“They don’t tell me what’s beautiful because I know what’s beautiful in my eyes and I know what’s beautiful in their eyes, and it might not be the same thing.”
Last week, we introduced Selina Bhang, Iana Griner, and Effy Elmubarak: half Filipino kids born and raised in the Philippines. We discovered how tough it was for them growing up in a country where mestiza looks are practically the sole definition of beauty.
Now, they stand strong and confident to speak up about their experiences. In part two of our roundtable, Selina, Iana, and Effy discuss toxic beauty standards, give advice to younger mixed Filipinos, and tackle the importance of self-love and acceptance.
What’s it like for you guys now? Like, with the whole K-Drama craze and how everyone’s into rap and hip-hop.
Iana: If you grow up here [as an African-American woman], you either have to be a girl with a big butt, look like Beyoncé, or be a basketball player. If you don’t fit into that idea of what you should be, they’re confused. It’s like “I didn’t know that you were capable of doing this.” It’s so frustrating, especially now that black culture is so influential in the Western world to some degree. But then at the end of the day, there’s people wearing my culture like a costume.
Effy: The same goes with my lips, actually. A lot of people made fun of me because I had big lips. And right now everyone’s getting lip fillers. Where were you when I was so insecure because of my lips? Everything — my hair as well. When I was in third grade, I braided my hair all the time because it’s so hard to control, diba? A lot of people made fun of me, [they] said “Parang buhok ng patay!” And now everyone’s hyping it up as if they didn’t make fun of it years ago. A small part of me wants to enjoy it like, “Ok it’s my time, it’s my turn now.” But a small part of me has some resentment.
Selina: I hated my eyes because they’re small. But since everyone is into the whole Korean craze, I kinda feel annoyed because these are the same people who made fun of me before. And now all I see on my timeline is “Ohh watching K-Drama!” Okay, do that. I haven’t forgotten what you did to me, but alright. It’s frustrating, but a specific [stereotype] that I honestly didn’t like was, you know Koreans, the Asian stereotype where you have to be a doctor, a lawyer or something like that? Well I didn’t wanna be like that. I wanna be a creative because I really do love what I’m doing. But I hate it how in my school, they’d always think I was the smart kid. But I’m not! In grade school and high school, I was just the average student. But then it frustrated me when people made fun of me if I didn’t get a good grade.
That’s kind of weird because we’re all Asian?
Effy: The same goes with the doctor-lawyer thing. African parent culture is really prevalent where your daughter has to be a doctor, engineer, lawyer. It caused a lot of conflict with my parents how I wanted to be in the arts. I’m a creative. But I don’t know. I didn’t really get to fight for it. Right now, what I’m trying to do is convince my parents to let me skip medical school because I really don’t want to go. The pressure — I don’t know what to blame. If it’s culture or capitalism. (laughs)
Iana: It’s almost as if being anything other than the standard only allows you a limited amount of space to exist. It’s like, if you’re Korean, you have to be like this, or like this. Otherwise, that’s not acceptable. Or you’re Sudanese — you have to be a doctor, an engineer, or whatever. Otherwise your existence is invalid. And it’s so ridiculous, but I also feel like it’s such a privilege to be in our situation. To be able to now have platforms [like this right now] where we are able to talk about our experiences and where people are starting to grow out of that archaic way of thinking where you can only exist as everyone sees you. I feel like we’ll have our time.
If you were to speak to someone younger than you from the same background, what would you want to tell them?
Effy: There is nothing wrong with you. Most of my life, I thought that I was ugly. And only now with the sudden influx in diversity, in the sudden influx of black models, only now do I get to fully appreciate how I look. Because most of my life, I only saw all these [local] half-white celebrities. There was this one commercial with the Philippines’ most beautiful faces. They were all mestizas. Filipinos are so ethnically diverse. You don’t have to go outside the Philippines to find diversity.
“You are normal. Nothing’s wrong with you.” It’s society’s problem. It’s just that you grew up in a place where not a lot of people look like you. And that’s the only problem, but that doesn’t have to be a problem.
Selina: It’s really about appreciating yourself more and accepting who you are. I’m not gonna say it’s okay to make fun of yourself, but then I really like to make jokes pang trip lang. Like, my username is @koreyanprinxess because it’s really just to make fun of myself. You’re the only one who’s allowed to step on yourself. ‘Cause you really can’t accept that you’re a doormat for other people to step on just because you’re different. I wish people knew that, and I wish people told me sooner also that it gets better. I think it’s good, like you’re a tough cookie and not a lot of things can break you down because you experience the worst of the worst in your childhood.
Iana: The thing is, it’s gonna be difficult but you shouldn’t feel like you shouldn’t continue. Because eventually, even just existing is gonna be worth it. Your time will come, you know. It’s almost like having grown up with this kind of struggle […] is that there is a sense privilege to it. Having seen the worst of the world so early on that eventually when you grow up, you’re no longer fazed by it. Like [for other people], you’re just realizing this now, but I’ve known it’s been like this this whole time. Especially now in the time of “diversity” (we’re still getting there, it’s really limited diversity), it’s almost as if your existence is an advantage because you get to see through all that bullshit, and you get to see when people are genuinely celebrating you. Our culture now is starting to be more celebrated, and only we can appreciate it to the most of its extent. Also: there’s nothing wrong with your hair.
What do you think needs to change in the Philippines given all your experiences?
Selina: It really can just be a phase for other people. If you’re appreciating a certain kind of ethnicity right now, you can’t just say “Oh, I wanna be like that because it’s the trendy thing.” I just find it really annoying and disrespectful. Don’t treat the beauty thing as a trend. It has to be accepted and fully celebrated all the time.
Effy: Beauty is not a monolith. There’s no proper definition. It’s not something you can paint, or force into anyone. All of the leading ladies [on TV], they all look the same. If this is the exact type of person you glorify, then you’re kind of sending the message that everyone who doesn’t meet the standards is automatically considered as not up to par, or not beautiful.There are seven billion people in the world, and they all look different. And somehow, you choose to glorify one specific set of features. Isn’t that messed up?
Iana: In addition to that, I think one of the things that needs to change is we kind of need a new era of self-acceptance. In all the ignorance and hatred that I face from Filipinos, I see in it self-hatred. Because you’re also as brown as I am, and we both don’t fit into the universal white standard of beauty. What I think the Philippines need first is to learn to accept Filipinos as they are. They’re Filipino, they’re valid, they’re accepted, they’re beautiful. And I think through that, they’ll learn to love others and accept others as well eventually. Also: just learn to tune out all the billboards and stuff because they’re just trying to make money off of you.
I’m proud to say that I don’t look to the media anymore for validation or acceptance. Because I realized that I don’t need them, because they’re totally wrong about all this stuff. And that the advantage that I think I’ve gained from being different or for not being celebrated is that I’m not a slave to it anymore. They don’t tell me what’s beautiful because I know what’s beautiful in my eyes and I know what’s beautiful in their eyes, and it might not be the same thing. But it’s not the only standard of beauty.