Miscellaneous, Personal
Comments 20

A Cult(ure) of White

This weekend, I received BDJ’s April Box, and was disheartened to see that most of the items were aimed at skin whitening. It’s probably harsh and callous to say, but it felt like a KKK theme instead of an “Oh, So Fresh!” box. It’s not that it’s really a surprise at this point. I’m aware that a large part of the Philippine population want to be whiter. It doesn’t mean that it frustrates me any less.

I understand it from the business point of view… People want to be whiter, so companies want to sell them something they will buy.

Already frustrated with the box chock-full of whitening products, I was further saddened by a trip to the mall the next day. I had to pick up a few things (i.e. a hairdryer, cotton buds, wipes, sun block) and was constantly peddled whitening lotions and creams. Every corner I turned, I was offered some kind of whitening product. I had just come back after one day at the beach and am sporting a slight tan and sellers flocked to me as though I was a leper that needed a cure.

It was kind of sad, so I bought a glow-y bronzer in protest. Take that, Philippine beauty industry.

I wonder if part of why these things sell so much is because of the culture’s inherent fixation on the idea that “White is Better.” Before the boom of whitening products, people would often pat on too-light shades of foundation and powder, making flash photography an endless embarrassing pool of pictures where the faces don’t match the color of the necks.

Some people actually do look better when they are paler, in the same way that some people look better when they are darker. I personally think I look better tanner, but that’s just a matter of preference. I don’t know… I think the root of all this anger and annoyance is the fact that being white is such a big deal here, people forget that other skin colors are be beautiful, too.

I think the obsession with being white is what’s irritating to me. It’s reached a point where I actually have trouble finding non-whitening products at the drugstore. It’s reached a point where women who embrace their natural skin color is a “refreshing change.” The goal to become whiter is so deeply ingrained in our society. How the heck did that happen?

Maybe part of it has to do with the fact that a vast majority encourages this kind of thinking. I don’t really know, and I don’t think I can go into the scary details, because this issue obviously has roots that go beyond reasons of vanity… The Philippines, for most of its life—at least, the history we remember and have documented most extensively—was a colonized country. It’s been drilled in our collective consciousness as a country and a nation that inferiority is linked to the color of our skin. White people have tried to “help” us because we were thought of as savages, inelegant, and unintelligent.

The thing is, I don’t think we’ve gotten rid of this sad and scary complex. I don’t think that most of us truly believe that our skin color is beautiful. Filipinos actually even treat mestizas and “halfies” (half-“white”) better… which is, again, kind of sad. Anyway. That was a mouthful, huh? I didn’t mean to drag this on and ramble on about the politics of race and self-perception, but I did want to share what happened to me this weekend, and how disheartening it was.

Have you ever experienced discrimination because of your skin color, even from people with the same heritage? Did you ever wish you had a different skin color because of something bad that happened to you?


  1. When I was younger, I wanted to be fairer. My sisters had fair skin, and most of my relatives would make fun of me because I was darker. I’m Chinese, so obviously it was a big deal to be “white”. My pretty classmates were those who had light skin etc etc.

    The weird thing here is that I’m not even morena, and already the pressure to be fairer was there. Eventually, I figured I looked fine, fair or not, and that all my relatives can suck it.

    • That sucks 😦 I’m not really dark, but my brother was darker than me and my sister when we were growing up, so I think my parents were sensitive about skin issues then. I’m glad you told them to suck it because all colors are beautiful. 🙂

  2. I am medium skin, and I was not told that I am ugly because my parents call me “Black Beauty”! 🙂 I would rather have smooth and clear skin, but not “white” skin. I love my color, and I have a lot more to compensate it with. LOL! 🙂

    • I think it’s important to assert that even dark complexions can beautiful, so yay for your parents. 🙂

  3. Irony is that in the U.S. TANNED skin is the main beauty standard. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with brightening products, as they are called in the U.S., to use to remove splotches, spots, incidental tanning for those who don’t want to and any other pigmentation disorders. But I was blown away by some international students comments on their darker skin being ugly or wishing to be fairer. I remember an australian indian girl telling me she had never seen an ugly white person, because they all look so pretty and that’s when I realized she had some seriously distorted perception issues about skin color. Openly hating on being brown-toned, while being blinded by white. Meanwhile, American white guys were tripping allover her nutmeg skin, jet black hair, amazing cheekbones, and blue-gray eyes. I gave her internal crazy eyes. At that point, it’s not eyes but the mentality that needs to be checked.

    • Yeah, funnily enough, most people here try to make darker-skinned people feel better by saying that that is the preference in the US, which brings us back to seeking the approval of Westerners, still.

      I agree and think that whiteners that even out the skin tone do more good than harm, but the perpetuation of the belief that white is better or that if you are dark, there is something with you, is what should be axed.

