What's The Big Deal With Having 'Pantay' Skin?

'Kahit hindi siya maputi, at least pantay ang kulay.'
PHOTO: istockphoto

If you’re morena, you’re probably familiar with the elusive beauty standard that is “pantay” skin. After all, in many conversations about skin color in the Philippines, it is regularly brought up as the next best thing to a fair complexion. 

Kahit hindi siya maputi, at least pantay ang kulay.” Does this sound familiar?

As a morena beauty vlogger, this is a comment that I receive on a regular basis. Viewers compliment my even skin, and subscribers often ask me how I achieved it. They are particularly curious about how I brightened my underarms and singit and how I managed to eliminate dark acne scars. But, I don’t actually have answers to their questions. In truth, I don’t even understand what having pantay skin means and how it has become the socially accepted benchmark of morena beauty.

So, what is "pantay" skin?

Answers to this question vary depending on whose perspective we’re talking about. However, the general consensus is pretty straightforward: It's about having an even skin tone all over one’s body, from the face down to the legs. For some, this also includes areas like the underarms and inner thighs. But is it realistic?

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On our face alone, our dark circles, rosy cheeks, and shaded hairlines get in the way of that. Moreover, morenas easily acquire tan lines whenever we spend time under the sun, be it at the beach or when commuting to work. Our forearms are bound to become darker if we commute regularly wearing a t-shirt, and our inner thighs will naturally darken due to friction from underwear or tight jeans—or the simple reality of not having a thigh gap.

Spoiler alert: We’d be jumping through a lot of inconvenient everyday hoops just to get that coveted even skin tone.

Pantay Skin as a "Consolation Prize"

One of my Facebook friends explained: “Normally, we praise someone who has fair skin by saying ‘ang puti niya.’ It is rare that we praise someone by using ‘ang morena niya,’ so for me, I use ‘pantay ‘yung kulay.’ I guess I meant that ‘I am impressed by her glowing skin even if she [does] not [have] fair skin.’”

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This sentiment is not a unique one, as I’ve heard it many times before, either told to me directly or said to me about someone else. It’s almost as if we morenas can only be considered a beautiful morena if and only if our tan is miraculously even and spotless everywhere.

While the pressure of having flawless skin is an experience shared by everyone, for dark-skinned Filipinos, it is mostly seen as a way to compensate for our complexion, which for the longest time, a lot of people have found unattractive. Backhanded compliments often go like this, “You’re morena, but AT LEAST, you have pantay skin.”

It makes me wonder if people who make these comments ever think about morena skin being beautiful on its own; if being morena would ever be enough, the way being maputi often is.

Reframing our expectations

There are many ways we can get close to having that gorgeous, pantay morena skin tone. One is to maintain healthy, well-hydrated skin, so we can avoid looking ashy due to dryness. Another is to wear sunscreen, so we can avoid dark spots caused by the UV rays. For our underarms and singit, we can exfoliate, moisturize, and avoid tight clothing to avoid darkening. When we wear makeup, we must go for the perfect foundation shade, so our face matches the rest of our body. And holistically, we can improve our diet, so that our skin glows and stays healthy from within.

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But after we’ve done all of the above, what else can we do about this “pantay” skin obsession? Because let me tell you, as a makeup and skincare junkie myself, I’ve tried quite a lot of techniques, and sometimes tan lines are just inevitable, dark spots just show up, and the singit is still dark! Sometimes, I am just a morena with uneven skin. And you know what I’ve realized? That’s totally fine.

I’ve spent the last three years creating morena videos on YouTube, and I’ve gotten the same questions about pantay skin from morenas over and over—as if being a confident morena on the internet allowed me all the answers.

Growing up brown in the Philippines

This made me realize that our expectations about pantay skin are often delusional—the same way we once thought stretch marks were unnatural and ugly, how we used to think curly hair required to be tamed, how we used to flock to crash diets, or how we used to think that dark skin needed glutathione shots.

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We need to stop feeding the expectation that we need pantay skin to be considered beautiful. We need to celebrate our morena skin, and to celebrate it unconditionally. Say it with me:

I am morena. I am beautiful. Pantay skin or not.

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