Nancy Binay memes and us
For all our talk of Pinoy pride, we can sometimes seem awfully uncomfortable in our own skin.
That the recent spate of social media criticism (particularly the #TeamKadiliman meme) centered around Nancy Binay’s skin tone shouldn’t surprise many of us: it fits within the color-oriented tropes that dominate media and popular culture.
It’s things like: an ad for a skin whitening soap shows a young athletic girl being berated by her friends for playing under the sun, implying that her dark skin makes her undesirable to the guys (and the point of females participating in sports is to be desirable).
A TV show depicts the lives of twin girls with different skin tones, their mother weeping in fear of insidious forces upon seeing her dark-skinned daughter for the first time. A prominent beauty enhancement agency quantified the relationship between skin whitening and social mobility.
An eyewear brand warns us against succumbing to the undesirability of darker-skinned suitors by prescribing improved eyesight. The list goes on.
The Nancy Binay hatefest on Twitter is just a painful reminder that the landscape of Pinoy popular (and political) culture is dotted with references to skin color and its relationship to beauty, status, and goodness.
Skin whitening products have been marketed for decades, under the premise of achieving “Tisay” beauty and earning the respect and desire of peers. Before Bayo, many local clothing brands had employed the services of models of mixed heritage, before looking outside the Philippines for non-Filipino celebrity endorsers.
Ang pagmamahal ng sariling atin only seems to apply to our consumer habits – not the faces and bodies that reflect and represent us in our daily lives.
There are many theories. One may argue that our obsession with skin color, particularly the positive values attached to whiteness, is a post-colonial residue, an inherited pre-occupation equating lighter skin tones with desirability and power.
Others may say that our attitudes toward skin color are shaped by messages from cosmetic companies and the fashion industry, which use mass media to create and perpetuate artificial demand for unrealistic beauty standards.
Regardless, there’s something fundamentally disturbing about social media’s meme-ification of Binay – the conflation of her political and policy inexperience with her skintone – and this reveals implications for Pinoys’ ongoing internal struggles with our identities and representation in the public sphere.
While we loudly assert our “Pinoy Pride” and boast about the diversity of our 180 ethnic groups in glossy tourist ads, the social media antagonism on Binay exposes an unhealthy fetishization of lighter-skinned people and inter-racial mixing, elevating what we perceive as the exotic through measurable fractions.
We often leave little room to celebrate the darker-skinned among us, focusing our time and money on attempts to lighten our skin to achieve what is considered good, beautiful, and desirable.
This stratifies us into a de facto color caste. It is one thing to proclaim that people with lighter skin tones are accepted members of our community; it is another to impose lighter-toned skin as the standard to which all of us must aspire.
Here's a sample of tweets on Binay:
"If Nancy Binay win for senator then the Dark Lord is back and so we need Harry Potter urgently! Hahahaha #TeamKadiliman"— jerome mejia (@jeromemejia) May 15, 2013
Una first black vice president, ngayon first black senator...#TeamKadiliman— Preetiz Angulo (@CozImPreetiz) May 11, 2013
Erin Sinogba is a writer, anthropologist, development worker, and third culture kid advocate, based in Quezon City. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Anthropology and Global Development Studies at Grinnell College in Iowa, USA and is currently pursuing a Master of Development Communication at the University of the Philippines Open University. She grew up and lived in South Korea, the Philippines, Grenada, and the US.