Friday, February 29, 2008

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall...The Other Beauty



Who's the fairest of all?


While we relentlessly convince North American women to be forever youthful with big breasts, teeny waists, white teeth, clear skin, fatless figures, waxed bodies, and designer jeans...








...many women of colour struggle with being too dark-skinned, squinty-eyed, kinky-haired, flat-faced, big-lipped, wide-nosed...





Judging by these impossible expectations, one can't really win!



In Filipino culture, a light-skinned ideal has been perpetuated by what I like to call, mestiza posturing. Mestiza/mestizo is a term borrowed from Spanish to mean one who has mixed indigenous and European blood, and even if individuals do not have this mixed descent, this look often governs mainstream perceptions of beauty. Just take a look at these major Filipina celebrities:


Vina Morales





K.C. Concepcion




Jennylyn Mercado




Taking this idea even further, mestiza posturing can also be seen as a bi-product of the Philippines' colonial/feudalistic legacy in which a system of white authority and brown inferiority was built upon the appropriated archipelago.


In "Emil's Big Chance Makes Me Feel Uneasy," Tricia Capistrano, reveals how much of her life has been dictated by this mestiza complex. She describes this underlying "white is right" consciousness:


I am a brown-skinned woman from the Philippines, where many people I know have a fascination with the lighter skinned--probably because our islands were invaded so many times by whites who tried to convince us that they were better and more beautiful than us. We were under Spain's rule for nearly 400 years, the United States' for almost 50. As a result, skin-whitening products fly off the pharmacy shelves.


With this notion of light-skinned superiority ingrained deeply into her teenage consciousness, Capistrano admits how she used to "hang out with the mestizas, because I wanted to be popular like them." And the quest for whiteness didn't stop there. While her grandmother cringed at the idea of her already dark skin becoming even darker at a friend's pool party, Capistrano's own mother encouraged her to start pinching the bridge of her nose everyday in hopes of "arching" its imperfectly flat surface.

After giving birth to her son, Emil, Capistrano was suddenly able to see the other side of the equation. Emil was a fair-skinned mestizo of Swedish/Dutch and Filipino descent which automatically made him a member of the most exclusive club. This became even more apparent during a family trip to the Philippines when Capistrano was continually bombarded by a slew of Filipina admirers ogling at her mestizo son. He's so cute! So fair-skinned!--they would exclaim.




Fearing the cost of Emil's future college education, Capistrano even considered moving back to the Philippines permanently, confident that her son could easily land a part doing baby commercials. When she was on the verge of booking an agent, Capistrano suddenly reconsidered her plans: "I realized that I was going to be part of the system that can sometimes make us dark-skinned people believe that we are inferior. I do not want Filipino children who look like me to feel bad about themselves....


***************



So even though I've focused the majority of this discussion on the Philippine perspective of beauty, I would like to turn your attention to another demographic--African American women. A friend of mine recently recommended this documentary featurette, A Girl Like Me, directed by a 17 year-old filmmaker, Kiri Davis. In her film, Davis insightfully explores perceptions of beauty through the eyes of African American girls. Like their Filipina counterparts, these young women reveal how they are often taught to perceive lighter-skin as more beautiful, while sometimes feeling pressured to surrender their traditional curls for the tamed relaxed look.



Without further ado, watch A Girl Like Me right here:









Related Resources

Borderlands/ La Frontera: A New Mestiza--Gloria Anzaldua

Emulated through Images: The Globalization of Misconstructed African American Beauty and Hip-Hop Culture--John Hendrick Clarke

Liminality and mestiza consciousness in Lynda Barry's One Hundred Demons --Melissa de Jesus

Metaphors of a Mestiza Consciousness --Erika Aigner-Varoz

Tagalog Movies and Identity :Portrayals of the Filipino Self --James F. Kenny

12 comments:

ZenDenizen said...

Everything you wrote could easily apply to Indian culture as well. I notice I get more attention from men who were raised in India because I'm on the lighter end of the spectrum. Oddly enough, Indian men born/raised in the US always tell me to go get a tan! Can't win, lol!

BAMBOO BLITZ said...

Zen, I'm glad you mentioned that. When I was growing up, I had a really good friend whose family was from India. She had a really bad complex about her dark skin since was always being compared to her "prettier" sister with lighter skin. It was really a shame to see this gorgeous girl get so down on herself about her skin tone...

SoupNumber5 said...

Ever watch the Filipino show WowWowWee? The dancers on there are all very pale skinned. Most look more so Japanese rather than Filipino. Also they dance ridiculous. It's a cheesy show. I love brown skin. I am of brown skin. Tan is better.

BAMBOO BLITZ said...

