What is beauty? What makes a person physically beautiful? The nature of beauty has long been arguable as either objective or subjective thanks to its ambiguity and vast scope. Commonly associated with the arts, beauty usually refers to the physical aspect when related to people. According to David Hume:
Beauty is no quality in things themselves: It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty. One person may even perceive deformity, where another is sensible of beauty; and every individual ought to acquiesce in his own sentiment, without pretending to regulate those of others. (Hume 1757, 136)
As it is subjective to the eyes of the beholder and his preferences, there are also factors that greatly influence this perception of beauty, thus, at some point; this subjectivity meets with other people’s opinion of what beauty is.
There is a formula for physical beauty. According to Warren Davies, adherence to social consensus, pertaining to body size fad, fashion preferences, etc., plus genetic fitness (facial symmetry and waist-to-hip ratio, for example) equates to physical beauty. In the Philippines, having been influenced by Western culture for more than four centuries has greatly shaped the way beauty is perceived then until now. The coming of the Spaniards, with the trysts of their friars, paved way for the emergence of mix breed Filipinos, marking a great change with the nation’s notion of physical beauty in what is known as the colonial mentality.
Colonial mentality, as defined by Royeca (2010), is the thinking that foreign talents and products are always the good, the better, and the best, and that the local ones are of poor or no quality at all. This mentality, which can be traced from the Spanish and American occupations in the Philippines for more than four hundred years, instilled the belief that foreigners and anything associated with them were superior to the Filipinos. These colonizers brainwashed the early Filipinos into thinking that they are far better than them. Add to that a reign of four centuries, and the effect is still widespread among Filipinos. An example of how colonial mentality has greatly shaped the Philippine culture is through the overexposure and patriotism of mestizo and mestiza models and celebrities, some of them born with Filipino blood, as seen in mass media. Mass media refers to television and print ads, infomercials, commercials, reality, talk, primetime, and variety shows. Filipinos patronize mixed breed Filipinos and think of their beauty as superior to their own. The acceptance of other racial origins as the standard of “beautiful” in the Philippines is evident in advertisements wherein Brazilian and mostly Caucasian bred models are hired. Thus, there seems to be a major increase in the sales of beauty products such as skin whitening soaps to achieve the fair skin exhibited by Filipino-Caucasian models.
In a research done by Synovate in 2004, it was found that half of Filipino women use skin-whitening products. Beauty clinics seem to pop in every inch of the country for whitening and other grave enhancements, thanks to celebrities who continuously endorse them. The critical effect of colonial mentality made fair skin an essential to a typical Filipina’s beauty must-haves in order to achieve the mestiza look, as seen in advertisements.
Ironically, in 2004, a lone soap brand called Dove, tried to debunk these notions of beauty by coming up with a clever campaign to market their beauty product and rise above other competitors. With the help of its Public Relations Agency, Edelman, Dove was able to come up with the Campaign for Real Beauty which focuses on their customers’ image instead of its own product by hiring real women as models. The Philippines was fortunately part of their target market. According to the category director of Unilever Philippines, Dondi Gomez (2006), from the initial 5% Filipina respondents who felt beautiful, it rose up to 15%, which still is not enough coming from a country largely influenced by its Western colonizers, causing the Filipina to forget her roots and her own beauty. Dove has come up with videos appealing to the emotions of its viewers by showing women’s distorted images of beauty and physical insecurities which can be carried on when one grows up. The global campaign hit the Philippines by coming up with the Dove Seven Day Challenge which aims to empower women to feel more beautiful after seven days of using Dove soap and uploading their picture on a social media site afterwards. The goal was to make the huge and untouched percentage of women to feel beautiful and confident, according to brand manager Gollayan. The positive feedback for the campaign continues with the percentage of results slightly unchanging.
Indeed, mass media has solidified the superiority of the foreign blood as the standard of physical beauty in the Philippines. It has definitely Westernized the way of thinking of Filipinos and revolutionized the Philippine culture through new media. Amidst efforts from a beauty product itself to try and alleviate the conceptualized notion of beauty, people still see commercialism as its main motive, thus the campaign along with its positive feedback seemed futile. Also, the Western influence of aesthetics to Filipinos is inevitable, given the 400 year fusion of their culture to ours. What was once just an effect of colonial mentality from a 400 reign of two Western countries has now been intensified by the increase of advertisements, specifically celebrity branding.
Christelle Louie C. Tiberio