August 08, 2017

A Letter to My Daughter About Looks and Privilege


Every week, Preen tackles motherhood sans the rose-tinted glasses. Our columnists L. JulianoMarla DarwinMonica Eleazar-ManzanoRossana Unson, and Ronna Capili-Bonifacio tell their personal experiences like it is—at times frustrating, oftentimes confusing, but always enlightening.


Pretty is privilege. You will understand what privilege is soon enough, but pretty will be the first privilege you’ll ever know.

The first thing people noticed about you as a baby were your looks. It’s understandable. It’s very tricky trying to figure out a baby’s personality, so we all zeroed in on your curly hair, long eyelashes, and chubby cheeks. As you’ve gotten older, we’ve stopped with the chubby cheeks but we still fixate on your Shirley Temple curls. The people in our life also comment on your love for animals, your incessant queries of “was dat,” and your mischievous smirk.

But I can still remember when pretty first became uncomfortable. I was excited to find other babies for you to play with when I first brought you to our building’s playground. I quickly figured out that it’s so easy to approach other babies—to talk to their minders though, not so much. By then I was already used to comments on your appearance, but I wasn’t used to:

Anong lahi niya, ate?” (What’s her nationality?)

“Foreigner ba papa niya?” (Is her father a foreigner?)

Ikaw, ma’am, may lahi ka rin ba?” (How about you, ma’am? Are you also a foreigner?)

I don’t usually mind answering these questions, but that’s only after we’ve hung out for bit and gotten to know one another. I know the minders meant well, but initial questions about our family’s appearance like this make me uncomfortable. I noticed that in that playground, only the fair-skinned kids with European features got those questions. No one prodded the other kids this way, even if they were of Korean, Middle Eastern, or South Asian descent.

And this is something you’ll understand sooner than later, we live in a country that’s very fixated with fair skin and European features. We live near EDSA and based on the billboards we see all the time, there is a distinct formula to the standard of beauty that’s upheld here.

Kid, you fall under this formula. So do I with my Chinese Mestiza looks and your papa’s half-Caucasian ones. Because of how our society treats fairer skin, fairer hair, sharper noses, lighter eyes, people who possess these traits are afforded privilege. Until I see more representation in our celebrities, influencers, models, and romantic leads, I won’t stop railing against this privilege.

To be that kind of beautiful allows you to get away with many things. A lot of people will be nicer or more accommodating if you’re good-looking. A lot of people will let bad behavior off the hook as long as you’re pretty and stylish. A lot of people who tie this kind of beautiful with virtue will take your pretty as a sign that you don’t need to work as hard on your personality, intellect, or social skills.

As you get older, I want you to realize that having privilege in itself is not a bad thing. We all have them in different forms. Appearance is the first one we’re encountering right now, but there’s a long road ahead and we’ll also get to know the privileges tied to classism, heterosexism, the patriarchy, etc. You will have privilege in some aspects and you will lose it in others. You might not feel racism in the Philippines but you might as you travel to other countries. You’ll soon understand how you may be able to get married here easily, but it won’t be the case for our queer family members and friends.

If we find ourselves not worrying about any of these things, that’s a sign of privilege too—a sign that we’ve stopped caring about building a fairer, just world for everyone.

It starts with pretty. There’s nothing wrong with pretty but we’re going to need to be more than pretty. We say thank you and we quickly move on to other things we can talk about. I don’t want people to give you preferential treatment because you’re pretty. To fixate on pretty is to deny all of the other factors that make a complex you. More than that, I want you to understand that it’s the confluence of all the other factors like compassion, wit, humor, etc. are what we use to gauge how we treat somebody. We’re all so much more than what we look like.

I can only hope that we learn how to see the world through the eyes of privilege and how we can use the ones we have to hold space for everyone else.

You’re pretty, beautiful even. But you’re also smart, kind, and brave.


Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of, or any other entity of the Inquirer Group of Companies.


Art by Lara Intong

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Filed Under:

culture, equality, Looks, Marla Darwin, momhood, Motherhood, parenting, pretty, Privilege, relationships

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