(Reposting this unedited version of an article I wrote for a young women’s glossy several years back. Edited version was much tighter and easier to read but I somehow feel some details of my personal process was left out. Publishing this again just in case some young woman stumbles into this blog and picks something from it.)

This piece is perhaps one of the most difficult tasks I’ve had to do. It’s excruciating for me to write about a subject I used to secretly despise – Beauty.

It’s not that I am extraordinarily “hot-looking” so as to indulge in the beauty-is-a-curse! drama. Neither am I extremely unattractive to wallow in spiteful gripes. Strangely though, there have been many instances in my life when I felt I was either one or the other.

As a child, I’ve received quite a number of compliments. Even before I could name the three main islands of this country, my Titas were already placing bets I was going to be “Miss Philippines”. Strangers too would say I’d grow into a “black beauty”. Never mind that the preceding question had always been “Bumbay ka ba?”, thus casting doubt on the integrity of my foretold beauty title. Those flattering remarks, and the suspicion that morena meant looking like Alma Moreno, somehow made me pleased with the way I look.

But not for long.

When I reached my teens, I found myself becoming more conscious of my appearance. AND, the ten thousand things one had to do to improve it. Suddenly, hair had to be styled by gels. Deodorants had to be used to prevent body odor. Oily skin must be covered by fresh talc. Colognes are needed for a fresher scent.

As I learned more about these must-dos and must-haves, the less comfortable I became with my body. It didn’t help that my breasts were developing considerably. Or that my thighs and calves were growing bigger and more rounded than everyone else’s. I even had to experiment on various ways to feign ease and project coolness. But no, I never did manage. How could I when I had to slouch and drag my feet just to divert attention away from my torso?

Part of my rude awakening were the disappointing discoveries about my previously-cherished attributes. Soon, I learned that white complexion was more desirable than brown skin. That branded jeans drew more attention than deep-set eyes. That thin is in and fat is out.

Thinking about such things was overwhelming, stressful even. I was realistic enough to know that drastic changes to my looks had certain limitations. For example, I can never be tisay.  Besides, I was proud of my dark brown skin.

But while I knew that my energies and resources were better poured elsewhere, I also could not help but be bothered about my appearance. And so it happened that as time went by, I would make occasional attempts at making myself more appealing.

Ironically, as I grew older, things became much worse. I discovered that hairsprays have caused my hair to be coarse, dry and brittle. That constant use of deodorants have turned my armpits black. That crash diets only made me more overweight. That being fried under the sun with oils that guarantee tan year-round not only hastened the appearance of facial blemishes but also increased my risks of skin cancer! It seemed that in trying to correct my flaws, I have succeeded in making myself more defective.

Then, it dawned on me. Loveliness is a damned-if-you-damned-if-you-don’t situation. It is an inescapable predicament of every breathing thinking feeling female on this planet obsessed with good looks.

Isn’t it curious that more than any other species, it’s the girls that society expects to be physically attractive? And more often than not, we are measured against ludicrous and foreign beauty standards that are quite impossible to attain – payat, maputi, matangos ilong, mahaba at hindi tumitikwas na buhok. The very few who are already these things somehow still feel inadequate. Why is this?

My sociology books offer various explanations, but I didn’t have to read up to get some answers. I only had to take notice of the images of perfection on the boob tube or on those huge highway billboards that assail us everyday. With incessant pressure to look better, no wonder we feel we are never enough!

I started on a journey of deeper reflection and re-examined my values, beliefs and self-perceptions. I would stand naked in front of the mirror and train myself to like my body for what it is – bumps, curves and hair growths. Removing any pre-conceived notion of what ought to be beautiful, I was able to open up and receive what I was seeing. The longer I looked, the more I liked. Soon I realized I didn’t need to work on being beautiful. I already am. Always haven been.

Acceptance. That was the key that reminded me na sa totoo lang, gorgeous pala ako. This coming to terms with my body has made me more confident and able to relate freely with various people.

Last year, a business trip to Germany made me realize a few other things. We’ve always heard people say that foreign cultures find Pinay looks alluring. Friends and relatives living abroad have pushed me into migrating saying my dark looks would be a hit there. With all this talk, I wasn’t surprised of the admiring and fascinated looks thrown my way.

But much as I am happy about being Filipino, I also worry about the tendency of the West (and maybe even Pinoys themselves) to romanticize the Pinay and carve her out as a simple-minded, unassuming, exotic creature. I was therefore delighted when Niklas, my good old German friend, told me how pleased he was that I somehow shattered some of his friends’ notions that Asian women were shy and timid.

Yet, all I did was allow myself to be – to interact openly, to ask seemingly stupid questions, to both marvel and be revolted by grandeur and lavishness, to weep at the sight and stories of the unemployed, to tease in a sarcastic yet good-natured way, and to laugh boisterously.

“We will miss your laughter”, they said on my last night. I was floored. These people whom I had just met found my laughter remarkable they said they’ll always remember me for it. As I regard my laugh as the best expression of my wit, sensibility, passion, and humanity, I couldn’t think of a more gratifying compliment.

In my laughter, these foreigners saw the totality of my being. They appreciated what was real about me. I needed no further affirmation. I never felt more gorgeous.

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