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In fairness…

Rhona Canoy

INCENSED AND INCENDIARY DISCLAIMER: One last time—my pieces are not fluffy. If you at the very least get entertained by them, not fluffy. If you gain any realizations from them, not fluffy. My aim is always to stretch your thinking and point of view so that hopefully you let some air into that fluffy area you call a brain. I rarely get offensive but, in this case, let me say that if you think my pieces are fluffy then don’t read them. More than that, if you think my pieces are fluffy then YOUR fluffy brain isn’t getting the point. And that’s all I have to say about that.

So… After getting obscenely sunburned, I had to stop by my local grocery store to snag some bath soap. The helpful sales lady steered me towards a wall of all sorts of bubble-making cleansing bars, graciously explaining the benefits of some of them. Spending the next long minutes tediously walking up and down the aisle searching for product, it finally dawned on me that I was facing a whole wall of bath soaps meant to whiten the skin.

My initial reaction was one of bewilderment. Did Gracious Lady think I needed help in the skin-whitening department? Should I have been offended that she thought I needed to become several shades paler? Was she distressed by my state of beach brownness? Why? Why? Why?

As my mental teeth chewed on this, I decided to have the necessary conversation with Gracious Lady, noticing that she was fairly fair-complexioned. It turns out that millions and millions of pesos are being spent on advertising and product urging women (and I suppose some men) to bring out their hidden beauty by whitening their skin. And even more distressing is the fact that millions and millions of fluffy minds are buying into this propaganda.

But where is this propaganda coming from? And how long has it been around? At the very least, I would say hundreds of years. It is understandable how our years of being oppressed by white-skinned people have programmed us Filipinos to believe that fair is better. Mestizas are considered a level above the “regular” morena Pinays. Although better is a classification that needs to be defined. Lately, our local beauty queens seem to have a better chance of winning if they sport a foreign-sounding last name. And we see so many young Pinays being claimed by foreign expats (although to be fair, there are a few very dark-skinned ones) as “island souvenirs”. Which made my gender-equality furnace tip over the boiling point. This issue of fairness and beauty as defined by society and industry seems to be mostly focused on the female members. I’m still quite at sea as to how seemingly well-educated and intelligent Filipinas are buying into the hype.

Okay. I’m going to let us have the hair. And I will allow you to say that I may be in denial. But hair color is a wonderful thing! I have been everything. From black to brown to burgundy to russet to flaming orange to Christmas-red-and-green. Currently I’m sporting about eleven different shades of hair. But I think hair color is more vanity than mental disturbance. After all, it can be changed on a whim. Or cut or curled or shaved off. And it will grow back in its original state. So that’s a whole ‘nother argument. But let’s go back to the fair-skinned thing.

I’m still wondering if the desire to whiten one’s skin comes with the guarantee that one is immediately perceived as better than the rest. And like I said, I still don’t know what better means. What is it that we believe fair skin brings? Maybe the assumption of goodness? After all good-vs-evil is often portrayed as a white-vs-black thing as well.

The Filipino psyche is hard-wired to seek affirmation from others. So in many ways, there must be a cultural bible that contains and defines our “truths” in a manner comprehensible to us. There must be because we have a whole society that has bought into this fairness thing. Seriously. Have any of you who use glutathione googled what this chemical does besides lighten your skin? Or have you just blindly bought into it because famous medical groups have paid celebrity endorsers to tout the product?

Don’t blame Duterte for our sheep-like mentality. Evidently, we have been sheep long before he came we have willingly allowed ourselves to be turned into sheep as history can confirm. We are sheep when it comes to the fair-skin issue as well. So to what else are we sheeplike? Maybe the ability to realize our potential as a nation and as a culture has a correlation to our willingness to be gullible. Maybe the issue is not whether we want fair skin or not, but rather why it seems to mean so much to us. Maybe there is some deep philosophical truth we need to seek. Mirror, mirror on the wall…

Oh, by the way, I found my preferred bath product in the baby soap aisle. Go figure.

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About Rhona Canoy

Rhona Canoy
Rhona Canoy is the president and head administrator of International School CDO. Bon vivant, raconteur, epicure, mental voyeur, occasional Yoda. You may address her as "The Intelligent Loquacious Wildly Eccentric Sometimes Inebriated Honest But Sarcastic Essential B*tch."

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