Are you beautiful, average or your armpits?

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TWO things took over the discourse on beauty in the Philippines recently, one bound to the global enterprise of marketing a personal care brand like Dove, another the most petty and superficial of beauty demands on the morena Filipina: whiter armpits.

I’ve written in this space before about how painfully huge that gap is between what’s going on elsewhere in the world as far as the discourse on female images are concerned, compared to what’s going on in good ol’ Pinas, where women are bombarded with female celebrities who all have the same skin color, the same hair, who all sell whitening products and slimming pills, and make the EveryPinay feel like they need to change the way they look in order to achieve anything at all.

Ina Raymundo FTW!
It is rare in this country that our celebrities remind us of how beauty can happen with brains, and a sense of humor, if not a very clear sense of self. Where changing one’s body is about fitness and not thinness, living one’s life not about the manufactured images in magazines and on billboards, on TV and in the movies.

Of course Ina Raymundo has the benefit of time: she was out of the limelight when the beauty industry went on overdrive and female celebrities started believing that being product endorsers meant lying about their already white skin – because look! it’s this product that actually gave them this skin color!


In the 90’s when Raymundo kicked-off a career on TV and film, she was one of many who were morena-skinned and sexy, who lived with what they had and did not suddenly appear with thicker lips or protruding cheekbones, fake eyebrows and false eyelashes. For sure whitening soaps existed then, but these did not rule our worlds; neither did billboards for fake boobs, thinner arms, and smaller bellies.

Raymundo’s generation of artistas did it the hard way, and seems to have been the better for it. Because in this comeback of sorts, she’s a mother of five and has an Instagram account filled with images of how hard she works at keeping healthy. Not thin, mind you; nor perfect.

Which was why she was in the news recently – GMANetwork.com in particular – after her selfie in a swimsuit, with one hand holding her hair back, got her some nasty Instagram comments. The first thing I noticed in that photo were her toned arms – a dream for any woman who lifts weights and kettlebells and works out.

But apparently what others noticed was nothing but Raymundo’s armpit, which was darker than the rest of her arm, just like it is for every other morena.

To me what was news worthy was Raymundo’s reply to the bashers: “Sige nga patingin ng mga kili-kili niyo. Hiyang-hiya naman ako,” complete with smileys and imojis, a confident and humorous and rare response to the shaming of women’s bodies that’s become normalized in this country, given the beauty industry. In fact the first comment said Raymundo should get herself a Belo treatment.

One hopes she never does. That as with the stretch marks she is proud of, Raymundo can be that one female celebrity who is real and honest about her body and the changes it has gone through. That she will not sacrifice this honesty to endorse some beauty product that will do nothing but make our daughters and other women believe that they are less because they are not perfect.

Because none of us are, and Raymundo’s fine with it. What a great joy to find an ally in someone who used to only stand for nothing but sexy. Brains and a sense of self – those are infinitely better.

Beyond beauty
Which is at the heart of my lack of support for the recent Dove campaign, one that was being shared and re-shared all over Pinoy social media, where everyday women are made to choose between entering a door marked “beautiful” or another marked “average.” A majority of the women went through the “average” door; many of them regretted having done so. In a three-minute video Dove tells us to #choosebeautiful because that is what we all are.

Yet that hashtag is also not all of us. Beauty is not all that makes any woman, and to be made to choose beautiful is an affront to those who label themselves with words that have nothing to do with looks. Because too what this campaign failed to consider was how the act of walking through a door is a performance: it is not merely about what women think of themselves. Being made to choose between beautiful and average pegs their self-esteem to how they look, even when they don’t think that, even when they should not need to. Self-esteem does not merely come from how we look, but more importantly from what we think, and who we are.

This is really what Dove has been missing the mark on across many of its campaigns. I get the value of using real women yes. But also it is at a point when one gets a sinking feeling that they are using these women to sell a line of products that has everything to do with the superficiality of beauty.

And armpits. Where in the rest of the world Dove insists on a deeper discussion about self-esteem, in the Philippines what it sells is a deodorant for beautiful whiter underarms this summer!

It seems it’s a good time to introduce Dove to a real Pinay like Raymundo, who will have a fantastic summer, and keep her self-esteem intact, armpits and all.

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4 Comments

  1. Ms. Stuart.

    While you attacked the global enterprises of who they can choose to use for endorsement. You, yourself chose to endorse a morena skinned complexion, siting Ina as a preferred model and example. It does not make sense at all. You have created a preference. You are just like the endorsement companies you are writing about.

    Your write up does not make sense, and I mean it as a constructive criticism.

    • preference is one thing. making women think they’re not beautiful if they do not undergo procedures you are selling is another.

  2. Ruben V. Calip on

    Thank you, Ms. Stuart-Santiago, for reminding your readers that while Filipinos who have white skin because of their Chinese, Spanish, Latin-American, US American, British, and other European parents and grandparents are as beautiful as their counterparts born abroad (even if their armpits are dark because of their Malay Polynesian DNA) the brown-skinned Filipino girls and women are just as beautiful, lovely, sexy, alluring, and loving, Women–and men–should not allow themselves to be made slaves of the TV, radio, billboard and print ads subliminally brainwashing them into seeing a false reality of what is good, beautiful and worthwhile.