I used to hate my brown skin.
Growing up, I felt like my morena skin was a burden rather than a blessing. Looking around, all I saw was beauty in those who were perceived to be more “puti” or white. Light colors were presumably beautiful, and considering the skin tone and insecurities of a high schooler I possessed, I felt as if my brown skin made me undesirable.
Often times, I was told that “white” and “light” was attractive. And as a young girl navigating the space of interaction with others, I sought out to be liked, loved, and noticed. I did research on what I could do to become lighter skinned. I even talked to my mom about my concerns and from there, I got an answer (a temporary answer, of course): Philippines papaya soap.
Now, if I go back to my earliest posts on myspace and facebook, I probably posted something about my insecurities. (You know, the early days of social media were confusing, and people just posted whatever they felt like posting). Anyway, my point was to say that the suggestion of papaya soap was strengthened by other people on the internet confirming it worked for them. I was even suggested lightening lotion and to just avoid staying out of the sun. My mind was heavily convinced that something (namely my skin color) was wrong with me.
For those who know me, I not only have a sunny personality, but I love being out in the sun. Warm weather fuels me while dark, gloomy days make me want to stay inside. Warmth and the rays of sunshine that brighten my mood are the type of things that make me happy.
In elementary, I remember not worrying about the colour of my skin, but I do remember not being too off from the colour of my friends at the time. They were either light skin Latinx or Filipinx people. But middle school changed things, and high school was the greatest point in time where I found myself hating the skin I was in.
In middle school, I was in band and color guard. I looked at the couple of photos I have from middle school, and I definitely was dark. It was probably due to marching band practice in both the fall and spring seasons, since I played trumpet both times. I always had crushes on boys that were light skinned, at least in comparison to me. Even the one girl I had a crush on was extremely light skinned. She was the girl all the guys I liked ended up having a thing for — maybe that subconsciously embedded into my mind that she had “the look” guys wanted. And that look wasn’t me.
For extracurriculars in high school, band was not what took up my time. It ended up being tennis, when I decided to shift from performances and music to competing in sport. Every fall season was the time for girls’ tennis, and I basked in the sunlight. The sport filled my soul. I was absolutely in love with tennis, so much that at first, I didn’t care about the color of my skin by the end of the season. That changed after my first year though.
I remember scrubbing my skin at the end of each day with papaya soap, hoping that I could get that light color I was again. Constantly comparing my arms and legs to my stomach, I couldn’t help but wish I chose badminton or volleyball as my sport. I wanted to be liked. I cared so much for other people’s’ opinions and brought myself down thinking I wasn’t good looking enough. And that my personality wasn’t enough for me. Oh Eril, if only I could tell you that you were beautiful just the way you were.
I remember going to the Philippines in 2011, my junior year of high school, and showing off my tennis tan. I loved the weather in the Philippines because it was warm and sunny — I could get darker and potentially even out my skin tone, or at least, that was my thought process. I didn’t do that though. I stayed the same.
Senior year of high school, I was the most self conscious about my skin color that I have ever been. I still used papaya soap, even though I didn’t see results, and I kept being my own cheerleader for the product, consistently advocating on its results despite them not existing. I had to take senior photos, and I remember regrettably choosing to schedule my time in October, when I was at my darkest. I was stressing out so much beforehand that I ended up breaking out right in the middle of my forehead. Luckily, at the end of the school year, the photographer photoshopped both my pimple and my braces off (even though I didn’t pay or ask for these alterations). But I remember looking back at that photo, thinking a couple of thoughts:
- Wow, is that what I will look like without braces?
- I was really, really dark in the fall…
And that was all I could fixate on.
Even when I look back at the photos I uploaded on facebook as I documented my high school journey, I noticed how brown my skin was, especially in comparison to my best friends. Everyone was either a creamy white color or a nice beige that I couldn’t replicate due to the quickness that tan would appear on my skin tone. I remember talking to one of my more pale friends who wasn’t Filipinx, and every year, she told me she couldn’t wait for tennis season because she wanted to get tan. I couldn’t understand her rationale when I kept fighting to be white and light. I was so envious of her colour, and I wished so deeply to switch places with her.
Senior year of high school passes and I get to college — again, I am surrounded by light skinned Asians or light skinned people (in general). I had a dysmorphic relationship with the color of my skin, as I always thought and assumed I was darker than I actually was. I was quick to judge myself and to believe that my brown skin still wasn’t beautiful. I continued to get rejected by people, not understanding that my skin color had nothing to do with my personality, and that compatibility was more than just a few texts or email exchanges. I was young, attentive to the voices of society trying to put me down, and negatively influenced by the narratives I created in my head of who was attractive and who was not.
When I started to date in my second year of college, I realized that I was dating someone white because I was giving in to the color that I thought was attractive. And though that isn’t a bad thing necessarily (because people have preferences and that’s fine as long as it doesn’t hinder their dating life), since we DID have a connection with each other in certain things, I realized over time my underlying reasoning was not fair. And that caused our connection to be lost easily, since we lacked a proper foundation that would keep up the relationship.
Near the end of college, I found myself occasionally supporting the Pil community at Cal and ended up meeting someone who I then found attractive. My relationship with the first guy ended, and from there, I started a new journey with this person from the Pil community.
Let me say that going from dating a white guy to dating someone of the same ethnicity felt different to when I dated Filipino guys in high school. I could tell I had a different mindset when it came to the colour of my skin. I had become more accepting of who I was and more open to the idea that “white” wasn’t the only way to look or be attractive. Rejecting the idea of papaya soap near the end of college was empowering — my mom would ask what pasalubong I wanted, and I often opted for food or nothing at all. Before, I would have been quick to grab every single box of whitening soap I could. But then I realized that the skin I had was the skin that made me, me. And that I deserved to be loved for it.
Fast forward to today, I am fully accepting of my skin colour. I see the colour of my skin and am proud of the person I see in the mirror. I don’t tell her that she needs to be more pale to be considered ‘beautiful’ because she already is. One of my favorite influencers, Asia Jackson, kickstarted a campaign called #magandangmorenx on twitter and instagram. Occasionally, I still use that hashtag whenever I post a selfie or self portrait because it perfectly encapsulates how I feel about myself. Although this has been such a long process for me, I can confidently say that I love my morena skin, and I want my future children (and others in the world) to know that brown is beautiful. It’s an ongoing practice of self love, but it is something that I wish I knew when I was younger. I’m happy now though, and that’s what matters — I’m moving forward and forgiving my past self for the toxic thoughts I let get into my head.
If you are currently struggling with your skin colour or you know someone who is, reaffirm them of their beauty and their worth. Allow them the space to understand and feel your love, because society has a tendency to leak into people’s personal environments and bring them down. Be that person to uplift them, whether it is for yourself or for others.
I’ve done it for myself. And I know you can do it for you too.