I live in the Philippines. We frequented the beach during summer and sunny days. As a kid, I loved the beach. Playing in the sand, making sandcastles, burying my cousins, and eating the freshly grilled barbecued meat, fish, and vegetables dipped in soy sauce and calamansi (a tiny citrus fruit endemic to our country).
However, my mom always warned me not to spend too much time in the sun.
“Huwag kang masyadong magpa-araw mamaya maging negra ka, sige ka!”
(Translation: Don’t spend too much time in the sun or else you’ll have really dark skin!”
My mom said this as if having dark skin was a bad thing. Negra. That’s the term she used. It was a derogatory term for people who had very dark skin. Its negative connotation was supposed to be a punishment. Of course, I was a kid, I didn’t care about my skin color. I just wanted to swim in the beach, hold my breath underwater, and walk in the water until only my head was visible above water.
As soon as the teenaged years hit, puberty, boys, and the awkward stages of my life came around, I started following my mother’s warnings. I stayed away from the beach. Or rather, I went to the beach when it wasn’t sunny (which wasn’t that fun) or if I were out swimming when the harsh sunlight could darken my skin, I would only do so for a short period of time.
For a really long time, I didn’t like my brown skin. I always wondered why my skin wasn’t getting whiter when I wasn’t going to the beach. Almost every single celebrity on TV was “blessed” with fair skin. I didn’t understand. A lot of the girls considered pretty in my class was also blessed with fair skin. So I automatically assumed that you couldn’t be pretty unless you had fair skin.
However, all of this changed when I went to college. People who had morena skin were praised to be pretty as well. I hadn’t even heard the term “morena” as a way to describe brown skin. All I’d learned were derogatory words like negra or ita.
I met so many people who completely obliterated my sense of “beautiful”. My old ways of thinking slowly turned around.
In college, people seem to be so obsessed with photos. Making memories that last. That meant my friends often took my photos too. I never really liked photos. My skin was so brown. I didn’t think it came out pretty on the photos. My friends took such flattering photos of me that I completely changed my mind too.
And now, Disney made a new feature film called Moana (2016). The protagonist, Moana, has brown skin. I was so amazed. I was so happy with the representation. She’s a gorgeous character with a beautiful voice. Her character development is amazing.
So you see, in the Philippines, from a very young age, we are made to think that our brown skin is not good. Whitening products, glutathione, celebrities with fair skin, and equating brown skin with the poor all have such big effects. My learning to love my brown skin took years of encouragement, years of representation, and mostly learning to love myself too.
Majority of my life, I’ve been hiding from the sun for fear of getting darker. Nowadays, I hide from the sun just because it’s really hot.