What up soup? No I haven't seen the show but maybe I can find it online somewhere? It does sound funny though. I agree, brown skin's where it's at! I inherited lighter skin from my mom but I sure do love my brown skin come summertime.

christianadivine said...

Wow, I really enjoyed reading this. My aunt was just like this with my cousin which was HORRIBLE. She would yell at her if she went outside and soon enough my cousin began obsessing over her skin. She started wearing sweaters and sweat pants in the summer time so that the sun wouldn't tan her! She uses that lightening stuff on her face which makes her face obviously lighter than the rest of her body. It's sad, and I've never got it. Anyway, I really enjoyed this post.

BAMBOO BLITZ said...

Welcome, christianadivine. Thanks so much for your kind words and sharing your experiences. Like you, I've known some Filipino moms (and dads) to be especially notorious in making some really hurtful comments regarding their daughters' brown skin. It's like, HELLO, this is your kid so who the f*** cares how dark their skin is, because you should love them no matter what! But obviously, this mestiza-as-beautiful perception runs a lot deeper than that...

Daisy said...

Great writing and analysis.

Irish women are usually pretty light-skinned, but still you see the fashion-obsession with trying to be as thin as the colonizers (we aren't, um, the thinnest people in the world!), nose jobs (see my big nose on my website for details!) and until pretty recently in history, manic hair-straightening.

No question that this is the physical ideal has "conquered the world"...

BAMBOO BLITZ said...

Thank you so much Daisy! You're so right. I'm sure that the lists of (unrealistic) beauty expectations are LONG for women of all diverse ethnicities. You're too fat, or if you're lucky enough to be thin than your breasts are too small, or if you're forutnate enough to be thin and have big breasts than you can always afford to lose some extra "junk in your trunk", or you're nose is too big, etc. etc....

Rob Scott said...

Not sure if you saw the Colbert Report with Leonard Nimoy, they were discussing society and its concept of beauty. There was a point where Colbert shouted at Nimoy, society has decided that this is what beauty is and who are you to go against what society has decided. Or something along those lines. Anyway it's pretty relevant to this topic of conversation.

Beauty is all about power, in the Michael Foucault sense of power being productive. The races/nations /classes, etc... with more power have more say over what is beautiful.

Beauty in itself is a horrible concept because whenever you declare something as beautiful you essentially declare something else as ugly.

The Face of Africa competition has been heavily criticized because most of the competitors are beautiful in the 'western' sense.

Beauty changes as power changes. for instance it is only in the last hundred years or so that tans have become attractive. Before that it was the paler the better. This was because back in the day most of the working class had agricultural jobs and developed tans from working outside all day.

Then with the industrial revolution workers were suddenly in doors all day and only those with the time to do nothing could get tans.

Anyway it a nasty part of existence and it really effects those who are "othered" by it.

Then there's also the whole effect advertising had on the body thing, which has relevance to what Daisy was saying but we'll save that for another time.

BAMBOO BLITZ said...

Rob, thanks so much for your insightful comments. I agree, the perpetuation of particular beauty ideals involves issues involving power. As mentioned in my post, I believe that the mestiza posturing of Filipinas is a direct bi-product of the Philippines' Spanish colonial past, and later perpetuated by American feudalism. In my opinion, the notion of "beautiful" white skin and "ugly" brown skin is a metaphor to the colonizer-colonized relationship...

Jacquelina Ortega said...

I'm a Spanish Mestiza (born from both Filipino-Spanish parents) but a proud Filipina and honestly I can tell its not always good to be one. Though many people say I'm pretty because of my sort of Caucasian looks and my skin color on lighter side but sometimes I don't feel "belong". Even my foreigner (Asians & Westerners) and Hispanic friends even doubted if I'm really a Filipino because I don't possess typical Malay features. Sometiems I wish I would look more Malay just so I would feel "belonged". I just don't understand why many Filipinas would do anything to be white or look mestiza. They say I don't need to pinch my nose anymore unlike them. My friends would don't swim too long coz they will get dark. Well for me I don't care coz I love swimming and being dark is not ugly. Some Filipinos even claim that they are part-Spanish but their only proof are their surnames w/c reality is that our ancestors only got it because of a decree by Gov. Gen. Narciso Claveria wherein the entire population must adopt Hispanic (or Hispanic-sounding) names for taxation purposes. We must love and accept for who we are.

Miss Reality said...

Although life in general, every culture, race, or background, has their perception of beauty. Labeling is destined for failure because you are seeking validation of others who might be imperfect themselves. Although the media perceive "what is beauty"; the problem of this concept A. they are selling something and B. people has this insecurities they hold to themselves already, and thus make them think negatively. So will you be convince if you are insecure already that a cream will magically turned you to a swan? Sadly for many, they can be manipulated and convince.

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