• The filipino term ‘morena’, meaning women with brown skin, is now slowly being embraced, but still has progress to be made. (Getty Images )
“Growing up as a kid, I used to hate my skin as I was teased a lot because of it.”
Kirsten Jelinek

3 Jan 2019 - 11:56 AM  UPDATED 4 Jan 2019 - 11:02 AM

Whitening lotion, whitening soap, whitening deodorant, and even capsules of glutathione - an antioxidant which purports to prevent skin cells from producing darkening melanin - fill the bustling shopping centres of Manila. 

The Philippines beauty standard of whitening goes by many names - skin lightening, skin evening, skin-fading and even skin brightening.

Avon boutique owner Mary Anne Calimlim presents the different products around her small, yet busy store in Manila.

“The whitening products are definitely the best selling.”

“We have a soap, a lotion... a capsule of glutathione , the women drink it once a day.”

It is estimated that one in two Filipino women have used skin whitening products at some point in their lives, which are aggressively marketed to Filipino women.

“Everyone likes to be white, as it really boosts our confidence, to look nice every time, to look presentable,” Calimlim said. 

“When we are in intermediate school, our classmates with white skin, they are the most beautiful one, the most famous one in school.”

Manila's Santo Tomas University student Julia Ornedo says that it’s time for the beauty standards to shift in the Philippines.

“The horrible beauty standards in the Philippines that favour white skin are merely one of the lasting impacts of western colonisation on Filipinos.”

“I believe that so many of us love whitening products simply because not a lot of people have been educated enough that there is no need to subscribe to western ideals of beauty, especially when we’re naturally short and born brown-skinned.

“You still regularly hear ‘you look pretty even in you’re dark skinned.’ I think that’s messed up and discriminatory.”

Ornedo said the Filipino term ‘morena’, meaning women with brown skin, is now slowly being embraced.

Santo Tomas University student Arianne Suarez, says the incessant advertising of whitening products only compounds the problem.

“Seeing these beauty products lined up in stores and the countless advertisements that promise ‘whitening’ angers me.”

“It’s racist and it promotes the thinking that people would look better if only they had lighter skin.”

“It’s sick to think that white means beautiful and the opposite, ugly.”

Suarez says that although progress is being made, there were many challenges ahead.

“Growing up as a kid, I used to hate my skin as I was teased a lot because of it.”

“As I entered the puberty stage, I had a brief stint where I tried out ‘whitening’ products my mum bought for me, but now I see that there is more to the world than the beauty standards set by some traditional people.”

“Although many people, including the media are starting to embrace the beauty of being ‘morena’, it’s been so deeply ingrained in our Filipino culture and society that I think it will take a really long time before we get rid of this skin tone standard.”

The author travelled to the Philippines as part of The Foreign Correspondent Study Tour, a University of Technology Sydney (UTS) programme supported by the New Colombo Plan (NCP) mobility grants.

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