      I’m so sorry to hear about those international students, but that’s really how most of the people here think, too. Just because a person’s skin is fair or white, they automatically think they are more attractive. She sounds so beautiful, though. I hope she will be able to see that soon. 🙂

      • She was a stunning girl but couldn’t see it. I actually agree with you regarding the tanning thing, I just thought it was an interesting aspect to it to though.

  4. I was raised in Florida. My freckly skin is milky white and I have jet black hair (and dark green eyes) and I’ve been teased *relentlessly* for these reasons throughout my life. Kids in school used to ask if I was a vampire and I was always made fun of for my freckles. I’ve had boyfriends in the recent past even tell me that I would look so much cuter if I had darker skin–so I spent $1000 on a tanning membership for an entire year. I probably got only two shades darker after months of tanning every other day. Now I’m really afraid that I’m at risk for skin cancer even though I haven’t tanned in two years 😦 I’m trying to learn to embrace my coloring but it isn’t easy.

    • So sorry to hear about that. 😦 For what its worth, I think you have a rare type of beauty (from your description) that maybe takes other people a while to see. 🙂 Let’s face it, sometimes kids can be dumb and mean, but hopefully they outgrow that tendency to make fun of people different from them.

      I’m so sorry you had to deal with people who were too insensitive to treat you as a human being with feelings, and I’m so happy that you are thinking of your health. I’m sure it is still a hard thing to deal with right now, because of what other people might think about you, but I hope you get to a place where you are able to love yourself for you. Thank you for sharing your experiences and I hope it gets better for you soon. ❤

  5. aphazia says

    Ack I cannot stand whitening products either! We really should have a “love the skin you’re in” campaign.

    • I think so, too, but I don’t think a lot of people are really, actually ready to love themselves just yet, which is sad. 😦

  6. I used to drink that Kool-Aid too. Rejecting these “white is right” ideals and learning to love my own skin has definitely been a long process for me, and I must admit that I sometimes catch myself falling into the same trap again when I see all the pretty ads and pictures. Thank God I always snap out of it :p But one thing that also really annoys me is the exotification of darker skin; I find it very condescending. The “beautiful morenas with their gorgeous dark skin” comments from lighter-skinned people doesn’t sit well with me. Also, white people wanting a tan is absolutely not the same as a darker-skinned person who wants ~white skin with a pinkish glow~

    • Aww, V. I’m happy you are at a place where you can be comfortable in your own skin. I’m sure it was a hard process.

      I know what you mean, though. It’s like my friend, Krysty (who commented up there), who gets pissed off at Orientalism~ hehe. I think people should just learn to realize that beauty comes in all shapes, forms, and colors, and the sooner they accept that they can be beautiful too, even if they don’t fit society’s idea of beauty, the sooner they will be happy with themselves.

  7. Every book I read about the Philippines told me to watch out about what you call inferiority complex or the adulation of white people in the Philippines – I’m also afraid that many people visit your country in order to abuse that kind of behavior. I for my part was equally disgusted and puzzled by the propagandised beauty of whiteness, especially the subtle ones always to be seen in tv commercials and other ads. Let’s all hope it’s a cult that’s going to extinct soon.

    • What books are you referring to? Just curious.

      Also, it’s true that some foreigners do get special treatment here, and perhaps even seek it out, which is truly sad. Like I said in the post, I do think that part of why this mentality exists (white is better) is because of a long history of colonization by “white people,” namely the Spanish and Americans. I do hope the country can get past that, though I understand that it may be a long and hard process.

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  9. ManilaJen says

    Black beauty! Oh how I hate that. Its a cultural thing that I am much saddened about. But its great being able to share with people, thoughts about being comfortable in one’s own tanned or not-white skin.

  10. This type of culture isn’t exclusive to the Philippines (which I’m sure you know). In large parts of the Arab world (or at least Bahrain, which I can speak freely of), even people who don’t actively discourage/dismiss people of darker skin tones, having white skin is meant to be “beautiful” and a “blessing”. I have pretty pale skin, and growing up, I was always told that I was “lucky” and whenever I would go outside, I’d be discouraged from tanning. Now, as it so happens I’m not someone who likes to sit in the sun (I get hot easily, and I get heat rashes) so I don’t actually just sit out to tan. But obviously I go outdoors, and spend time outdoors, especially as a kid. And I acutely remember all these “passing” comments about how I “shouldn’t ruin my complexion”. I’ve always found it annoying and sad.

    • It’s so sad, but more and more, I’m thinking it’s really something like a “it’s not what I have/what I’m used to, so it must be better” mentality. In the case of people thinking white is better, it usually has something to do with superiority. When it comes to people being attracted to darker skin, it’s because of it being exotic.

      Thanks for sharing your experiences as well.

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