The following article on Filipina beauty details mental health and body image. The writer also briefly mentions bullying, anxiety attacks, and respiratory illness. If any of these topics are upsetting to you, be gentle with yourself. (Here are other stories of ours.)
A few months ago, my therapist had me list physical features of mine I did not love and include why. Like many Filipinas, I grew up with toxic body shaming and harmful beauty standards. I thought I had to chisel and whittle myself to fit an ideal.
Knowing this, she challenged me to walk up to my mirror every day and tell myself the reasons these physical features I struggled with mattered. I would tell my eyes they were a gift from my great-grandmother. I would tell my hands they let me write and craft and hold those I love.
But, I struggled most with my nose.
So, my therapist had me write a letter of compassion to her. My nose, that is. This was hard. For years, I would yearn for the noses I’d seen on TV, the noses I’d watch people praise in teleseryes: Mestiza. Spanish. European. White.
This writing project meant unlearning the colonial mentality I’d been given and “learning to love my true reflection.” It meant caring for my past, present, and future self.
I hope in reading a bit of my letter and story that you, too, can find wonder in your body.
Dear Nose, you are a gift from my Filipino ancestors.
You share a familiar shape on the face of Dad’s mom. Lola Laydee ran a school for decades and raised four children. She is one of the kindest and most generous people I know. When I see her face, and in turn, see the way we look like her, I feel pride.
All our life, I have also been compared to Dad’s grandmother—Lola Adela. When I’m on the fence about trying a new dish, I can hear Dad quoting her: “Food is education. It is how you learn about culture.”
To Lola Adela, everything was an opportunity for us to learn. This made sense. She owned the school where Dad grew up in Nagcarlan, which she ran as fiercely as her home.
Her passion flowed into every facet of her life, especially when it came to skincare and beauty. She never went to bed without pampering her body. According to lore (that is, Dad), she never started the day without first caring for her face. Every hair had to be in place. Her posture was immaculate, too.
She didn’t hide her nose, which looks quite like you. Understand, you hold the rich history and beauty of the powerful Filipina women who came before me.
Dear Nose, I am sorry for the ways I tried to reshape you.
One of my earliest memories of attending school in Canada was when a classmate teased me by asking why you were shaped like a pig’s.
Mom and I recently had an honest conversation about the damage of Eurocentric ideals passed down through the generations. When we were little, she used to wake me up by pinching you so you could look “more European.”
In the last few years, she’s listened to how this has hurt me and is now one of my strongest supporters. She consistently validates my beauty. “Your nose makes you special,” she says. “It makes you you.”
I’m sorry, Nose.
I am sorry for when I have pinched you, when I have squeezed you, when I have tried to paint you away, when I failed to accept your form and function.
I don’t want to contour you away or revel in filters that change you.
I let others define your value, when being Filipina means being beautiful.
Dear Nose, with you, I’ve experienced the hardships and joys of life.
You know more than anyone that breathing has always been a struggle for us. There was the asthma of our childhood. And when that went away (thank you, swimming lessons), we were faced with a string of respiratory illnesses.
The way we breathe tells the story of how we feel, including that tell-tale anxiety.
But even after ragged breaths, my lungs are still filled. We are still here. You’re not perfect. In that imperfection, you taught me to try anyway.
You remind me to cherish memories. To breathe it all in. Home smells like my Lola’s sweet, Filipino spaghetti. Comfort is the scent of fresh pages in a book. Love is a whiff of fresh petals or cologne.
Dear Nose, thank you for what you’ve done for me. I am proud of you.
You are a treasure that signifies where I am from—an echo of who I am from—and I don’t want to hide or feel ashamed to look Filipino.
I don’t want to be ashamed of your slope or the way you’re set on my face.
You’ve come so far. Twenty-three years and counting. You’ve carried me through each anxiety attack, crying spell, each stomach-splitting laugh, and each dream.
To be proud of you means to resist the idea that being Brown isn’t enough. So, I will choose to celebrate you.
Dearest Nose, I know now that I never needed to whittle you. You are with me for life in every sense of the phrase.
Some days, it will be harder to look in the mirror and be kind to you. I hope you stay patient with me. I hope you know that you matter.
Love always, Mikaela.
Are you also on a path to self-compassion and recognizing your Filipina beauty?
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