A few days ago, the fashion industry mourned the passing of renowned Filipino designer and “Fashion Czar of Asia,” Pitoy Moreno. He brought formal Filipiniana to the international spotlight.
One of the things I have read about him that resonated with me, was his reply as to why he chose to showcase Filipiniana fashion. What does he think makes his brand of fashion captivating? He mentioned something about how most local designers adhere to styles from Paris and New York whereas he chose something different from what is already popular and can be seen abroad.
It is not just about being different, but about giving a new perspective on something rooted in culture and history. A re-presentation of the Filipino identity. A re-introduction of what already is, to fellow citizens and others.
My high hope is for his aesthetic to be translated to beauty, as fashion works somewhat like a mirror to it. An aesthetic that embraces the Filipina in all of her forms – mestiza, chinita, morena or somewhere in between. A celebration of the unique Filipino.
Just the other day, I was greeted with a compliment, “Ang ganda mo.” For the first time in over 30 years, my initial response was “Salamat!” There was no hesitation, no pause, no faltering beat, no denials or invalidations. The usual confused, embarrassed, uncomfortable laugh was also nowhere to be found. There was also no desire to run the opposite direction or change the topic.
That was new to me. I usually shirk at compliments, especially ones of a physical nature. I am not fair-skinned. I am not skinny. I am not lean. I lack height. My nose is not matangos. There is nothing foreign about my features. I am nothing like the conventional, widely acceptable image of pretty in this society. I am your average Filipina. A tinge of Spanish and Chinese, somewhere in the bloodline, but still your average Filipina.
I never thought of myself as a pretty girl. And the times I did, I felt guilty for even assuming so. Like a part of me felt it was illegal to think highly of one’s self.
A friend pointed out how it is somewhat a cultural thing, something she outgrew upon moving to a different country. That it seems as though here in the Philippines, to deny compliments means delicadeza — knowing your place, and the virtue of humility and simplicity.
Is it a crutch that we all bear, to treat ourselves lesser than how others perceive us to be? An ingrained social response as a colonized nation that persists long after freedom has been attained? Are we so unused to it, that we have a tendency to invalidate our own selves because it is what we find comfortable?
Could it be, that for all of our Filipino Pride, it becomes an over-compensation to keep up with how innately, we as a people are born and raised insecure? We rah-rah-rah on the success of other Filipinos, only to be starkly reminded of what we lack? Because I find it odd that mostly the basis of Filipino Pride takes root in international acclaim. It is as if we need foreigners to acknowledge us and remind us of what we should be proud of before we actually feel worthy. Still oppressing ourselves, long after oppressors have gone.
That then made that little moment, of accepting something positive openly, a life-changing one for me. What a revelation to finally feel worthy of offered compliments without the influence of anyone else. To just be.
Pitoy Moreno, offered us a step in that direction towards learning how to celebrate our being Filipino. To me, his work was more than just fashion, it was more about cultural identity. The right kind of Filipino Pride. It was not about international acclaim. There was no need for that. He offered Filipiniana with the right perspective, and earned praise through this. He was so sure of our worth and our identity as a nation, and offered it as a gift to the world of fashion.
I never had a first-hand encounter with him, I never worked on any of his fashion shows. But I know that his impact on the way I personally view and take pride in being myself, a Filipina, and being Filipino will stay with me for the rest of my life. That, in my opinion, is greater than any physical award. Thank you, Pitoy Moreno. Thank you, for embracing being Filipino.