skin tones and voices


Me being creepy at 3 years old. I guess my hair style hasn't changed much since then :))
Bakit ang itim-itim mo? (Why are you so dark?) 

When I was younger, I hated my skin color. For many years, I was the "smart kid" but never the pretty one, partly because I was dark.

I mostly didn't care. But when I allowed those comparisons to linger in my mind, I would feel like the ugliest person and that feeling was just, well, not fun.

The parts of myself that I didn't like, where did they come from? What drove me to purchase skin whitening products in the Philippines and want to be just a few shades lighter? Why did I have relatives who would joke about how dark I was and think it was okay? What made me hate going out under the sun because it would make me even more tan, as if that was the worst that could happen to me?


One simple answer would be the Philippines' colonial background. For over three centuries we were under the rule of Spain. We also briefly had a British Invasion and for almost 50 years, the Americans also occupied my homeland.

During colonial times, when you were dark, it meant that you worked outside. You were part of the lower class. If you had fair skin, you had prestige. Over the years, we carried with us this idea that light skin is the equivalent of beauty and status. It's been ingrained in our advertisements, in our TV shows, in our interactions with people who have been conditioned to believe this.

However, there were also people near and far who would consider my skin tone beautiful; those who say that people in Europe and other "predominantly white" countries would pay money to bake in tanning beds just to have my color. That here in the US, we have tanning sprays and lotions instead of whitening soaps and deodorants. I remember this story of my cousin who went to Macedonia with her family and how the locals kept admiring her skin. I found that uplifting. I could boast about it, but what I'm trying to say is that from hating my skin color, I eventually came to appreciate it. I learned that we always want what we didn't have and it doesn't help anyone to hate what you look like nor to be overly prideful about it.

So why am I writing this? As a follower of Christ, I have a deeper appreciation for the inherent value he bestows upon us as image-bearers of God. The color of my skin is but one part of who I am. This is part of my Filipino identity and it is the source of many stories. In one sense, I just got over it. This isn't a way to "get back" at the people who teased me nor is this a way to cope with losing sleep over how brown I am.

Sometimes I joke that I'm coffee and my husband is cream, lol. Photo by Lukas Suarez.


The point of it all? Your words matter. 

Your view of the world and how you express it could potentially define someone's life. As it relates to skin color, you could either perpetuate the idea of one color being more beautiful than the other, or you could enrich the world by recognizing--nay, acknowledging--someone's beauty regardless of their skin tone and cultural background. Skin color is one thing. It could apply to how we (yes, we) perceive someone's intellect, family of origin, interests, or some other category. 

You see, words matter because they last (see this and and this). Even at 26 years old, sometimes I still tell my husband "Look how brown I am!" with a mix of appreciation and a need for affirmation that my skin is beautiful the way it is.  While I'm not completely wrecked psychologically and I have "gotten over it," the words I heard growing up remain in my psyche. It's up to me to remember my value in Christ, receive the encouragement I get, and reaffirm the beauty of others as I do for myself.

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Tell someone they're beautiful and mean it. And if you can't mean it just yet, maybe consider looking at that person differently. Who knows the kind of destiny you're helping shape for that person with your words.

If you're on the receiving end of things--the one being teased and having a hard time embracing what comes naturally, I'm here to tell you that you are lovely. It may take some time to believe it for yourself, but it's true. People always want what they don't have and what we do have is worth celebrating and being thankful for.

Challenge that voice that brings down.
Be that voice that lifts up.




2 comments

  1. I love this... When I traveled to India I was SO surprised and confused to see skin lightening lotions and body washes. In the US everyone is obsessed with being sun-kissed and tan. My skin is so, so pale and every summer I feel like a total outcast because everyone is slapping on tanning oil and laying out, but I have to protect my skin because it burns easily and skin cancer runs in my family. It's so odd that we place so much importance on skin, but the sooner we realize we're beautiful no matter what color we are, the sooner we can worry about other, bigger stuff (or enjoy other things!).

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    1. That is so cool that you went to India! And good on you for protecting your skin--it amazes me how long people stay out under the blazing sun to get a tan, and how people back in the Philippines spend so much to whiten their skin (even if it ends up being more vulnerable to sun burn, ironically). Life *is* so much more than physical appearance!

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