I tell this story to any Pinay younger than me: there was a time when there were no billboards on EDSA, no advertisements for skin whitening or beauty clinics, no celebrities shamelessly selling everything from flawless skin to flat bellies, big boobs to silky straight hair.
This story is one that’s about difference, one that I hope will remind them of the superficiality of this current landscape of being Pinay, one that’s being enforced by mass media. It’s also always a reminder of how many steps back being woman in this country has taken, how many more steps back because of celebrity culture, and how many more steps into the dark ages because we are clueless about how to handle it.
Elsewhere in the world, the stand on fakery and Photoshopped photos, on whitening and plastic surgery is critiqued by celebrities, politicians, members of the media themselves. In this country, everyone’s in on deceiving generations of Pinays about beauty.
The celebrity endorser
The celebrity endorser was not a new thing when Kris Aquino became a self-proclaimed artista. But it sure was her kind of iconography that allowed for the task of endorsing a product to be about quantity and not quality. That is, she would sell anything at all and at some point in her career was selling everything from expensive watches to detergents, clothes to lechon sauce, tiles to tile cleaners, appliances to direct-selling.
Aquino was selling everything and the kitchen sink and thought it absolutely acceptable. She justified it by equating her endorsements with her credibility; these huge multinational companies trust her to sell diapers and shampoo because she is credible to her audience, and they will lap it up.
Of course the truth we are silencing here is that the more products one person endorses, the more she supports a product because she’s paid to do so, the more she loses her credibility.
But we conveniently forget this contradiction in notions of credibility.
This is what has brought us to this point when the beauty industry reigns supreme. And while we’d like to think this is just the billboard or two from Belo or Calayan, in truth it is the beauty industry that has dictated—and which gains from—all the other fake images of perfection that our female celebrities sell, even as they hold a can of tuna or stand next to an electric fan, even when Kris Aquino holds a bottle of lechon sauce.
The violence in bombardment
Because we are at the point when it is not anymore as simple as telling young Pinays, brown is beautiful, love your own skin! It’s not as simple as talking about healthy versus skinny. It’s not as simple as reminding them that women come in different sizes and colors, and all those are acceptable.
At this point, while the images of the Pinay might be embodied in different celebrities from Kris to Anne, Heart to Georgina, Marian to Iza, among many many others, these really only speak of superficiality and fakery, where skin and hair and weight are all-important, and these are intertwined with notions of confidence and woman power.
Feminism is dying, I tell you. This beauty industry is killing it every day.
And while we will be told that we are mere willing victims, I would rather talk about those who have oh so willingly become accessories to this crime. That can only be the female celebrity, endorsing one beauty clinic or other, one whitening lotion or other, and telling the world: be this perfect self that I am!
These Pinay celebrities whom we see on TV and in films, whose face and body are plastered on billboards and the covers of magazines, they make us believe in this fake perfection. It is fake because it can only be achieved via this beauty clinic’s numerous treatments, it is fake because it sells the idea of ideal weight and hair and skin as manufactured.
And we are at the point of absurdity. Gretchen Barretto sells whitening and calls it “Kutis Mayaman”—Gretchen Cojuangco must be cringing. Anne Curtis is selling her whitened armpits—as if it is not white to begin with! Georgina Wilson sells the best of the lot: vaginal wash that can—gasp! —make your pekpek whiter in just four weeks!
I wonder what mother-in-law-to-be Imee Marcos has to say about that.
At the heart of this absurd state of affairs, this bombardment of the fake perfected images of the Pinay celebrity, is the fact of a lie. Because all these celebrities who sell whitening? They are fair skinned to begin with, from Heart Evangelista to Angel Locsin, Kim Chiu to Bea Alonzo, and everybody else mentioned thus far. By putting their faces beside these whitening products, they end up selling a lie to Pinays, telling them to buy a product that these celebrities do not need because they’ve been fair-skinned since birth —or at least since we started watching them on TV.
This is really Belo country. It’s the worst country to be in.
Yet I have faith in these celebrities still, and in their ability to say no. Because they can decide to be more responsible about the images they sell to a public that looks up to them, that aspires to be them. They can decide not to sell whitening products, not to sell cosmetic surgeries or beauty treatments, in order to speak of perfection.
I could not but be heartbroken at the sight of Iza Calzado’s Belo billboard, where I had always thought her more intelligent than her lot of celebrities, and her struggles with weight one that any other girl would learn from because it does not fall back on beauty treatments—until that billboard. This is why I love KC Concepcion’s strong body versus reed thin and unhealthy; why there is hope in celebrities like the Magalona sisters, Bianca Gonzales and Bubbles Paraiso, Alessandra da Rossi, who do not sell whitening; the latter three have taken a stand against it. This is why I imagine that Heart will have it in her to stop from selling Ponds Whitening, because it is horrible of a Senator’s wife-to-be to be selling such superficiality. That is also why I remain hopeful that the Presidential sister will use her intelligence and stop selling whitening and superficiality.
Except that she has recently talked about being opinionated and being powerful, in an advertisement that sells long straight hair via Pantene, her skin whitened and defying age via the Olay and Met Tathione, her skin and body perfected through Belo treatments.
Imagine the generations of Pinays who will think that this is what perfect looks like. Imagine the generations of Pinay who will think the superficial most important, that straight hair, white skin, thin body is what we need in order to speak out and be successful.
This beauty deception is not only irresponsible. It is also infinitely dangerous.