3 Comments 25 January 2010


By Manuela Perez Samson

A good man, they say, is hard to find, but a beautiful woman, in this day and time . . . well, turn a corner and you meet one. Especially at upscale, fun-time corners like The Fort, Eastwood, Rockwell, Greenbelt, Glorietta. . . ah, in these whereabouts and hereabouts do such beauties abound! According to Mr. Webster, beauty is “the quality attributed to whatever pleases or satisfies in certain ways, as by line, color, form, etc.; a thing having this quality; good looks; a very good-looking woman.” And “beautiful” is applied to that which gives the highest degree of pleasure to the senses or to the mind and suggests that the object approximates one’s conception of an ideal. On the other hand, Roget’s Thesaurus defines beauty thus: to be beautiful is to have qualities that delight the eye, and a beauty is a woman who is regarded as beautiful.

Well, that has got to be the simplest definition ever!

Let’s try the poets — they who were/are so lavish, so passionate with their praises of beauty, and their odes to beauty. Take Lord Byron’s oft-quoted lines: She walks in beauty, like the night of cloudless climes and starry skies; and all that’s best of dark and bright meet in her aspect and her eyes. And Wordsworth, not to be outdone, speaks about his Phantom of delight. . . a lovely apparition sent to be a moment’s ornament.

On the other hand, what about John Keats, the metaphysical, moody, spiritual high priest of beauty who wrote that “a thing of beauty is a joy forever.” Granted that JK was referring not to a particular person but to an ideal, still modern man has been quick to adapt it to woman as a thing, a “sexual object.” 

But wait, one more quote from another Romantic who swore that “if eyes were made for seeing, then beauty is its own excuse for being.”  That’s it? If you look good, if you’re pleasing to the beholder’s eye (because “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”) then you’re okay, you don’t have to be, or do, or prove anything else, you pass with flying colors?

Oh dear, this is really so confusing!

 All right then, let’s get this little piece on beauty and the beautiful, un-confused and classified into one category – beauty in its human form. In short, a beautiful woman (not to be confused with a beautiful man). And let’s take this dissertation closer to home and away from the Romantic poets of centuries ago who hadn’t a clue as to who Belo, Calayan, Mathay, and company might be. 

One reason perhaps that this particular group of makers-over is so popular is because Filipinos are known to be lovers of the beautiful, especially when it comes in womanly form. If you don’t happen to have been born beautiful, then you can always be made beautiful if you’re willing and able to pay the price.

Is it truly a culture thing with the Filipino, this obsession for the beautiful? Does this explain why we have so many beauty contests in the country anytime of the year —  Miss Earth Philippines, Miss Fire, Miss Bikini, Miss Fresh Air and big one, the Bb/ Pilipinas contest that will send our young Filipinas to different corners of the globe to represent this land of the morning sun which is known for its – what else – beautiful women!

Having clarified this particular Pinoy trait, what exactly is our concept of beauty?  Do we equate beauty with sexiness, a perfection of form and figure and looks? Does being beautiful mean having white skin, an aquiline nose, Angelina Jolie lips, perhaps a size 40 plus bra? Does a woman have to be a mestiza to be considered beautiful? And when did the mestiza become the measuring stick to gauge a woman’s beauty?

In truth, we don’t have to look beyond our shores to find beauty. The world itself has found it within our native land and given it recognition with a crown and a title. Here are some of our beautiful Filipinas, down the years of beauty pageants, across oceans and continents, chosen above all her peers as the fairest of them all: Aurora Pijuan, Miss International `70; Gloria Diaz, Miss Universe `69 (winning this crown, for Filipinos, outshone man’s landing on the moon, an event which happened on the same month of that year); Gemma Cruz, Miss International `65; Baby Santiago, Queen of the Pacific `68; Margie Moran (with very impressive credentials as granddaughter to a Philippine President, a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and a Carnival Queen), Miss Universe `73; Nelia Sancho, Queen of the Pacific `71; Melanie Marquez, Miss International `79, and later Supermodel of the Year, representing a top US modeling agency.

It’s not only the mestiza among us who has graced magazine covers, walked down the ramps of the fashion world to show off Guccis, YSLs, Diors, etc. We have a Mayumi Cabrera (daughter of artist Bencab, and yes, half-Briton but more Pinay than Brit, right?) enhancing her exotic Filipina looks with a dazzling, sparkling de Beers diamond; and Lea Salonga as Kim, winning awards and applause on New York, London, and other stages of the world.

As for “white skin” – one of the ingredients in the recipe for beauty . . . notice that one out of every four or five commercials is a skin-lightening product endorsed by a stunning, sultry beauty who clearly doesn’t need to whiten her skin any more than it already is. Flawless white . . . pure white . . . pinkish white. . . 3-in-one whitening. . . 7-day whitening miracle. . . sparkling white. Clearly the operative, magical word is white.

