I still remember when my daughter was born. My family came in and they said their oohs and their awws, but then my aunt whom I love and adore said, “She’s dark!” Not a malicious comment by any means to a normal person, but for me it was like a punch in the stomach. With the hormones, I remember feeling sad, crying, and even angry.
You’re probably thinking, “Why would ‘she’s dark’ be bad?” In that same 24 hours, we sent the newborn picture of our beautiful brown-skinned baby to our large family text chain and my mother-in-law’s first comment was, “She’s light.” I knew that she wasn’t and surely everyone would notice once they met her in person.
See, the focus on skin color in the Filipino community like most Asian cultures is: light skin equals beauty. If you go to the Philippines, you’ll see that most celebrities are fair-skinned, whether it be because of mixed descent or skin bleaching. A huge part of the Philippine beauty industry is skin lightening products because most people have this desire to alter their complexion.
As a first-generation American with immigrant parents, a lot of my upbringing had Filipino influence.
There was lots of good, but unfortunately there was also some bad. Filipinos are notorious for being blunt, and usually it was related to appearance – to one’s weight, skin color, etc.
I had a lot of good memories growing up but there were also moments where I remember feeling “not pretty enough” or “not good enough,” and it was because of something that I couldn’t control.
It was my skin color.
I mean imagine wanting to swim for fun and exercise, but always having in the back of your mind this worry: “I’m getting darker!”
Fast forward 20 years, now as a mother raising a little girl, there are moments where I get flashbacks of my childhood and I find this little voice in my gut saying:
“Do better! Don’t Ever Make Your Daughter Feel Like That! Be The Voice That Lifts Her Up, Not The Voice That Brings Her Down.”
It’s tough. My husband and I are raising our children to be around family and I do catch family members inadvertently saying, “She’s getting so dark!” or obsessing over themselves or their children about getting dark.
Out of respect, I try to redirect the conversation or simply not partake and use other language like, “put on sunscreen so you don’t burn” vs. their language of “put on sunscreen so you don’t get dark!”
I know I’m not a perfect mother and I’m sure when my daughter is a mom, she’ll look back and find things that she would change in how I raised her.
But my goal is to do the best I can do now, with the experiences I’ve had and learned from. I’ve experienced low self-esteem and sadness for being dark, Moreno, Kayumanggi (dark in Tagalog). And although I’ve grown from those moments, those words will always be with me because it’s embedded in my upbringing.
It’s vital that this ends with me and that I do better so that my little girl’s upbringing will include phrases and words of affirmations like, “brown is beautiful. All colors are beautiful!”