White is Right

On my second day in the Philippines, I traveled 45 minutes west to the city of Malate to meet up with my friend Katrina. Katrina and I lived together in the same højskole when I studied abroad in Denmark. She was leaving to return to Denmark the following day and I got to spend time with her before she left. Our destination: Mall of Asia.

Manila Bay (far left) and Boardwalk

Mall of Asia is not as big as it sounds…it’s bigger. We casually strolled past the food court, brand name stories, concert stage, and Olympic sized ice skating rink. Yes, ice skating rink. Hundreds of Asian families surged past us and I sat in awe as we ate our dim sum from a rolling vendor’s cart. From the top floor of the mall, you can walk along an overpass and down the stairs to the boardwalk adjacent to the water of Manila Bay. I could smell the salt as the brown waves crashed onto the rocky shore. It was unlike any mall I had ever been to before.

Katrina told me about her home village in the south of the Philippines, the traditional food and her education. I loved hearing about her life as a Filipino my age,  in love with the native food and national hospitality but frustrated with the country’s Catholic emphasis and conservative way of thinking. We switched to a discussion of beauty and the ideal woman as viewed by Filipino women. “White,” Katrina said, “is the best. It reflects Western beauty.” In the Philippines and southeast Asia, white skin represents beauty and power. Your skin tones tells society whether your family works outside in the sun or is wealthy enough to stay indoors. We past pharmacies, beauty stores and signs advertising skin whitening technology. Products included deodorants, dietary pills, creams, and body washes. I was shocked by its normalcy, the customers’ abundant desire to alter their skin tone. The models’ skin in the pictures seemed almost iridescent  in an unnatural way, life-size portraits strung up in store windows. What is that about wanting what you can’t have?

Varieties of Whitening Cream

How many jokes have I made to my friends in the States about how tan I would get this summer? The popularity of bronzers, spray-on tans, and tanning salons in America is not going away any time soon. After all, no one wants to put on her prom dress looking like a ghost. The image of beauty, of wealth, of success is relative across cultures and time zones.

Now I’m not going to start preaching but make sure you love the way you look. Love your skin in its natural color, be it: white, brown, black, or somewhere in between. If nothing else, you’ll save a lot of money on beauty products that you could be spending on a new pair of heels.

Katrina and I
Katrina and I