| Beauty in the Eyes of Filipinos |
Filipinos define beauty differently, but things are changing
For the past few weeks, I have been staying in the Philippines to write music, visit relatives, and escape the frozen winter of Washington DC. I'm on the other side of the world now, which gives me renewed perspective on my life in the USA. I find that to be true with the definition of female beauty.
One of the first things I notice is that many women jump through hoops not to get a tan. Light skin is the standard of beauty here, so they carry umbrellas to shield themselves from the hot tropical sun and spend money on skin whitening cream. Those who labor outdoors wear large brimmed hats and wrap cloths around their heads to hide from the sun. Billboards and magazines are filled with light skinned models who resemble the historical Spanish conquerors rather than the brown natives.
What a difference from my home in DC, where tanning salons flourish; along with tanning lotion, sunbathing, and sometimes even skin cancer due to overexposure to the sun. I think of Evonne, the exotic dancer in my documentary, who would spread fake tanning cream all over her body to prepare for a strip dance.
Straddling two worlds as a frequently traveling Filipino American offers me such reminders of the subjectivity of beauty. Born and raised in the United States, I spent a few of my childhood years living in the Philippines. When I returned the the US, I was mystified when I first saw my white American friends putting on lotion and baking in the sun on purpose. "We want to be brown like you," they explained, "You're lucky that you are born with a tan."
I also learned that being skinny is considered attractive in the US. Filipinos did not necessarily agree. In the Philippines, my relatives were horrified at how "skinny" I was and gave me drugs to make me eat more and gain weight. My cousins with similar genetics experienced the same. My grandfather concocted a fattening homemade ice cream recipe for me and encouraged me to eat as much of it as possible. I even had to memorize the recipe so that I could replicate it when I returned to the US.
I remember taking hula lessons and watching my two hula teachers perform. My grandmother remarked that she found one of the teachers more attractive than the other because the other was too skinny. I guess this is an example of "skinny talk," the counterpart to "fat talk" in the US.
Some things have not changed. Years later, visiting the islands as a very American adult, I listen to my aunts complain about being too skinny. One of them explains how she mixes lots of sugar and other fattening ingredients to her powdered milk hoping to gain weight. As always, nothing seems to work, and I wonder when she will ever just accept herself the way she is.
However, some things have changed. I notice that the younger generation is now familiar with diets for losing weight - a concept that was rare when I was a little girl here. A few of my heftier cousins, nieces and nephews eat less rice and cut the fat out of their meat. Wow - Filipinos love rice and fat - that's different! I ask them what has influenced their decisions on dieting these days. "The media," they replied immediately.
I don't know if Filipinos would ever value the notion of tanning. The media is still full of western ideals of beauty, which means white is still right. But I hear there is a growing problem with eating disorders here. Wow. This reminds me of that study that found a growing incidence of eating disorders in Fiji after the introduction of the same media images.
The world is getting smaller because the media is getting bigger. I hope we can preserve the diversity of the definition of beauty.