Color Me Beautiful

By Jazmine Alcon
Cover by Victoria Lee

Sometimes I sit and think about my childhood, and I get flashes of times I’ve sat in front of the TV and thought about drowning. Drowning in white paint, submerged deep enough to come out pearly white. I remember growing up and becoming the base of jokes for my dark skin. I grew up in the Philippines where everybody was brown the color wasn’t at all unfamiliar within the community, but the darker you got the more of a clown you became. I recall thinking how strange it was that people who were a shade or two lighter than me were making fun of me as if we weren’t all on the same boat, on its way to being crushed by the huge wave of internalized racism.

During that time of my life, I couldn’t help but hate myself and feel as if the days grew longer and much more gruesome. I was made fun of by family members for looking how I looked, as if I had control over it. My cousin, who was also darker than the norm, and I were both poked and laughed at like we were a circus act for everybody to sit back and enjoy. The mirror amplified what I grew to hate as more nicknames were stitched onto my skin. I became scared to go outside and play, instead reverting to stay inside and away from the sun, not wanting to burn the last inch of dignity and hope I had left.

Names and loud agonizing laughter rang in my ears whenever family came over. It made my ears ache and as far as I know, the ringing is still there, no matter how quieter it has gotten over the years. I didn’t know what to make of people who were the same ethnicity as me transforming me into some sort of outcast, like I wasn’t similar to them. I couldn’t put a name to it all until this year. Colorism: the dark shadow that has clung onto my back as I grew taller, smarter, and stronger.

Colorism is defined as “prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group.” The monster living on top of my brown skin and feeding on the minds of the people who morphed my entire being into a joke now had a name. Colorism is a prevalent issue in the community but it’s known as a silent killer — too many people knowing the crime but not who the criminal is.

I’ve lived 10 out of 16 years of my life in the Philippines where Eurocentric features are praised like a God. Whenever people came across someone who looked like silky smooth milk, people suddenly turned them into a totem of adoration, claiming their skin was to die for. The advertisements consist of light-skinned men and women and, if you base your knowledge on the Philippines and the Filipino culture on those advertisements, you’d be surprised at the amount of color you’d see as soon as you stepped onto Filipino territory. People are almost trained to think from a young age that dark is a living nightmare. Dark skinned people are portrayed terribly in the media. ‘Teleseries,’ which are Filipino soap operas, almost always portray dark-skinned people as the object that receives the harsh bullying and horrible treatment from others. In reality shows like Eat Bulaga! and Showtime, people with darker shades of brown are usually ridiculed just for the hell of it. They were made the butts of every joke, nothing but jesters for the lighter audience. I grew up thinking this was normal, so of course I subconsciously thought it was okay to take swords wrapped with insults and colorist jokes and eventually bleed out. I thought it was okay to hate the color of my skin because everybody else did.

I grew up in an environment where people used products (and still do) to lighten their skin. Products such as skin whitening soaps like Vitapack Whitening Soap, Hiyang Papaya Soap, Likas Papaya Soap, Glutathione pills, and Glutathione injections. Jinky Oda, an African American comedian, has become the face of a billboard for GlutaMax pills with the tagline “From Ebony to Ivory”.

Being surrounded by this as a child has detrimental effects on a person growing up. It’s a grim and tormenting road that one has to go on to undo what has been done. I’m still learning to love myself as I am, persevering through the sometimes bumpy road to self-love. But I’ve learned so much about myself while learning what the worth of my skin tone truly is. Beauty is not determined by color or shade, but what comes from within. Ugliness stems from ugly thoughts manifested into ugly actions. This is to all of my brown girls out there who have doubted their beauty, value, and have constantly been put down by society. Don’t ever stop standing back up. We have all been shoved into a cage, forced to become who we don’t want to be to match someone’s delusional idea that beautiful only conforms to one thing. 

I've felt the pain of wanting to embody the milky galaxy, of wanting to say my r's soft enough so I didn't have to stumble and blush and repeat myself 20 times, of wanting to just fit in, and the years I have spent laying on my bed thinking how easier it would be to be has taken me to where I am now. A place where I want to tell all of my dark skinned brothers and sisters that you are everything you wished you were. You are already beautiful. You are already intelligent. You are already strong. You are already heard. You are already seen. You have the key within you. Break free of all standards and stereotypes. Show them how marvelous you are. Brown is bold. Brown is beautiful. Brown is a blessing. Brown is magic. Brown is you.