Meet The Filipina That’s Fighting Back Against Colorism In The Philippines

Meet The Filipina That’s Fighting Back Against Colorism In The Philippines

Part of the Filipina experience is being bombarded with society's beauty standards that you should have fair skin, straight hair, slim bodies, and European features.

When I was seven or so, I pored over my mother’s makeup book wondering why my lips didn’t look like the white model’s. I wanted a Cupid’s Bow, too, so I could put on lipstick perfectly like she did. Years later in school, my friends would randomly wrap their fingers around each other’s wrists to see how far up we could go on our arms until our fingers couldn’t touch. At home, the young boy next door saw my leg hair and asked “why do you have legs like a man?”

I’ve been given advice by well-meaning Titas, teachers, and my own mother on how to “improve” my appearance. In other words, I am taught how to be prettier. I’m told to stay out of the sun, “you look better when you’re not so dark.” Over and over again, I hear some variation of “you would be prettier if you lost a little weight.”

I thought these comments didn’t get to me, but then I remember the frustrated fits I used to have because, as a young teen, nothing I wore fit me. Nothing I owned made me feel pretty.

If the words of those close to you weren’t enough, you’re reminded everywhere you look; glossy magazines, billboard ads, and TV programming don’t cut us any slack. Women the world over have to contend with outside (and inner) voices questioning their worth because of the way they look. But the world can be even less forgiving when you’re Brown, a larger size, and curly-haired. In other words, if you look like me or Erianne Salazar, our guest for our Kwentuhan On Self-Love.

Erianne Salazar is a Manila-based makeup artist, model, influencer and empowerment advocate actively pushing back against destructive beauty standards from inside the industry. Cambio & Co.’s Co-Founder Gelaine Santiago  and I had an intimate (Zoom) chat with Erianne over warm drinks. As the millennials say, we spilled the tea… but we sipped it, too.

A Peek Behind The Scenes

As a Broadcast Communication graduate, Erianne is well aware of the ways messages are thoughtfully crafted and transmitted into the world. She detailed how companies capitalize on our collective insecurities by selling us products to fix them: whitening lotions, slimming services, and anti-aging creams.

Erianne has been casted in projects as a “contrast character” to often-Mestiza celebrities. Her skin has been lightened and given faux freckles. She’s been positioned in the periphery to frame the fair-skinned models at photoshoots. She has been Photoshopped to tuck in her tummy and lift her butt.

When Erianne once asked why light-skinned and foreign models were flown in for a local campaign, she was told “it’s more aspirational.” And when conversations on Black Lives Matter started simmering in the Philippines, brands remained mum. Erianne pointed out the hypocrisy, knowing fully how it affected local Black models who were essentially being used for their Blackness, yet were unsupported when it mattered most.

By revealing the disdain for Brown and Black bodies in every step of the production process and across media, we see how the beauty industry deliberately feeds us messages to make us feel inferior as Filipinas.

Apologies On The Makeup Chair

The world can make us feel like we have to apologize for parts of ourselves we’re told are less than “perfect”.

Erianne has heard it all on the job as a makeup artist. Her clients, ranging from high-profile celebrities to everyday Filipinas, are compelled to apologize on the makeup chair.

“I’ve been taught my skin tone is second class to being white. Also, my hair,” Erianne confessed. “From a very young age, I’ve been bullied for the way I look. I’ve been called different animals and creatures. That’s something that’s very difficult to unlearn, especially when it’s something that’s been told to you from the very beginning.”

“I’m just glad that at home it’s not like that. Going through life, I was tired of being defined all these different ways I didn’t agree with. I was exhausted. I wanted to honour that inner child who had no limitations and go back to the way that little girl thought about herself. I was free to be whoever I wanted. I guess that’s just how I began unlearning all of these things.”

In spite of it all, Erianne remains hopeful. Her work has also presented examples of true representation. Erianne has modelled in campaigns with Filipinas of diverse skin tones and body shapes where they were equally represented. She’s seen published photos of herself in unedited glory, scars and all.

