October 2, 2023

By the turn of each year, women of strength from around the world had gathered to amplify their stories that reflect the Miss Universe’s resounding message of inclusion, tolerance, and hope. Earlier this week, 2019’s crown was bestowed on a woman of color from South Africa, Zozibini Tunzi, who went on to call out the perception that people who share the same skin tone with her are not beautiful; an excerpt from her statement reads, “I grew up in a world where a woman who looks like me – with my kind of skin and my kind of hair – was never considered to be beautiful.” We can bear witness to this ugly reality as we see our drugstores and supermarkets filled with soaps and drugs that promise to reduce melanin in our skins. Statistically, one in two women in the Philippines use whitening products based on the study conducted by Synovate.
Furthermore, the research has revealed “two out of five women in Hong Kong, Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, and Taiwan feel that they are more confident with fair complexions.”
Moreover, the figures in Nigeria are shocking as 77 percent of the women feel the same according to a report by the World Health Organization.
Just like some women and other guys, I once gave in to the enticement of a fairer skin to conform to what is widely known as desirable. As far as I can remember, I started manifesting the belief that white is in, even before I started grade school. I would sneak to get my aunt’s papaya whitening soap every time I would take a bath. Besides that, I, with other children of my age would often call as “Aeta” or “Negra” other children, teens, or adults who had darker complexion. Those moments were brought to my memory as I once admonished a third-grader for laughing at the picture of a Nigerian friend on my phone simply because she was black. One would note that it is indeed a deplorable situation because the corruption starts as early as childhood. How did we get here in the first place? It’s undeniably by the lack of proper representation. Looking back for as far as our history can remember, we have constantly been subjugated by foreign culture that utterly undermined our culture. It has then eventually led us to do the same with ourselves. We have looked upon our aggressors as superior in most if not almost everything from what they do to how they look like. The beauty campaigns we see on the TV, on the Internet, on magazines, or on our moms’ Avon and Natasha brochures flaunt models that are either Caucasian, Korean, Chinese, or mixed-race whose skins the five-year-old me could only dream of. In effect, we would now associate whiteness with beauty, as how the dog in Pavlov’s classical conditioning links the sound of the buzzer with food.
On the other side, there is hope. There has observably been a wave of women of color redefining pulchritude from Leila Lopes winning the 2011 Miss U crown, to Pia Wurtzbach, and Catriona Gray getting hold of the same crown, Rihanna becoming the first black woman to head LVHM, Kelsey Merrit walking Victoria’s Secret runway being the first Filipina to do so, and recently, Zozibini. We may not get all of the representation that we want at the moment but we at least have already enough of what we need. And as the library of diversity and progress continues to get filled with resources, may we take time to flip through the pages as we teach our eyes to look far and beyond just color.