The Skin Lightening Regime: How Colorism in Philippine Media Led to Discrimination and Shaming - The jfa Human Rights Journal (2023)

Only Laforteza

One moment I remember most clearly from my childhood in the Philippines involved grating a slice of itCalamansi, or a Philippine lime, in my armpits and elbows. Like many fourteen-year-old girls, I learned beauty practices from my mother, who regularly performed this ritual on herself.

Maybe it was the sharp burn of theCalamansion my bare skin, or maybe it was the strong - almost desperate - hope I had that it would brighten my complexion. After all these years, this is the memory that has stayed with me.

For the rest of my teenage years, I endured the pain and discomfort of trying to lighten my dark complexion. I used skin lightening lotions, abrasive facial cleansers, and strong glutathione soaps on my body, all with varying degrees of pain, and all in an effort to become the beautiful, fair-skinned Filipina I believed I was meant to be.

So how did we get here? How did colorism become such an ingrained part of Filipino society that we carry shame and judgment just because we look Filipino? To understand this, it is necessary to take a look at the colonial history of the Philippines.

Almost 400 years of Philippine history have been marked by the colonialism of light-skinned nations: first the Spanish (1565 - 1898), then the Americans (1898 - 1946) and finally the Japanese (1942 - 1945). During the Spanish colonial period, a racial hierarchy was introduced into Filipino society which, unsurprisingly, placed white Spaniards at the top and native Austronesian Filipinos and indigenous Filipinos at the bottom.

Of the few natives who achieved elite social status by being allowed access to education and status in life, many adopted the culture of their colonizers. Americancontinued this practicewhen they took over the country - the only Filipinos who held any social status under their colonial rule were those who had already been westernized. This planted the seed in the Filipino psyche that to make it in life you have to be as similar as possible to your colonizers.

This influx of Western influence during the colonial era and evenafter the Second World Warit only served to maintain the racial status quo, which favored only fair-skinned people and those who adhere to Eurocentric standards of beauty. The professor of communication studies, Beverly Romero Natividad, explains in her 2006Papier, "Making Whiteness Visible in Filipino Culture Through Advertisements for Skin-Lightening Cosmetics," that Filipinos were continually taught to "worship white images such as the Christian God and fair-skinned Hollywood celebrities who represented beauty, intelligence, wealth, and power. ”

Fast forward to 2022 and skin lightening products are shockingly easy to find in the Philippines. They are available in virtually every supermarket and wherever cosmetics are sold. Her television commercials often feature half-Filipino, half-white models and Caucasian Filipino actresses.

Anne Curtis, half Filipino, half white Australian actresssings about how she got her clear skinin a week thanks to a brightening papaya soap, while Filipino actress Angel Locsin discusses how "white is beautiful' in another ad while shamelessly using beauty filters. Of course both women have fair skin even without these products, but we as media consumers need to be convinced that we need them to look good.

Curtis and Locsin are just two examples of the many celebrities in Filipino entertainment who make money and are admired for their ethnically ambiguous performances. In fact, the Filipino media is littered with celebrities who look alike, with fair skin and high noses. But the average Filipino, of course, has none of these traits. After all, why would we need soaps that promise whiter skin when Filipinos naturally have them?

While celebrities around the world are promoting unattainable looks, regardless of the general population, the broader issue here is colorism. At its core is colorismAre definedas the "practice of discrimination whereby fair-skinned people are treated better than dark-skinned people". Colorism can present itself in many ways based on factors such as a country's history and culture. In the Philippines, the existence of colorism is most easily observed through the media.

The programming of the major public broadcasters in the Philippines is a prime example of this lack of diversity. weekdaytime planslike those of the GMA-7, the "most watched channelin Total Philippines” in 2021 will have exactly the same shows with new episodes every day: There's the morning magazine show, midday variety shows, evening news programs and, to fill in the gaps in between, soap operas. TV spots are also repeated daily, with many running multiple times a day.

If you sat down and watched broadcasts from these channels for a whole day, you can count the number of actors or presenters who have already done soNothad lightened the skin on one hand. Our media has a noticeable fondness for white public figures who are notTherefore(a Tagalog name specifically for people with flat noses) orTherefore, therefore(a name used to indicate a person's dark skin). You would be hard pressed to find a celebrity with facial features and skin tone similar to yours.Filipino every day.

