By Rainne Nocete | September 27, 2023
I hated how colorism plagued my life.
The first time I was exposed to it was when my relatives would jokingly put my arms side-by-side with theirs and remark how dark I was in comparison. For me, it was a simple gag. I didn’t realize the seeds of insecurity and self-hatred had already been planted. The implications would become very real to me very soon.
I started realizing how boys at school treated me differently. They didn’t acknowledge me as much as others. They weren’t very kind. But I thought it was okay—there’s more to life than a boy’s attention.
But then I began to see how the teachers treated me differently, too. My questions were regarded dismissively and often with annoyance. My relatives, my own blood, looked at me with concerned eyes when I got darker after a beach trip. They would suggest skin whitening products and call it love.
I noticed everywhere that I had to try twice as hard and speak twice as loud to be seen and heard.
Colorism is the prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group.
Where did this start? Some would say that it’s tied to our country’s colonial history. Nations rich with light-skinned populations colonized the Philippines: the Spaniards, the Americans, and the Japanese.
This trend has continued today into what we call colonial mentality, which is the internalized ethnic or cultural inferiority felt by people because of colonization.
According to Camelia Heins of the University of California, the effects of colonial mentality are the changes in perceptions of beauty to fit a Eurocentric standard. This mentality can be observed by how widespread skin bleaching is in the Philippines.
But today, eurocentric standards are not the only ones pushing the light-skin standard in Filipinos. The Hallyu wave, which refers to the rise of the global popularity of South Korean pop culture, has also reinforced in Filipinos the desire for a white complexion.
Based on Twitter’s K-pop data from 2021, Philippines ranked third for the highest number of K-pop fans in the world. In 2020, K-drama viewing among Filipinos surged to 350 percent according Nathalie Tomada of The Philippine Star.
Bernadette Biagtan also stated that, due to the mass exposure to Korean drama and culture, Filipinos—especially Filipino women—are influenced to chase their beauty standards, including pale, flawless skin.
So, what to do now? To be honest, I don’t know. But as a 17-year-old, this is what I learned.
You can’t change the people around you. But what you can change is your mindset. It’s hard to admit, but we all have some form of internalized colorism within us. Confronting it and finding its roots can help us change that.
And who knows? Maybe you can inspire others to do the same.
Dismantling a century-old beauty standard will be difficult. But it’s better to start now than never.