Friday, October 26, 2007

Is Beauty White Skin Deep?

After three months of watching Philippine television, it was difficult not to miss the numerous ads on skin whitening. I’ve been aware of these in the past but it seems that all the famous cosmetic brands are now embracing this national obsession to be fair skinned.

"When it comes to whitening, I trust only one name", proclaims a young, fair skinned model. Her ad is just one of many that claims their cream or lotion has “Power whitening”, “Whiter skin that stays”, “Star white skin", and "White radiance intensive whitening cream, closer to perfect fairness". A popular soap star who promotes a whitening cream reminds viewers that the "batok" (back of the neck) and the "siko" (elbow) must also be white.

According to some of these ads, papaya and calamansi (of the lime family) are ingredients that help skin turn white and stay white. Even armpits have to be white. It is no longer enough that you use deodorant to get rid of the “baboy” (pig) in your underarms. Women specifically, must show white armpits in case they raise their arms in public. Otherwise, they’ll stand to lose their boyfriend or bevy of admirers.

One ad I remember from a few years back was of a young bride-to-be who was worried her skin was not white enough to wear a white wedding dress. In Western countries, Caucasian women love to sunbathe to get that healthy tan before donning that white dress. White skin in a white gown projects a ghostly image while tanned skin glows with a white outfit.

It’s obvious that there is a stigma attached to brown or dark skin in the Philippines. As they discussed in a popular morning TV show recently, young men prefer women with white skin. The beautiful and ‘kayumanggi” actress, Angel Aquino, defended the brown skinned woman who she says grows on men the more they observe her. Another point made by a white skinned panelist of the same show is that when a brown skinned woman sweats, she is more dirty looking than a fair skinned woman who perspires as profusely. Really?!!!

Growing up healthy and brown in the Philippines, I was always the object of teasing by classmates who called me “batok” meaning burnt in Ilonggo. I’ve also heard people say that I’m “beautiful but too dark” and I’m “bright but brown”. I’m never just beautiful or just bright. People always qualify their remarks by saying “maitim siya” (she's black). I guess I should accept the complements with grace and serenity.

There’s no doubt that opposites attract and many Filipinas with dark skin buy these products that promise whiter skin. They can’t be blamed because in a society where white skin is emulated, even the poor people do what they can to have white skin. My maid bought body powder she saw advertised on TV and applied this to her face so she could look white without realizing how funny she looked.

A young woman I spoke to at the beauty parlor told me she uses these whitening creams regularly or goes to a skin whitening clinic. She was not aware how susceptible her newly peeled and thinned skin is to the sun's harmful rays and skin cancer. And it's pretty hard to avoid the harsh sun in these islands where the sun shines nearly everyday.

Is beauty really white skin deep only?

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