It was difficult to celebrate Women’s Month at a time when the Pinay remains under attack, even when she’d like to think otherwise. To me it happens on the level of a beauty industry that has standardized what it is we mean by beautiful, as it does happen on the level of a Catholic Church that continues to take a stand against the Reproductive Health Law, after we have fought for it for 14 years. Scientific and common sense would tell this Pinoy Catholic Church that RH is nothing to fear, but we know how sometimes what we refuse to understand is the scariest thing.
We also know that at some point, the most absurd things | images | words can be so normalized by the media and the celebrity culture, that these cease to be absurd.
In that sense, it seems that a couple of days late, it is precisely the right time to celebrate the Pinays who are the dissenting voices and images in a sea of women who have been standardized by the beauty industry and celebrity culture. At a time when whitened skin and fake bodies have become the standard, at a time when we are telling our young girls that they need to look—and be—a certain way to achieve their dreams, here are the Pinays who seem to navigate their celebrity with an amount of independence.
So no, this isn’t about the thoughtless and careless celebration of self, as it is acknowledging those women on TV, online, in advertisements, who are able to navigate the shallowness of this current beauty and showbiz industries. Here, the Pinay celebrities who refuse to be boxed, sealed, delivered as mere puppets of impossible perfection. Because yes, nobody’s perfect. And someone who sells perfect?
It’s close to irresponsible.
Because she is who she is. Last Sunday I happened upon her singing live on “Party Pilipinas” and I could not get over the chutzpah, out of tune as she was for most of it. And yet the moment she took to that microphone to talk about her soap opera about to end, and the movie that’s about to open, you cannot but be charmed by a woman so sure of herself, she can actually be herself. That we cringe, doesn’t matter. That we think her improper is irrelevant. Now if only she stopped selling whitening products, white as she’s always been.
What is extraordinary about Saab is how consistent she is, and how, no matter the acting turn in her career, she is able to work that into the kind of rakenrol chick she’s got going on her blog “spellsaab.com.” I’ve said this before and I say it again, there is something refreshing about the kinds of conversations Saab is able to have on her blog. And yes, we might cringe at the fact that her blog is also space for selling products, but at least with Saab you have a sense that she’s actually using these things and not just taking us for a ride.
There’s also this: she is able to talk about having messy hair, about having gone through difficult teenage years, about cooking for herself and being independent. She posts photos of herself without makeup, or very little of it, and is able to say: hoy bad lighting yan ha! Yes, Saab is able to laugh at herself and that is about keeping it real, yes? Where celebrities tend to be more conscious about maintaining an image, Saab is able to stay herself. It’s a feat in itself.
Alessandra de Rossi
Might be the youngest most underrated actress we’ve got, and not even winning an international award changes that—yehey Pilipinas. But if Alex’s interviews and tweets are any indication, she takes the disregard in stride and knows herself better than to be defined by showbiz’s trappings. In fact her articulations are so independent, you know she isn’t one to care about losing an endorsement deal, or missing out on some film or TV assignment.
And really, she is funny. Asked what part of her body she’d get plastic surgery for, she says: “gusto ko blue eyes ako e. Waw! #ikawna.” For the hashtag #AnnoyingThingsPeopleSay, Alex tweeted: “maganda ka kahit morena ka” may KAHIT??! kelan pa naging sukatan yan? sorry ang babaw. #ANNOYINGREALLY.” More than these, here is a woman who’s talented beyond mainstream showbiz’s imagination, and who has conceded to this system’s follies, at the same time that she can humorously point a finger at it—and laugh at herself for being within it at all. We would all want to be this self-reflexive, yes? Also, this witty.
Bubbles Paraiso and Bianca Gonzalez
Two women who are morena and proud of it, and as close as we can get to celebrities who dare take a stand against whitening.
In a 2011 spot.ph feature that quotes from a Marie Claire interview, Bianca dared take a stand: “I am anti-whitening for myself, but if I have friends who want to have fairer skin, I will support them. What I am for is supporting Pinays who choose to love their brown skin…and not feel pressured to spend on whitening products.”
Meanwhile, in a 2010 feature over Pep.ph, Bubbles talks about her 9-year-old niece crying because her skin wasn’t fair compared to her mestiza classmates. Bubbles dares assert that this is because of a “mentality” that values white skin over any other color skin. She also says, “I am a morena and I’ve always been one and I’m not going to change that.” And you see Bubbles in her GMA soaps and you can’t help but be happy that she’s balancing the morena quotient on TV.
There is of course Lovi’s acting chops, but there is also her daring. She’s got tattoos she is proud of, a deep voice that is rare, and she talks about her thin frame as if it is nothing extraordinary. That might be because she doesn’t seem self conscious, and her body isn’t borne of some operation or other. Talking about her morena skin in a Philippine Daily Inquirer interview in March of this year, she says, “I don’t know where I got my morena complexion. Maybe it’s from swimming. Since I was a kid, I’ve always loved swimming.”
That this points to an amount of disregard for the superficiality of her skin is of course wonderful. But also, Lovi says: “A lot of people are telling me to get my boobs done. I haven’t done anything. I tweeted kanina, it’s called satisfaction. I just love myself. It’s pretty tempting to be able to get things done for free. But no, eh. As long as I’m doing my job well.”
