere near my color before college.

Left: High school Liz / Right: College Liz on her graduation day

Left: High school Liz / Right: College Liz on her graduation day

I’m not sharing this to brag about my “luck”. I just want you to know why I understand how hurtful it is to be considered a second-rate person just because of skin color. Before the age of women empowerment and third-wave feminism, before social media began to accept diversity and champion inclusivity, women (and men too) dealt with the toxic idea that white is better in all its full force.

That’s not to say we don’t, anymore. Colorism is still a huge issue in the Philippines. We were ruled by white men for close to 400 years and it’s difficult to shake off the idea that white is superior to brown skin. Until today we are voracious consumers of Western content, which influences us continue to idolize white people. Even the Asian content that we love - K-Pop, J-Pop, Bollywood, Chinese pop culture (to name a few) - heavily features Asians with pale white skin.

The business of whitening in the Philippines is still going strong. Filipinos spend billions of pesos on whitening, from products as innocuous as soap to serious treatments like drips, where they feed a whitening cocktail straight into your bloodstream. Does this sound expensive, hard to access, and require sound medical opinion? No. Go to any big mall, you’ll find a drip salon.

I’ve always believed that people should have the freedom to decide the way they look like. This applies to choosing to whiten our skin to conform to a popular standard of beauty. Beauty - in its current widely-accepted form - is power. It gives you access to closed rooms and social circles, more influence, more confidence (among other things). I’ve found it to be true that the more beautiful you are, the easier things have a tendency to be in confluence with your other strengths.

On the other hand -

This idea doesn’t exist in a vacuum, of course, so it’s important to educate yourself on the politics of beauty and understand the choices you make. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having dark brown skin, whatever your cultural context is. Is it beautiful? For some yes, for others no. The cool thing is that we don’t need to conform to what everybody seems to think is beautiful because we can do great things even without beauty. It’s a little harder, but this is why we need to embody the idea that beauty is just one of the many things that contribute to our happiness and self-actualization as human beings.

Being “woke” is necessary if we are to have more options and empower others to have more options as well. Privilege can only be shared and created when we enlighten ourselves and everybody around us.

So keep on speaking out against crap ads like the ones from Glutamax and Skinwhite recently. Support brands that align with your personal values. Numbers will always talk, and so will outrage. Perhaps others will not get why you’re being so maarte about it but you would have at least made them ask why it’s such a big deal. Hopefully, in the future, this will make whitening brands in the Philippines really think about the way they gaslight consumers into buying their products.