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Having white skin in the Philippines

As a half-Finn, half-German, I have natural blond hair and blue eyes, which is something very common in Europe, especially in Finland–but not in the Philippines. The amount of attention I get here—in this non-touristy area–for my hair and skin colour is definitely something I still need to get used to. Some situations are pleasant, but sometimes, it just gets overwhelming. Sometimes it even turns rude due to inappropriate comments (mostly from high school kids). I guess it’s because having white skin in the Philippines is very exotic. Something they get to see only on TV or the movies. It’s no wonder the fair complexion gets the most preference here.

The Filipina beauty

Personally, I admire the beauty of the Filipina— with their beautiful dark skin; their dark, long hair; and their beautiful brown eyes.
A Filipina girl

Unfortunately, many Filipinos disagree with me. They would love to have northern European complexion, blue eyes, and blond hair, which sometimes have unintended results– like having orange hair instead, due to their dark natural hair colour.

Whitening skin products everywhere

It amazes me how much skin whitening products are sold everywhere here in the Philippines. In fact, it’s difficult to find lotions, sunblock, or moisturiser without the whitening effect. I see these products as the equivalent to tanning sprays and lotions that are sold in Europe. So whenever I buy these kinds of products (here in the Philippines), I always scrutinise the labels before buying because the last thing that I want is whiter skin.

It makes me think, why is that? Why do we want to have the looks that we could never have due to our ethnicity or genetics. Why do dark skinned people want to look pale while white skinned people want to get tan. Why can’t we just appreciate the skin color we were born with; skin color which serves a practical purpose in the regions of the world that we were born in.

Fair complexion in the tropics

Because let’s face it, white skin, like I have, is just anything but made for the tropical sun. If I don’t put any sun protection cream, my skin burns within minutes after being exposed to the sunlight. I can not leave the house without first putting many layers of thick, sticky sunblock on my skin. But still, I take all of that into account because I enjoy having a nice tan.

My blond hair is also a big disadvantage in this tropical climate. Not only does it give less protection to my head from the heat, it is also easily damaged by the sun, saltwater, and humidity. As a result, it has turned very dry and has even changed its colour: I am now even turning brunette.

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I find these things interesting, but also sad at the same time, that we are trying to be something we can not have and can not become. I have no solution to offer. This is just an observation I made.

A realization

I had an interesting conversation about this topic with Arthur’s uncle. We realised, how switched the situation is in our countries. In the Philippines, it’s seen as a “status symbol” to have fair skin, because it means that that person is either well off or has a very good job requiring to work indoors all the time (in air conditioned offices or buildings and therefore is not exposed to the sun). For people with darker skin, it implies they work outdoors; under the heat of the sun (for example on the rice fields) and are often paid less than those working in offices. Of course, this is just a big generalisation and shouldn’t be construed as fact.

And then there is the opposite situation in Europe. In Finland, having a tanned skin colour is a “status symbol”. It symbolises wealth and luxury because it means that that person can afford to travel and vacation to far away places in the sunny south. It means that that person has the means to enjoy life outdoors, particularly in warm, sunny places.

I think we should all learn to accept the way we look like, the way nature made us look like and the way our skin and hair colors have their purpose in the regions of the world we live in. Nature has created wonderful ways to make it easier for us to live and adapt in cold places (hair on arms, chest and legs, longer noses, etc.); to live and adapt under the tropical sun (hairless arms and torso, short noses, etc.) and to have dark skin colour (mechanism for resisting against sunburn).

Let’s not be brainwashed by TV and advertisements. Let’s learn to appreciate ourselves the way we are.