Even worse,native peopletake itNullAppearance in these programs unless part of a story. (And if you see someone with black skin on Filipino TV, it might just be a black-faced actress portraying a bad character, like in 2011Nita Fett.)

The problem with this homogeneity in the media landscape in the Philippines is that it is difficult to escape its influence. For years, Locsin and Curtis, the stars of many skin-lightening commercials, both appeared on shows that aired during prime television hours. The same applies tomany other high profile celebrities🇧🇷 As a result, millions of Filipinos are exposed to their programs, which appear alongside their ads, alerting you or even reminding you to routinely whiten your skin. Such celebrities are portrayed as ideals of beauty, and their secret? youin realityhave clearer skin.

It doesn't get any more obvious than the Miss World Philippines beauty pageant, which has a fervent following and is televised nationwide. Seven of the last ten winners are half white, the other three have lighter skin or Eurocentric features. insidePapierOn the idealization of Eurocentric ideals of beauty among Filipino women, Kristina Baybayan Renault points out that “by rewarding […]

However, this overwhelming message that whites are better is not just limited to the mainstream media. It permeates everyday life – it is banal. As a society, we normalize judging someone by their skin color, from classmates to the most prominent public figures.

Hollywood actress Asia Jackson, who is of African American and Indigenous Filipino descent, sharedTwitterhow she was bullied because of her skin color while living in the Philippines. In the case of politicians like Nancy Binay, a senator from the controversial United Nationalist Alliance party, she has become a target for manymemes and jokesaround your skin color.

Even without direct instances of colorism-related bullying, the preference for whiter skin is so ingrained in our society that it cannot be avoided. When I was a kid I was often told, "Don't stay in the sun too long or you'll get too dark" when playing outside. My mother also mentioned in passing that my skin was darker on my elbows and under my armpits, which triggered my body insecurity during the already awkward period of puberty.

When I came home after a long day at school and found celebrities offering skin lightening products where all the popular students had fair skin, I couldn't help but feel like this was aimed at me. Since high school, the message that a person's social status is determined by their skin color has become very clear.

With this worship of whiteness, we have seen that it brings judgment even to those with darker skin, resulting in a very real physiquepsychological effects, such as its impact on Filipino women's self-esteem, as well as our ingrained association of lighter skin with better employment and romantic prospects.

Unfortunately, while there is a great lack of qualitative and quantitative research on preferential treatment of Caucasian Filipinos in public spaces such as the office or even in private homes, its existence and pervasiveness in Filipino society is irrefutable. So what to do when hundreds of years of colorism speak against it?

There are some valuable actions we can take that involve not just individual changes, but also a collective, conscious effort to make others feel comfortable in the color of their skin. This could include not commenting on someone's skin color, implying that this is not okay, not supporting companies that benefit from skin lightening, and actively opposing influences trying to convince you to whiten your skin to like, no matter where it comes from.

While tackling colorism in the Philippines is a long and challenging road, wider societal acceptance that every shade of Filipino is beautiful is a promising first step towards profound social and cultural change.






What is the history of skin whitening in the Philippines? ›

Filipinos were Taught to Love Whiter Skin

Our obsession with fairer skin is related to how our national psyche was shaped by colonial powers who relegated brown-skinned indios to lower class citizens, and elevated the white-skinned insulares, peninsulares, and mestizos to the nobilility.

When did the Filipinos start loving white skin? ›

Many researchers in the field of Filipi- no-American psychology attribute this desire for whiter skin to the American colonial rule of the Philippines, which began in 1898 and lasted for nearly fifty years.

How many Filipinos use skin whitening? ›

Cited by David (2017), on a survey conducted by Synoted Philippines (2004, Skin Whitening in Southeast Asia), at least 50% of Filipinos use skin-whitening products.

What is the theory about skin whitening? ›

Mechanism of action. Skin whitening agents work by reducing the presence of melanin pigment in the skin. To accomplish this, there are several possible mechanisms of action: Inhibition of the activity of tyrosinase: The catalytic action of tyrosinase is inhibited by the skin whitening agent.