Does the magic work? These are all big name products endorsed by big name celebrities – male and female both – their glowing white faces smiling out at you from giant billboards on our traffic-ridden avenues and superhighways.

Does it work? Okay, here’s a little tale about Jenny, Violy, and Mimi, all of them members of our household staff. Violy, in her late 40s, Mimi just past 18, and Jenny going on 30, are all typical provincianas, skin browned by the hot sun and warm winds of their native towns. In the city where they work as domestics for middle-class households, they spend breaks between chores glued to the TV screen and their favorite soap, along with all its attending commercials, including of course the magical whitening creams and the lovely white-skinned ladies and gents who endorse them.

So, do these commercials work? How strong is their impact on the particular market which is mostly made up of avid followers of teleseryes? Back to our three provinciana maidens, now indoctrinated into city ways and city life. Every night, Violy, Jenny and Mimi would sit around the table in the darkened kitchen, watching their favorite soap. There they’d sit, their faces glowing white with the magic cream that someday, would make them look like the beautiful white face on the screen before them.

It was startling at first to see those white-masked faces around the table, every night without fail, but eventually we got used to it. It matters not that the miracle doesn’t take place. It could be the cream they’re using isn’t as fast-working or expensive as the one on TV, but that’s okay. Theirs is the patience of saints, and they can wait. Someday, who knows, they’ll look in the mirror and voila! The magic has worked, and brown has turned to white!

Ironically, on the beautiful beaches of the southern provinces these girls left behind, men and women from foreign shores bare their snow white bodies to an abundant sun that would turn their skin to a delicious brown.

Another irony: While true it is that many Filipino males look first of all at the trappings (white skin, aquiline nose, bikini body, etc) that attract, and only second of all at whether that alluring exterior offers a counterpart interior (character, integrity, a beautiful soul perhaps?), statistics and records show marriages between international beauty queens – the first ever Miss Universe 1952, Armi Kuusela of Finland; the first Miss International (1962) Stella Marquez of Colombia; Miss Asia Angela Filmer of Malaysia; Miss Aruba, Miss Australia – and Filipino men.  This surely proves a point in that brown may be quite as irresistible to white, as vice versa. 

Why on earth then do we want to change the color of our skin? Why isn’t Nora A or Sarah G up there on that screen singing about the brown-skinned maidens of our enchanted isles, instead of voluptuous-lipped Gretchen or sultry Ruffa enticing gullible, small-town innocents into making the impossible happen?

So, back to first base: What is beauty? What, more specifically, makes a woman beautiful, apart and aside from, and without, whitening creams, age-defying miracle creams, nosejobs, breast and butt lifts, liposuction, nips and tucks and silicon add-ons?  What is this obsession with color, shape and form? Is beauty only skin deep, concerned with the external, “its own excuse for being”?

There’s got to be something else. Like genes, for instance.  Genes is what makes a person look the way he/she does. The biological “somethings” that determine if you’ll be a Jericho look-alike or you’ll have Kristine’s dimples, Agot’s sultry eyes. Later, what completes the handiwork? Experience, character, formation, life itself. . . and living.

So think not that beauty is its own excuse for being. If we believed that, if our culture tells us there’s nothing more to beauty than meets the eye, then there’s little hope for the other part of the world, the bigger part which is composed of ordinary folks like you and me, ordinary folks who come in all shapes, and sizes and faces.

Where would love go if every time a man looked at a woman, he would want to see a white-skinned beauty in a bikini? Would he compromise and imagine Eva Longoria when he looks at his wife of 20 or so years, dark hair streaked with gray, bulges in the wrong places, once-smooth-skin lined and wrinkled?

But believe that there’s more to a beautiful woman than the color of her skin or the shape of her body. Believe there’s more to her than meets the eye; look beyond the layers of whitening cream and botoxed forehead and injected lips, beneath the silicon chest and padded butt – and discover the mind and heart and soul of her. And realize that this goddess walks on brown feet.


Your Comments

3 Comments so far

  1. had it says:

    Thanks for writing this. My filipino family is obsessed with beauty always comparing each other to each other…commenting about this and that…it drives me crazy and at this point in my life, I’ve learned to ignore BOTH their criticisms and compliments.

  2. leo says:

    Wonderful to find news about the Philippines.


  1. THE PINOY’S OBESESSION WITH WHITE SKIN | Planet Philippines - 27. Feb, 2010

    […] Many Pinoys will spare no expense to have whiter skin. That’s why store shelves are flooded with whitening products—from soaps, creams, and powders. And, oh, who hasn’t heard of glutathione? To be white is to be beautiful. At least that’s what the ads tell us. READ FULL STORY. See related story in a previous issue – “This Beauty Thing.” […]

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