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Thank you @beautymnl for keeping it 💯real. One if the reasons I love modeling for them is my body remains unedited. They leave my body shape, scars, and my armpits as they are. No obsessive retouching, airbrushing, waist-tucking. . They have models with varying sizes, skin tones, and features. They work hard to be inclusive. Imagine: On @beautymnl Fashion, you can see how garments look like on bodies from size XS to XXL, from the front, sides, and back. Models’ measurements are also posted on the website on each garment to help you find the right size for you. It’s an innovative and important step for inclusivity and visibility for all Filipinas.❤️ . Shop Beauty MNL Fashion using my code “BMNLFashionEr” for free shipping until April 17, 2019. Enjoy!! . #beautymnl #inclusive #inclusivity #bodypositive #inclusivefashion #lovelocalph #filipina #pinay #bodypositivity #bodypositivemovement #bodypositiveph #feminist #morena #browngirls #girlswithscars #fuckphotoshop

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On the Zoom call, attendees flooded the chat with shared understanding and horror at the stories Erianne shared. Gelaine offered these encouraging words, “the outrage is valid and appropriate. But it’s also very inspiring that we’re here and we’re talking about advocating for ourselves despite the blatantly negative things we’ve been told about our bodies all the time.”

Gelaine added, “We’re still here and we still believe there’s space for us. And we want to create that space.”

“After hundreds of years of colonisation where a singular definition of beauty was imposed upon us, we are now in the position to take back what it means to be Filipina and redefine ourselves,” Erianne said. “Apart from ourselves, we’re doing this for our daughters and our sons in the future. To help them grow into their identity.”

Gelaine and I asked Erianne about her insights on healing, self-love, and finding beauty in ourselves. Through our shared experiences, we came to a better understanding of what it means to redefine Filipina beauty.

The following passages have been edited for clarity and brevity; the video recording can be found in full below.

On Protecting Yourself From The World’s Expectations

Erianne: I always have my truth as part of my makeup kit. It’s something I pack with me when I go to work, either as a model or as a makeup artist.

It’s like my compass. It grounds me in my identity and my self-esteem—my self-worth. Regardless of what I encounter during the day, I'm sure of who I am. I know whatever opinion about me is out there, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is what I think about myself.

As an advocate, I feel the need sometimes to sprinkle it here and there. When I’m working, I compliment people on their features just to awaken that sense in them that they’re beautiful and there’s nothing that needs to be changed about them.

In that sense, I really enjoy my work. I don’t come home depleted. Just because I recognize the position I have in the space I move around in. I’m just really grateful for the opportunity to do what I do.

On The First Step To Healing

Erianne: I’ve been asked before: how do you go from having really low self-esteem to being body positive? I do acknowledge it’s not easy to get from Point A to B. One way is to be matter-of-fact about your body. A lot of us have a lot of negative self-talk. And, the first step is to go from negative to neutral.

Instead of saying, “My belly is so big and it’s bad. I have all these scars and that’s bad,” to “okay, this is my body, this is my belly, these are my scars, this is my skin.” Just acknowledge parts of yourself as a matter-of-fact. This, for me, just evolved into love. I acknowledge that these parts of myself exist and all the things that they do for me.

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You are made of love, with love. The Being who knitted a leaf’s veins knitted yours. The Being who makes the tides rise and fall is the same one who allows you to rise each day. The Being who blows the wind and shapes the clouds blew breath into your lungs. The Being who created the Sun: a star a gazillion times your size...decided YOU should exist in this universe, too. . Isn’t that all mind-blowing? Every time you say something bad about your body or about your self, you question Source’s infinite wisdom and divine design. We don’t question the beauty of the sunrise, why should we question our own beauty when we were created by the same hand? Let’s love every bit of ourselves: our strengths and weaknesses, our spots and stripes, our curves and valleys. Let’s be grateful that we were given this body AT ALL. YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL, CHOSEN, AND DIVINE. . PS: maybe when we learn to take care of ourselves better, we can also become better stewards of our home, Earth. We are after all, children of the Universe. . —“You are a child of the Universe, no less than the trees and the stars, you have the right to be here.”— Max Ehrmann, Desiderata . #sunday #sundaythoughts #desiderata #gratefuleveryday #divinefeminine #divine #beauty #positivityblog #grateful #stretchmarks #beautyinnature #macrophotography #lightroom #bodypositive #bodypositivity #spiritual #spirituality

