I am, by traditional North American standards, exotic. With my long, straight, raven colored hair, coffee colored skin, muscular legs, and ‘flat’ nose are a stark contrast to the fair skinned, blond, blue eyed, ultra thin women often gracing the magazines today. Even by Philippine beauty standards, I am still somewhat exotic because of my above average height (I’m 5’7) for a Filipina girl and body type (think the child of curvy and muscular).
Being exposed to both American and Filipino beauty standards is sure interesting to say the least because in most ways they are contradictory to each other. For example, while having tan skin is an attractive physical quality to have in the US, having a pale skin tone is more aesthetically acceptable in the Philippines. This ideal stems from the Spaniard caste system once put into place during the Spanish colonial era in the Philippines and was even more of a cultural ideal than an aesthetic one. As years progressed, the superiority of lighter skin was more perpetuated into Filipino culture due to the many celebrities and TV personalities endorsing several skin whitening products. The constant advertisement of these types of products screams the idea that ‘lighter skin is more attractive, therefore the epitome of beauty’.
My mind wasn’t conscious of the unique-ness and unconformity of my skin tone to the Philippine beauty ideal until I visited the Philippines when I was 14.Although this was almost seven years ago, I remember this day so vividly. I was walking through a shopping mall in Manila with my family enjoying the day until I caught a bit of side eye from a group of Filipino teenagers. It is as if my above average height and the brown-ness of my skin was something they haven’t seen in person before. Their unforgiving bluntness made me feel uncomfortable in my own skin. Contrastingly, here in America, the color of my skin is the envy of some women. It still baffles my mind that some people would spend money and risk their health to lie in a tanning booth just to achieve a darker skin tone. “How do always look tan all the time?” one lady dared to ask me. “It’s just my skin, I’m ethnic not tan!!” I wanted to yell at her, but instead I replied with “Dunno, maybe it’s because I run outside all the time..” Despite the stark differences in American and Filipino beauty standards on skin color, I’ve come to learn that it is much better for your mind if you embrace what you have and not lust after the things you don’t have and can’t control. It has honestly made me happier and more confident in my skin.
One major similarity present in American and Filipino beauty standards is the overwhelming pressure to stay thin. This also plays into a larger media and culture driven narrative that being thin equates to being beautiful (and that is ‘perfection’). From celebrities to Instagram models, the mirage of thinspiration plagues the minds of most young girls everywhere. I remember reading fashion magazines when I was younger and comparing myself to the models that graced the glossy pages. It was detrimental to my body image as I would internally berate myself about eating that extra slice of pizza or getting that extra scoop of ice cream. Mind you, I was around 10 at the time and was very athletic so doing this to myself was as unhealthy as it was unnecessary to my mental state. I am fortunate enough in that I’ve never had an eating disorder but that isn’t the same case for many young girls nationwide.
While thinness isn’t so much the beauty standard now, there is still an underlying idea that thin means healthy. We need to start teaching and be an example our daughters, nieces, and friends that healthy comes in all shapes and sizes, not just stick thin. We also need to stop body shaming and comparing ourselves to other people. To me, healthy means strong and a body that is balanced physically, mentally, and spiritually. Now, I place more value in my body being able to run a certain amount of miles or at a certain pace than how much of a gap my thighs have (there is no gap, my thighs will forever be thick because they were made that way – I have accepted this). As long as you are eating healthy and do some form of exercise everyday, then there is no need to stress over being ‘thin’. Thin is overrated, but healthy will forever be in style.
So that’s my take on the beauty standards of today and my though process of overcoming them. There is a saying that “comparison if the thief of joy” and that is especially true whenever we lust over a certain look that someone else has and put unnecessary pressure on ourselves to achieve that endless ideal. Instead, set a standard for yourself- whether it’s exercising more or not worrying about a thigh gap- and keep working towards it. As long as you are happy and healthy in your approach, then these ridiculous beauty standards won’t dictate how to live. And eat that extra slice of pizza or scoop of ice cream, your mind will thank you!
Peace, love and blessings,