As much time as we take to fully accept our looks, we spend as much time, if not more, secretly comparing our skin tones, eyes, lips, noses, eyebrows, facial hair, to everyone else, for better or for worse. This year I had the privilege to travel the world and witness different faces of beauty and gain a sense of how each unique aesthetic affected my own perception of what beauty can be.
Israel & Palestine
Israel has some of the most beautiful people I’ve ever seen. Not because the deplorable occupation places zen, ethereal lights in everyone’s eyes, but because it’s a melting pot of beauty, with Jewish people from every stretch of the globe, along with Palestinians who have their own diverse genetics. Since the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, it’s become home for Jews of numerous backgrounds: Ethiopia, Russia, Poland, France, Italy, Spain, Argentina, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, Syria, Iraq, India, Iran, and more. Because many Israelis are Mizrahi Jews from Arab countries, looks are deeply ambiguous, making it nearly impossible to differentiate who is Israeli/Palestinian.
When I first arrived, I felt very sure of myself as an Asian American. As time went on, I grew annoyed and self conscious, because I was always asked if I was Chinese, Japanese or Korean. Interestingly, Israel also has a significant population of Filipino migrant workers who have developed their own communities. Although our looks differ distinctly, due to our material & physical stylings, I could never shake the feeling that anyone who saw me for the first time would automatically deem me “the Filipino help.” Thus, for the time I had, I strived to present an alternate face for Filipinos in Israel.
The Philippines has long been a country of mixed heritage with many sailors and traders passing through our islands. From our earliest Negritos settlers, to Malay-Polynesians from Taiwan, to Arab traders & Islamic missionaries, to our ancient Indian kingdoms, the Hispanic conquistadors, and streams of immigrants from China, Japan, and now more than ever, Korea, have all contributed to the modern day representation of who Filipinos are today. Though we each have our own unique set of ancestors, everyone born & raised in the Philippines or abroad is Filipino, be they ethnically Chinese, half Japanese, mestizo, Eurasian, or “full-blooded.”
Being in the Philippines feels eternally phenomenal— everyone looks, eats & prays like me. Yet my distinctly American aesthetic and beard has earned me a lot of stares back home. Everyone from taxi drivers to club strangers ask if I’m Filipino or half. Some suggestions have included Turkish, Middle Eastern or European. “Why?” I wonder. It’s no secret that Filipinos highly treasure mixed blood, European features, and white skin (like most Asian countries). While I’ve fully embraced my ethnic background as a Slaysian in America, it feels like a strange, uncomfortable privilege to look the way I do in the Philippines.
Since the Philippines is one of the poorest countries in Asia, the average Filipino has more urgent matters to prioritize and less money to spend on personal beauty. I often wonder how I would look if I was raised there. Would local barbers have the training to skilfully create my favorite fades? How much darker would I become in this tropical paradise? Would I embrace it or feel compelled to whiten my skin? How much of my earnings would go towards attaining a Westernized image? Would I even be interested in chasing that ideal?
Ultimately, the most comforting element of home is simply being around my people. I don’t have to feign pride or hide myself when everyone around me is Filipino too. Witnessing the beauty I know so well teaches me to love myself more each time.
Being a multi-ethnic country, with Malay, Chinese & Indian populations, Malaysia is a magical combination of food, culture, religion, and beauty. I even saw myself in Malaysia. As previously mentioned, some of the earliest inhabitants of both Malaysia & the Philippines were the Negrito peoples. From there, one theory called the Austronesian Expansion Theory explains that Malayo-Polynesians migrated from Taiwan to the Philippines 4000 BC. Even further, the Beyer’s Wave Migration Theory posits that it was “the seafaring, more civilized Malays who brought the Iron age culture and were the real colonizers and dominant cultural group in the pre-Hispanic Philippines.” Each migration theory links our deeply shared background and physical composition.
Malaysia was the first Asian country I’ve visited besides the Philippines. It was slightly surreal to be in a land where everyone looked just like me, but weren’t. The mixing of cultures was fascinating; I saw people who could have been Malay-Indian, Indian-Chinese, Chinese-Malay, even Eurasian & everything in between; this mix of Asian faces I haven’t encountered before was striking. While I passed as Malay and jokingly introduced myself as Malaysian-American, the blending of Asian ethnicities likewise introduced me to new possibilities for Asian faces and beauty.
Knowing the most beautiful gays in the world were coming for World Pride, I wasn’t sure how I would be received. While I received up to 10 new Grindr messages every day in the Philippines, I probably got one every couple days in Spain. Tinder matches were slightly better, including one Chinese guy who'd been living in Madrid for three years. I asked him “How is dating/sex for you here as an Asian guy?” He said “Asians normally are not their first/second choice, but I haven’t had problem in finding dates & sex. Sex is very easy here.” He added, “No worries. I think you’re much more attractive to European guys than East Asians.” After living outside of white-centric beauty standards for a minute, it was sad and sobering to return to the European beauty pyramid and put in my “place.”
Being Filipino in the land of my colonizers felt particularly odd. Seeing all the Spanish men, with kingly dark features, finely groomed hair, sculpted bodies & Mediterranean charm, I couldn’t help but feel a twisted desire to appear attractive to them. My body wanted to say, “Look at what you made. Don’t you want it anymore? Honor me, your divine colonial creation.” At the same time, I felt an opposite desire to resist being attracted to any Spanish looking man knowing what their ancestors had done, knowing that Spanish blood helped create & determine who was beautiful and who wasn’t, knowing that their intrusions into my people’s perceptions of their own worth have made us adore the mestizo look over our indigenous brown faces.
Visiting Spain, one of the first countries to build the modern day standard of Eurocentric beauty, was a complicated journey, but I held my own. After learning from my travels, here’s my remedy for people who struggle with colonized beauty standards: Step outside what you know you lack, and simmer & soak in what you possess. Reveal your heart through your face. Pour your confidence into your movements. Release your spirit through your words. Practice the kindness and love that your culture embodies. These lessons aren’t the easiest for me to follow, but I find them more valuable than being trimmed and plucked, fresh cut and eyebrows done. See for yourself & FACE the world.
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