“I Was Given Whitening Soap” : Colorism in the Filipino Community

“Why are you so dark?”

“You would be prettier if you were whiter.”

“You look burnt!”

I heard a lot of this as I was growing up and it wasn’t easy because at an early age, I was forced to hate the way I look. Little me didn’t know that having morena or naturally brown/dark skin was bad until my mom gave me a special kind of soap when I was 8 years old.

It was whitening soap.

I was an active kid who loved to play out in the sun during recess. I also had to walk to school and back home because my elementary school was just a five-minute walk away. All of the sun exposure gave me a darker tone, but the darker I got, the more I got picked on. Adults in my family told me many times that I would be prettier if I were whiter. I have been called “blacky,” ungoy or “monkey”, and sunog or “burnt” by the other kids. It messed me up so much that when I looked in the mirror and saw my skin two times darker, I would be disgusted and feel ugly. I would use the whitening soap and try to scrub the “dirt” away.

But it wasn’t just family or kids that made me feel this way; I also believe that media played a big role. There was a point in my life where I fangirled over TFC (The Filipino Channel). I watched so many television series, or teleseryes, starring actresses like Kim Chiu, Anne Curtis, and Bea Alonzo.

Photo via Flickr/TIlly Holland

But as I continued to watch I realized something. There were barely any dark, morena actresses on TFC because the Filipino culture praises white skin, and so does Filipino media.

However, things weren’t always like this. Back in precolonial Philippines, having brown skin was a beauty standard. But because the Philippines was colonized by the Spaniards, the perception of beauty changed the Filipinos mentality into a colonial one. The Spanish gave people the perception that dark-skinned people are “dirty” or marumi and “poor” or mahirap. We were viewed as animals and people saw us as disgusting creatures. So this mentality has been passed down many family generations, but it stops with my generation.

TFC mainly casts people who are mixed or of white complexion. The three women that I mentioned above are either mixed with Chinese, Australian, or British. These women are beautiful, but I would like to see more melanin when I watch TFC. When Venus Raj was crowned 4th runner up in Miss Universe 2010, I was so freaking happy because she is not mixed. She is a tall, dark, beautiful, morena women who was adored by many people — Filipinos and non-Filipinos. She was representing us brown girls that night and made us all proud. I believe if TFC, and media in general give dark-skinned girls a chance, they would be amazed at what we can do.


A photo posted by Venus Raj (@onlyvenusraj) on

The beauty standard in the Filipino community has not only affected me, but many other Filipinas out there.  And colorism isn’t just limited to Filipino culture; it happens all over the world in the U.S., Africa, India, and Jamaica. But all it does is damage women’s self-esteem and love for themselves. Brown is beautiful. Dark is beautiful. Melanin is beautiful.

Girls of the Aeta Filipino tribe; photo via Flickr/World Remit Comms

Brown girls should not be given whitening products. Brown girls should not be told they need to be whiter to be prettier or be called horrible names. Brown girls should be told that their skin is gorgeous, and instead of being given papaya soap and insults, be given positive affirmations. These girls are princesses and warriors and should be treated that way. We need to stop telling our morena Filipinas to stop hating their skin!

To the ones who were given whitening soaps at a young age, to the ones who were told they’d be prettier if they were whiter/lighter complexion, to the ones who don’t find themselves beautiful because of their skin tone:


Embrace the skin you are in. Your worth is not defined by your pigmentation, so there is no need to scrub your beautiful glow away. God made no mistake in creating you. So love yourself!

In the words of Alesia Cara:

You don’t have to change a thing, the world could change its heart. No scars to your beautiful. We’re stars and we’re beautiful.

One woman shares the harmful effects of colorism, of discrimination of people with darker skin tones, within her Filipino culture and how it made her journey to self love and identifying as beautiful, a little bit harder. Hear her story and her call for an end to colorism and showing that brown girls worldwide are all beautiful.

Rose Orquiza
Rose Orquiza, a Californianian living in Missouri, is an aspiring writer and mental health advocate. Her dream is to inspire and help people around the world with her writing. She is a lover of food, pens, and the talk show “The Real.”
Rose Orquiza

Rose Orquiza

Rose Orquiza, a Californianian living in Missouri, is an aspiring writer and mental health advocate. Her dream is to inspire and help people around the world with her writing. She is a lover of food, pens, and the talk show "The Real."

2 thoughts on ““I Was Given Whitening Soap” : Colorism in the Filipino Community

  • January 13, 2017 at 3:21 pm

    When we were kids, my cousins and I would go outside and play in the summer and we would tan really fast. I would get so dark the back of my neck would become purple! I remember my female cousins getting yelled at for allowing their skin to get dark. I thought to myself, surely it can’t matter what your skin color is, in fact, I like getting dark. But when you’re a kid, you just accept what is being told to you. I remember going to India for family vacation several years ago and watching a commercial for a ‘whitening deodarant’ that would make your armpits whiter! It must be rough for women growing up in cultures where they are indoctrinated with this nonsense.

    • Rose Orquiza
      January 14, 2017 at 1:06 am

      The same happened with me. My brothers, cousins and I would play outside. But since I was darker than eveyone else, I would get yelled at for playing in the sun. I didn’t think that getting dark was bad, but when you keep hearing it, it eventually just stuck and got to me. I have heard of whitening deodorant before. I never used it, but I remember being told not to use regular deodrant like Dove or else my armpits would get darker. It is extremely difficult, but I have come to a place where I embrace my brown skin!

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