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How I Learned To Love My Morena Skin

'I owe it to myself to embrace and celebrate my skin color.'
PHOTO: Instagram: aynbernos
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I was seven years old when I first realized that I was insecure about my skin color. I was listening to lecture on our Filipino ancestors—the Malay, the Indones, and the Aeta. My classmates and I had categorized each other according to our appearances. I remember trying to leave inconspicuously because I knew that when my turn came, someone would say Aeta. My 7-year-old self just didn’t want to be the dark one.

Since then, I became extremely self-conscious about my morena skin, and I was constantly trying to find ways to have a lighter skin tone. In fourth grade, I brought baby powder to school during our class picture-taking, thinking that I’d look better as a floating white head (LOL!) than a normal brown girl. In my first year in high school, I quit competitive swimming because I refused to get darker than I already was. On the first day of my beach volleyball P.E. class in college, I remember running to the drugstore afterward to buy a bottle of brightening lotion.

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As I write this article, however, I am far from the girl I just described. Today, I am a proud 25-year old morena who’s writing this piece down for everyone to see.

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So, what exactly happened between that day in the beach volleyball pit and the present, that led to me loving my skin color? Allow me to discuss the six things that made me embrace my morena complexion.

  1. My undergraduate thesis

    Before I was able to graduate my linguistics degree in 2015, I wrote a paper that discussed the beauty ideologies shown in ads. That meant spending a minimum of 10 months devouring literature on colorism and beauty standards, analyzing skin brightening advertisements, and interviewing industry experts. For the first time in my life, I was able to look at the morena experience not through my personal lens, but from an academic and objective perspective.

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    I realized that I wasn’t alone. There were many others who dealt with colorism and self-doubt, too. Things didn’t get better overnight, but it definitely sucked less knowing that *I* wasn’t the problem.

  2. My travels abroad

    Being born and raised in the Philippines, I heard the same comments about my skin color over and over for many years. “You’d be even prettier if you were fairer,” or “Don’t spend too much time under the sun because you’ll get dark.”

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    But when I spent a summer in London in 2016, I was surprised that I was finally treated differently… in a good way. My European and American classmates always complimented my natural tan, telling me they wish they had it. My brown-skinned Latina friends and I discussed our similar experiences with colorism and colonial mentality. I felt so seen and understood. It’s sad that I needed validation from the other side of the world to feel better about myself, but I can’t deny that it did help. Now that I’m back home, I still try to bring that confidence with me to every conversation about skin color. 

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  3. My love for outdoor sports

    Another thing that made me appreciate my color was my newfound love for hiking and surfing. I’m not a pro, but I prefer spending my weekends doing these. I know that I would never be able to avoid getting dark if I pursued these hobbies, and surprisingly I found that I was okay with it.

    I learned to love the sun, but even more so when I was up in the mountains exploring or at the beach riding waves. Nowadays, whenever I turn shades darker, I pat myself on the back because I know that it meant I had one hell of a good time doing what I love.

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  4. The diverse community of YouTube vloggers

    Almost every beauty advertisement I’ve seen growing up featured mestizas or chinitas. During the rare times I would see a morena model, she’d be heavily edited to look like she had a brighter skin tone. Because I didn’t know who to emulate, I spent much of my teenage years applying makeup that didn’t really suit me. My foundation didn’t match my skin tone, and my concealer was too light.

    However, thanks to the rise of Youtube—and diverse, self-made beauty vloggers—I learned how to enhance my morena beauty through makeup. Not only did I improve my own skills, but I got a confidence boost, too. 

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  5. Better friends

    Jokes are harmless until you start believing them. For a while, I’ve allowed myself to be the butt of maitim jokes, simply because it was the norm. I’ve had people tell me that they couldn’t see me in the dark, or that if I wore a green shirt, I’d look like a tree.

    I learned to put my foot down and tell people that their jokes weren’t funny, and my skin color isn’t a punchline. Those who listened, I kept in my circle. Those who thought I was being too sensitive are gone from my life. Having good friends who support you is the number one confidence booster everyone deserves. 

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  6. The next generation of morenas

    My insecurity about my skin color was never just skin-deep. Because I felt out of place and inferior, I passed up on a lot of opportunities simply because I felt like I was a loser by default. I missed auditions, recitation points, interviews, and a lot more. I wish I could tell my younger self all that I know now, but because I can’t, I just hope to pass the lessons to the kids of today.

    My younger cousins and nieces, I’ve been told, share my old insecurities, and it breaks my heart that they would ever think that way about themselves. I recall this situation every time I feel like belittling myself. I contemplate on how we all need more vocal morena role models today so we can end the cycle of self-doubt and discrimination. I owe it to myself to embrace and celebrate my skin color, and I also owe it to the younger generation to say something about my morena story.

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    We have to be the role models we needed when we were younger. 

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