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Nicolette: There’s a big movement for body positivity, but a lot of us can’t get to that place yet. And there can be a lot of shame about not being positive and not being totally in love with your body all the time. Body neutrality is about accepting your body, valuing it, and just being kind to yourself. To quote a Man Repeller article, “it feels great to love the way you look—but you don’t need to in order to value yourself.”

Erianne: We should take our focus away from the way we look and just value ourselves for the things that most people can’t see. Strength. Resilience. Courage. Kindness. Just acknowledging ourselves for the things other people don’t necessarily see, but we know about ourselves. That’s really going to help us create a healthier self-esteem.

On Decolonizing Our Approach To Beauty

Gelaine: I think there’s a lot that comes with just trusting your voice and trusting that you are who you are meant to be. It doesn’t have to be all about our looks or our appearances. There’s so much value in who we are inherently.

We don’t need to be perceived as beautiful to be valuable.

Like beauty, fashion can be frivolous, but it can also be really deep. It’s also really personal. Because it doesn’t even need to be about wearing something that’s beautiful, it just needs to be about wearing something that’s meaningful to you.

Choosing to express ourselves outwardly in a way that’s authentic to ourselves is one of the biggest ways we can resist and practice activism. Because when we live in a world that actively tells us that people like us shouldn’t be proud of who we are, to present yourself in a way that says you are loud and proud and Brown, that is a form of resistance.

On Healing From Beauty Standards Rooted in Racism, Colourism, and Classism

Erianne: The process is different for each individual, so I can only speak for myself. For me, it’s acknowledging that this messaging is intentional. Whoever’s sending the message really means to put us down.

Healing is about advocating for yourself. It’s your choice if you want to adhere to these standards or not. It’s very difficult. It’s a very personal process, but I do recommend going back to yourself and beginning that journey of healing within yourself.

Because it’s a systemic problem, it’s very ingrained in our cultures and our government—all of these things are bigger than us. The only way we can begin to contribute to that is to identify our place in the puzzle. We are part of a bigger movement, but in order to heal the system, we must begin to heal ourselves.

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It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of girls who are survivors of abuse. Add the devastating and often UNBELIEVABLE specifics of each case and the struggle for justice in an unequal society. Add the work it takes to rescue them and help them get their lives back. . It’s overwhelming, but yesterday was a reminder: that solutions to huge problems come in baby steps; that behind the shocking stories are girls who are more than what they’ve survived (they are funny, intelligent, love singing and sports and art!). It was a reminder to do what you can, where you are. Most importantly, that no one has to do anything alone. . Our partnership with @isupportthegirlsmnl came at a perfect time and our advocacies are aligned. Thank you for your generosity. . @anjangeles @aimbrella @sustainablystyledph @ciawee @delightfullittledarlings and ms Dianne: I am grateful for our team and how we support each other. We give our outreaches and each other the best of what we have to offer all the time. That’s hard to find. Love you! . Our volunteer doctors, Dr Vea and Dr Donna, for sharing your time and expertise with the girls and creating a safe space for them to discuss their health issues with you. . @ciawee , Ms Dianne, Ms Jem and the Good Shepherd Sisters for the INCREDIBLE labor of love you render to our girls on a daily basis. Bayani po kayo. . It was another chance to see divine providence at work. The Universe provided us with the perfect people that made this happen. Last minute changes were hidden blessings. We had perfect weather. The girls were happy. Thank you, Universe. . Now a reminder for whoever is reading this: Please don’t underestimate what you have to give. Whatever you have, you are given to share, whatever it is. . Sending you love and light. Stay #prettypositive ! . #idg2019 #internationaldayofthegirl #internstionaldayofthegirlchild #sustainablystyledph #feminist #isupportthegirls #isupportthegirlsph #outreach #abuserecovery #traumarecovery #artforacause #gratitude #girlchildday #volunteersph #volunteerism #volunteerismph #forthekids #girlpower #feminista

