Everybody’s Appearance is valid, Toxic Comments aren’t

When Vicki Belo said, “I want to be beautiful because when you’re beautiful, you are loved and accepted,” I felt that.

I remember looking down on my dark skin one time, wondering what could be wrong. A grownup relative just threw a sly side comment at me. She said “Negra!” Her brows curled and her eyes wide-opened as she gave me a look of disgust. I’ve had countless incidents like this from other people, even from my parents. I remember it all. The words and the pain. Especially the pain. I was 8.

Growing up as a dark-skinned Filipina, my first insecurity was my skin. The term “Negra” is a negative Filipino slang referenced to the African race known for their dark complexion. Philippines, being colonized by Spain, Japan, and America, upholds the Western standard of beauty, which celebrates the fair complexion and the pearl-white skin. I’ve learned to sought out the help of whitening beauty products at the tender age of 9.

Now as a grown empowered woman, I did my best to love my natural Morena skin. Everytime people let out a negative side comment about it, I comfort myself with the truth that, all skin colors are beautiful. I believe and I accept that. I try to be okay. But in flashing moments, I still catch myself hiding from the Sun. I still find myself digging store shelves looking for whitening Facial Masks. I’ve always contemplated about these moments, and I knew it in my heart that, self-acceptance is never gonna be enough. I no longer want people to call me out and tell me; “Laguma na nimo oy! (Your skin is already so dark!)” or those quick reminders of “Maitom ka! (You’ll get tan!)” While self-love may comfort me at times, I cannot help but feel that it is equally important to be in an environment where people accept you no matter how you look.

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You might think it is okay to joke about your friend’s terrible Acne, but no, it’s not okay. You don’t know how much money she has spent just to get rid of those breakouts, and most importantly the anxiety that comes with it when she goes out in public. Acne-shaming is never okay.

You think it’s okay to degrade Jejemons because they look “cheap” to you, but no, it’s not okay. So lucky of you to have the money to buy nice and branded clothes. So lucky of you to have great influences for you to be able to style yourself better than others. But reality check: not everyone has your privilege, so respect.

You think it’s okay to let out comments about how hideous her belly fats look, or perhaps your countless unsolicited reminders about how she’s getting fatter or skinnier, but no, those are not okay. Body-shaming is never okay.

You think it’s okay to tell a person he’s ugly because he has Autistic features, or he has a flat nose, or he has freckles, or he is too dark-skinned or too white-skinned, or he has rich curly hair? No, it’s not okay. Never ever ruin other people’s confidence and shine just because of your own definition of beauty. All of us are beautiful in our own unique features because real physical beauty isn’t shallow, and should not be standardized.

I feel terribly sad that many people in this modern-day society prefer to hide behind Instagram filters. That many are afraid to go out and let the world see their imperfections. This is not because they do not love and accept themselves. This is because, there is too much hate in this world that devours people. Many can just easily throw mud at others, especially about physical appearance. I say that this should not be the case. I refuse to tolerate this kind of norm. We need to break these barriers and rise above all of this, because . . . .

His bushy curls are cool.
Her Acne doesn’t make her less beautiful.
His toothless smile is bright.
Her fats don’t make her less attractive.
His brown skin is as perfect as the pearl-white skin.
Her unique physical features make her more special.

Nobody deserves to look in the mirror and feel less of a person just because of how they look. Everybody deserves to live as they are unapologetically. And for that to be possible, as a society, we need to uphold both self-love and a constructive environment where people are allowed to freely thrive as they are.

With that, allow me to share the meaningful and inspiring story of Miss UP Cebu 2013, my dear friend, Francesca Fernandez.

Freedom. In UP, we are known to be free. I believe that Beauty Pageants like this allows us to be free. To be who we are. Just like me. When I entered this competition, I was first scared. I was very insecure, because I don’t think you ever saw a fat person join a competition like this. And when I joined, I learned that I can be truly myself and by doing this, I can empower the youth to be themselves as well.

Francesca Fernandez, Miss UP Cebu 2013

Frankie’s story teaches us 2 things. First, that it is important for us to love ourselves as we are, and muster the courage to break barriers. Second, that breaking barriers can only be done when the people around are open and constructive, and do not impose superficial standards to others.

As a society, I believe that we still have a long way to go. But, it is never late to turn things around. You can start with yourself. First thing first, love yourself, because you are valid. No matter how you look; your skin, your eyes, your fashion, everything about you is enough, and you are valid. Never be afraid to take and post that selfie! Second, evaluate yourself. Check if you are making it hard for other people to love themselves. Because if you are, you are part of the problem, and you need to stop that. Learn cheering for others, instead of pushing them down. Learn to empower others, instead of dimming their shine.

Choose to make a positive impact, because it is what matters. Live a life that matters.

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