Who started skin lightening? ›

The practice of skin lightening has dated to 200 BCE. The Ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks used honey with olive oil for purposes of lightening their skin [3, 4]. Ancient Greek men and women used white lead face masks.

What is the color of the skin of a Filipino? ›

People of full Filipino descent typically have tan skin, dark hair and flatter noses. People of mixed ethnic origin generally have lighter skin and hair, as well as narrow noses — features desired by many Filipinos today.

What is the meaning of the color white in our Philippines? ›

As for the colours used, white represents hope for equality, while the blue stripe stands for peace, truth, and justice. Finally, the red stripe symbolises patriotism and valour. However, when the two stripes are interchanged, this signals that the country is in a state of war.

What race is Filipino mixed? ›

What is 'Filipino'? We are proud of our heritage at the rim of East Asia, the meeting point of the many Asian groups, as well as Europeans from Spain. Our culture even 100 years ago was already a mix —of Malay, Chinese, Hindu, Arab, Polynesian and Spanish, with maybe some English, Japanese and African thrown in.

What race are Filipinos from? ›

Filipino Americans, for example, helped establish the Asian American movement and are classified by the U.S. Census as Asian.

What country uses skin bleaching the most? ›

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 77% of women in Nigeria use skin lightening products, the world's highest percentage. However, many healthcare problems in Nigeria and across Africa are not just clinical, they are economical and social.

What rank is Philippines in natural beauty? ›

The article also named Raja Ampat Island the most beautiful place on earth. The Philippines ranked 17th on the Forbes list. Surrounded by tropical islands, immaculate rice terraces, volcanoes, and pristine beaches, it is no wonder the Philippines made the cut as one of the World's 50 Most Beautiful Countries.

What are the negative effects of colonization in the Philippines? ›

One impact of colonization is “pyschocultural marginality” or the loss of one's cultural identity along with social and personal disorganization. Such impact is produced when people are denied access to their traditional culture, values and norms leading to historical trauma and cultural alienation (Dalal, 2011).

What is the main reason for skin whitening? ›

Skin layers and melanin

It's produced in cells called melanocytes. Vitiligo occurs when pigment-producing cells (melanocytes) die or stop producing melanin — the pigment that gives your skin, hair and eyes color. The involved patches of skin become lighter or white.

What are the negative effects of skin bleaching? ›

Possible risks of skin-lightening creams containing hydroquinone, corticosteroids or mercury include:
  • skin turning dark or too light.
  • thinning of the skin.
  • visible blood vessels in the skin.
  • scarring.
  • kidney, liver or nerve damage.
  • abnormalities in a newborn baby (if used during pregnancy)

Is skin bleaching colorism? ›

Skin bleaching seems to be stemming from colourism. Colourism is the discrimination of people due to their skin colour in which the light skin is revered. This reverent of light skin has given light skinned people an advantage for example good jobs in some societies 9, 10.

What is the difference between skin lightening and skin brightening? ›

Lightening is reducing pigmentation and brightness is increasing radiance and glow of skin. Lightening has to do with discoloration and evening of skin tone. Brightening is more about restoring vibrancy to the skin. What ingredients should you look for in a lightener?

What are the long term effects of skin bleaching? ›

Skin-bleaching has been associated with adverse health effects such as skin cancers, kidney disease, and severe skin damage. Several studies have examined why people use skin bleaching products and the negative health effects associated with long-term use.

Is skin lightening same as bleaching? ›

The difference between skin lightening and whitening is largely based on the degree/severity with which melanin production is reduced. Skin lightening is used when the method is more gradual and the effect less obvious while whitening is used to describe a more aggressive technique.

What is a Filipino girl called? ›

Filipino is the Hispanized (or Anglicized) way of referring to both the people and the language in the Philippines. Note that it is also correct to say Filipino for a male and Filipina for a female.

What does the color mean in the Philippines? ›

The Philippine national flag has a rectangular design that consists of a white equilateral triangle, symbolizing liberty, equality and fraternity; a horizontal blue stripe for peace, truth, and justice; and a horizontal red stripe for patriotism and valor.