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On Educating Our Filipino Families

Erianne: I’m one of the older girls in my family. There are younger girls in my family who are also dark-skinned or curly-haired like me. I always make it a point to acknowledge that about them and tell them they’re beautiful so they hear it from someone else. Because when I was growing up I didn’t hear any of that. I want to empower them to believe it in themselves.

On educating older people, it’s definitely harder because they have these ingrained ideas about colour and beauty. I just take every opportunity I can to educate them.

Gelaine: Something my sister said to me. She told me, “your job right now is not to convince people. Your job is to plant seeds.”

Those seeds will become ideas and you need to water those ideas consistently by speaking up. Call out injustice, call out anti-Blackness, call out the little things—the microaggressions and small comments. If you feel safe, call people in, and correct them.

On Responding To Negative Comments In Public

Erianne: I first acknowledge that some of my family members who comment on my weight come from a different time when these things could have been acceptable to say. I try to come from a place of compassion because not everyone has had the opportunity to be educated about these things.

I don’t think it serves anyone to be snappy, especially when we’re talking to older Filipinos. They have this attitude of silencing us when we don’t approach the situation with respect so that might discourage them from listening to us in the future.

I just say “thank you”, I’ll take everything as a compliment. We’re in a place of power and empowerment at this stage, so we decide how to respond. I believe if we respond with kindness, or nonchalance at the very least, they will be more open (at least, less resistant) to differing ideas.

Nicolette: I was taught that some of my family made jokes as endearment—as an expression of their love. I had to unlearn that.

Now, if something’s unacceptable, I tell them gently, privately, one-on-one, if it’s hurtful. “That’s not very nice. That’s kind of demeaning and it’s hurtful. You may think it’s funny, but it’s not.” And most times they don’t realize that. They’ve never been called in. It’s in your power to take back the conversation.

Similar to Erianne, I try to meet them with enthusiasm. “Oh do you like it? I’m trying something new with my hair. It looks healthier. I feel healthier.” By bringing the conversation to how you feel empowered, it might change their mind.

Listening To Brown Voices, Including Your Own

One of our favourite parts of our Kwentuhan on Self-Love: the Cambio & Co. community shared what they loved about their body and why. Their answers remind us of the countless ways we’re beautiful!

In a conversation on self-love, surprisingly one of the most comforting takeaways is that none of us are really alone. There’s a community for all of us. Over thirty of us who were at the Kwentuhan found where our stories often overlapped and echoed each other.

Separated by computer screens, we were sharing (virtual) space and learning together. In the chat, people were sharing makeup recommendations, helpful reads and resources. (Apparently they were starting a book club without us!)

At the end of the day, the hardest part is convincing yourself. It’ll always be just you in front of the mirror or in a fitting room—self-love is the conversation you have with yourself about yourself. Self-love is also the respect you demand from others.

But, as we know all too well, it can be lonely when you’re the only voice speaking up.

Hearing Brown voices remind us we are beautiful, like Erianne to her cousins, her clients, and followers, makes it easier to hear your voice and your truth—something we know now to always have in our makeup kits.

You can watch the session recording of Erianne’s Kwentuhan With Cambio on Self-Love right here:

How have you been redefining Filipina beauty and your relationship with it? We’d love to hear your story.

Cover photo courtesy of Erianne Salazar, taken by Dar San Agustin, and styled by Leslie Espinosa.

Nicolette Bautista

Nicolette Bautista

Nicolette is a Manila-based creative freelancer and Cambio & Co's Community Storyteller. She's written on the digital space about mom-and-pop's, small businesses, and social enterprises. In the pursuit of her eclectic interests, Nicolette has a broad portfolio including short videos, album art, and storybook illustrations! Find her on Instagram @of_nicolette and

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