Danica Magpantay, Charo Ronquillo, Charlene Almarvez
Not quite famous personalities, but certainly ones we should be proud of, Charo and Charlene were runners-up in the Ford Supermodel of the Year in 2006 and 2009 respectively and have continued to be their morena-skinned selves in the international arena.
Charlene’s portfolio is up at the Ford Models website, as is her recent work for international magazine Glamour Italia.
Charo meanwhile, was—and still is—known as the Asian Kate Moss working in catwalks across the world and wearing clothes that the whitened Pinay celebrity likes to flaunt. She speaks of working at the way she looks and living independently: “When you’re away from home, you only have yourself to depend on. So you have to make sure you make sound and valid decisions, and that you set your eyes on the goal so you will never get lost.”
Danica won in the 2010 Ford Supermodel of the World contest, and has gone on to bravely talk about being morena and loving it. In a spot.ph feature, she says “Filipina tayo, may mga mestizang Filipina, may maiitim na Filipina. Learn to appreciate who you are, and kung ano man ‘yong mga flaws. Tanggapin mo ang sarili mo na buong-buo, para maging masaya ka.”
What is outstanding about Venus, more than placing in the Miss Universe pageant that made her famous is really what she’s become since. That is, a fantastic role model for every other little girl who thinks she has to be white to be pretty; she also speaks with sincere humility, which we rarely see on television. In a pep.ph interview, Venus talks about growing up being teased about her looks: “Noong bata ako, ang daming tumutukso sa akin. Tinutukso ako ng pangit, kinky, maitim.” She goes on to say that beauty isn’t what one sees of a person, but what this person actually is. Venus also jokingly talks about how her mother Ester made her feel better, “Sabi ng nanay ko, maganda ako, kaya maganda ako.”
I’ve said this before: I think KC’s personality and independence was in her coming home and doing things differently. That is, she did a CD that had rakenrol written all over it, and she refused to talk about her personal life until that last high profile relationship. As she kicked off her showbiz career, I thought the only other unfortunate moment was when she sold a whitening product.
Now, it seems we have rakenrol KC back, who dares do red hair, is living proof that a strong body is always better than a thin frail one, and who by most counts is distinct from the rest of her peers, and not at all because she’s her parents’ daughter. In fact, you watch her dancing on TV and you know she takes it more seriously than the next dance diva; you watch her in “Forever and a Day” and you know she’s the only one who can refreshingly be her real-bodied self in film and on TV. There is a fierceness to KC that works, and devil-may-care attitude that we wish would translate to more powerful articulations about being woman. In the meantime, she’s gaining back her rakenrol and it looks good.
Judy Ann Santos
In these times when we rarely see lines on our artistas’ faces, which is particularly strange for those who have aged before our eyes, there is Judy Ann. Without the sheen that Botox and nips and tucks leave on the skin—yes, people, it’s obvious when you get your face done—here is one actress who remains believably normal despite her fame.
And this is not just about how she looks, but what she says, where nothing seems to have changed, save for now becoming wife and mother. Here Judy Ann outdoes most every other actress her generation, if not the generation before and after her, where she speaks freely, laughs boisterously, engages with her audience more truthfully. She is rough around the edges, but she wears that like a badge of survival. We would all want that kind of confidence that proves we have lived.
There are too, of course, people like Sarah Meier-Albano who tweeted “STOP with the whitening creams already” in 2011 after Venus and Danica won in their respective contests. I find value in someone like Regine Velasquez-Alcasid who, if the last “Silver” concert was any indication, is now able to laugh at herself and her whitened skin (via a comedy number by Ogie Alcasid and Janno Gibbs), and who always seemed to have a mind of her own, showbiz expectations be damned. There is too, Maricel Soriano, recently saying that she wouldn’t get anything done on her face, for how would she be able to do her eyebrow raises that we now know to be her taray?
There is Paula Peralejo-Fernandez who pulled off a wedding – and wrote about it too! – that inadvertently took a stand against an industry that is all about standardized pomp and pageantry, and plenty of overpriced services. Paula didn’t do a Filipiniana wedding; she did a Filipino wedding, the kind that is not merely about token nationalism, as it was about being grounded in Philippine history and culture, and a genuine love for environment and nation. That wedding was far larger than any of those televised and high profile celebrity weddings, and was more rebellious than most weddings in general.
Then there is the spit of a girl that is Ryzza Mae Dizon, younger and shorter, more morena than any of the other finalists in the 2012 Little Miss Philippines contest. The moment she won I thought it was a brilliant moment for the local child star, whose sense of self can only be affected by the superficiality of TV.
So yes, this list is diverse, and cuts across even those who admit to having had their skins whitened, or those who will do a makeup tutorial or two. Because this is not to be simplistic and reductive and say “Brown is beautiful” versus white, or stop focusing on making yourself beautiful. It’s to say this: be the mother and sister, the friend and teacher, who will tell the Pinay that happiness and success aren’t dictated by one’s skin color, or one’s body type. It’s to tell the Pinay that the world is larger than the media images of being woman at this point in time, and that we are far more intelligent than those whitening ads create us.
It’s to tell the Pinay, the celebrity endorser included, that nothing will be lost if they cease to believe in whitening. In fact it’s entirely possible that it is when we can look at ourselves in the mirror, morena skin and all, that we will feel most free.
The wish is this: speak of beauty beyond the beauty industry. We owe every Pinay this much.