How many Filipinos are color blind? ›

Colorblind People Population! Statistics
How many Indians are colorblind?70 million Indians are colorblind
How many Filipinos are colorblind?3 million Filipinos are colorblind
How many Iranian are colorblind?2.9 million Iranians are colorblind
How many Thai people are colorblind?2.7 million Thais are colorblind
17 more rows
Nov 12, 2022

What is the reason behind the colors red blue and white of the Philippine flag? ›

The flag's color scheme also gives the Philippines flag meaning. The white section stands for liberty, equality, and fraternity. The red portion represents courage and patriotism, while the blue stands for justice and peace.

What do the Filipinos try to convey with the blue red and white color in the flag? ›

The three stars represent the Philippines' three largest islands: Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. The blue stripe denotes peace, truth, and justice, while the white represents the aspiration for equality. Finally, the red stripe represents heroism and patriotism. If the two stripes are switched, the country is at war.

What is the cultural significance of the color white? ›

White also has an especially rich symbolic history, and the color has often been associated with purity, virginity, innocence, wisdom, peace, beauty, and cleanliness. With its striking design and compelling text, White is a colorful history of a surprisingly vivid and various color.

What are mixed Filipinos called? ›

In the Philippines, Filipino Mestizo (Spanish: mestizo (masculine) / mestiza (feminine); Filipino/Tagalog: Mestiso (masculine) / Mestisa (feminine)), or colloquially Tisoy, is a name used to refer to people of mixed native Filipino and any foreign ancestry.

Why is Filipino spelled with an F? ›

A: The word “Filipino” is spelled with an “f” because it's derived from the Spanish name for the Philippine Islands: las Islas Filipinas. Originally, after Magellan's expedition in 1521, the Spanish called the islands San Lázaro, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Is a Filipino Hispanic? ›

What about Brazilians, Portuguese and Filipinos? Are they considered Hispanic? People with ancestries in Brazil, Portugal and the Philippines do not fit the federal government's official definition of “Hispanic” because the countries are not Spanish-speaking.

What is Filipino DNA? ›

The most common Y-DNA Haplogroup type is O, which Filipinos share with Chinese and fellow Southeast Asians. The South Asian Y-DNA H1a indicate the presence of Indians while the 13% frequency of European Y-DNA R1b is evidence of Spanish immigration.

Who are the first Filipino? ›

Negrito groups were the first inhabitants to settle in the prehistoric Philippines. By around 3000 BC, seafaring Austronesians, who form the majority of the current population, migrated southward from Taiwan.

What country had the darkest skin? ›

They found the darkest skin in the Nilo-Saharan pastoralist populations of eastern Africa, such as the Mursi and Surma, and the lightest skin in the San of southern Africa, as well as many shades in between, as in the Agaw people of Ethiopia.

Why do Africans lighten their skin? ›

The pay-off comes in the form of job security, progress, and power. Skin bleaching in Africa is therefore a business-oriented decision. Anecdotally, the appearance of lighter skin means faster and easier access in landing higher paying jobs, particularly in sales and marketing.

Which African country bleaches the most? ›

Nigeria, according to different statistics (such as a study undertaken by Cable News Network) is the leading country in Africa in terms of the bleaching products usage.

Which country is No 1 in beauty? ›

Coming in at the top of the list as the most beautiful place on earth is Indonesia, which has a natural beauty score of 7.77 out of 10. Indonesia is home to more than 17,000 islands.

Is Philippines the nicest country in the world? ›

The Philippines, the world's tenth most friendliest country according to CNT Magazine, possesses numerous factors why the Philippines is better than other countries.

Is Philippines a friendly country? ›

MANILA – The Philippines was voted as one of the 10 friendliest countries in the world in the 2022 Condé Nast Traveler (CNT) Readers' Choice Awards.

What are 2 effects or results of the American colonization in the Philippines? ›

As a consequence, American authorities initiated a separation of the Catholic church from the state. English was introduced as the official language; the education system reformed; port, rail, and road-building programs initiated; and war-damaged settlements rebuilt.

How did American culture affect the Philippine society? ›

The Philippines was a colony of the United States from 1898 to 1946. American culture had a profound impact on that country, influencing government, social institutions, and musical tastes. Disco, funk, and Motown soul music, popular on American military bases, found their way onto local radio stations.

What were 3 negative impacts of colonization? ›

Some of the negative impacts that are associated with colonization include; degradation of natural resources, capitalist, urbanization, introduction of foreign diseases to livestock and humans.

What are the side effects of fair and white cream? ›

Fair and White Cream Side Effects

Just like every other lightening creams, long-term use of a whitening cream with topical steroids can cause hypertension, elevated blood sugar and suppression of the body's natural steroids. Other side effects, like stretch marks, may be permanent.

What are 3 effects of bleaching? ›

Skin bleaching has been associated with a variety of known adverse health effects ranging from dermatitis to exogenous ochronosis (Fig. 1), steroid acne (Fig. 2), mercury (Hg) poisoning, and nephrotic syndrome, which are linked to ingredients such as hydroquinone, corticosteroids, and Hg [1, 4, 6, 12–18].

What is the problem of bleaching? ›

Long-term use of skin-bleaching products can cause visible skin damage and scarring, and less visible but serious internal effects. A true story of liver failure and permanent health problems highlights the risks.

What chemical causes skin bleaching? ›

Introduction. Skin bleaching is the act of using steroid- and chemical-containing products to lighten the skin. Hydroquinone and kojic acid are often used in skin bleaching creams.

How many Filipinos use whitening products? ›

Cited by David (2017), on a survey conducted by Synoted Philippines (2004, Skin Whitening in Southeast Asia), at least 50% of Filipinos use skin-whitening products.

What is the controversy with skin lightening creams? ›

Mercury continues to be the most dangerous ingredient that can be found in skin-lightening products. Using products containing mercury can lead to kidney damage, peripheral neuropathy, scarring, and depression, among other serious health consequences.

When did people start bleaching their skin? ›

The practice of skin lightening has dated to 200 BCE. The Ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks used honey with olive oil for purposes of lightening their skin [3, 4]. Ancient Greek men and women used white lead face masks.

Where did light skin people originate from? ›

Studies have suggested that the two genes most associated with lighter skin colour in modern Europeans originated in the Middle East and the Caucasus about 22,000 to 28,000 years ago, and were present in Anatolia by 9,000 years ago, where their carriers became associated with the Neolithic Revolution and the spread of ...

Why white skin is popular in Asia? ›

Also, in Asian cultures, white skin is perceived as a sign of luxury and prestige. Asian celebrities with white/fair skin also link their success with whiteness/fairness. Altering skin color implies success in controlling the body and thereby achieving an ideal body image (Miller 2003).

Where did white skin first appear? ›

Many scientists have believed that lighter skin gradually arose in Europeans starting around 40,000 years ago, soon after people left tropical Africa for Europe's higher latitudes.

What are the main causes of skin bleaching? ›

Hormones, sunlight, and certain chemicals also affect melanin production. When you apply a skin bleaching product to the skin, such as hydroquinone, it decreases the number of melanocytes in your skin. This can result in lighter skin and a more even appearance to the skin.

Is skin bleaching popular in America? ›

The Worldwide Epidemic of Skin Bleaching

"Skin bleaching is just as prevalent in America as it is everywhere else.

What are the three factors that affect skin color in humans? ›

Skin color varies considerably from individual to individual and is generally determined by the presence of melanocytes, carotene, oxygenated hemoglobin, and local blood flow.

Did the first humans have light or dark skin? ›

Researchers agree that our early australopithecine ancestors in Africa probably had light skin beneath hairy pelts.

Which country has the darkest skin in the world? ›

(The native people of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, have some of the darkest skin pigmentation in the world.) Although these people are widely separated they share similar physical environments.

Which country has best skin type? ›

Japan, China and other countries located in Asia have a rich diet of vitamins (specifically A and C, which benefit skin elasticity) and minerals including antioxidants from fruits and green tea. The Asian diet is very low in saturated and total fat.

Why are Asians skin so good? ›

Asians have thicker skin because we have a thicker dermis due to larger and more numerous collagen-producing cells (known as fibroblasts) in this second layer of our skin. All those extra fibroblasts produce extra collagen which helps to preserve our skin's elasticity.

Why is white skin considered beautiful in Japan? ›

Since ancient times, Japanese women have considered that a white complexion is synonymous with beauty, to the point that there is a saying that this color serves to cover any imperfection.

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