Beneath the Color of the Skin

racism and the underlying struggles of Asian American/ Pacific Islander community

by jenny lu

I thought that in this day and age society’s stereotypes and prejudiced behaviors have died down. With the steadily growing emergence of Asian and Asian American representatives in the media today, I was almost ready to say: Asians are making really positive progress in society. But what I wasn’t expecting was a racist attack from our very own Asian/Pacific Islander community.

The Philippines edition of For Him Magazine released the cover of its next magazine issue on its Facebook page in hopes of stirring excitement and anticipation among audiences. FHM, however, did not expect the actual reactions it received. Disappointed and angry, readers began to complain and comment on the FHM magazine cover, continuously shouting the words “racist” and “racism.” The news quickly spread throughout social media outlets and across the seas.

Actress Bela Padilla of Filipino and British descent graced the cover of the magazine in a hot pink bikini with her light skin glowing as the center of attention. Surrounding Padilla were three other models with much darker skin tones dressed in all black bikinis, a juxtaposition emphasizing the depiction of Bela as “Stepping out of the shadows”—the headline for Padilla’s article.

What is most disturbing is that Padilla, in an attempt to defend the magazine, mentioned that two of the models on the cover were Filipina and they were actually painted to look darker.

No matter what ethnic background you identify with, many of you have heard about some Asian cultures and their attraction to lighter skin. That is why it was almost no surprise when the juxtaposition used to represent Padilla’s emergence was the contrast of skin colors.

Some students on campus agree: traditionally in their families, parents and the elders prefer lighter skin color. Dereck Pan, a 4th year undergraduate at UC Berkeley shared, “Traditionally, most people with lighter skin color are more desirable. People with darker skin color are associated more with ‘hard labor’ and ‘field work’ and ‘lower class.’ It’s just a relic of my culture. It means nothing to me personally.”

Daisy Lei, a 1st year undergraduate, added, “It’s more preferable to have lighter skin—especially for girls. It’s seen as ‘purity.’”

Padilla apologized on her personal twitter account saying, “I meant no harm with this cover. I’m so sorry to everyone who got offended. I hope all of you see the beauty of the cover and appreciate it… The concept was stepping out of MY inhibitions, MY fears, MY shadows. Not bashing a certain race.”

Along with Padilla’s apology, FHM’s publishers released their apology, stating, “When FHM hits the stands in March, it will have a different cover… we will strive to be more sensitive next time.”

While Padilla sincerely apologized, both Padilla and the FHM publishers do not seem to regret their initial decisions of creating and releasing the cover. The attitudes behind the apologies push for the thought that the readers were “sensitive” and misunderstood the intended idea of the cover—not admitting that the publishers made a racist mistake.

FHM is the top selling men’s magazine in the Philippines. We can only begin to imagine the kind of impact and influence FHM has over the men and women who read the magazine. If such a popular and strong magazine was unable to catch such profound racism on their own cover, what other ideas and images are they feeding the people in the Philippines? It’s almost scary to realize that none of the magazine staff members were able to point out how wrong and racist their cover was.

The racism embedded behind the image runs deeper than just the idea of “race.” It brings to life the struggles many Asians and Asian Americans have gone through with their families, society, and stereotypes. It reinforces the idea of “beauty” as being light skinned over other pigments. It is not simply just a racist cover “bashing another race,” it is the bashing of every single person who identifies with the struggle of skin color, regardless of their race.

Young girls who see covers like this will get the wrong image of what it means to be attractive. It’s media coverage like this that lowers the self-esteem of girls, girls who think they have to look like Padilla and other models to be beautiful.

Many Asian cultures, especially in countries such as Japan and China, encourage and participate in the marketing of beauty products and cosmetics that lighten the skin. Young women and girls pay attention to these advertisements and in turn become consumers of these products in order to conform to this specific idea of beauty.

Even with the retraction of the magazine cover and apologies from both Padilla and the FHM representatives, the damage has been done. The image will float around the Internet indefinitely as a reminder that racism is alive and that it lingers internally in our own thoughts, beliefs, and culture.

As a community, we can all fight against these stereotypes placed on our communities. We can embrace and love ourselves the way we are regardless of skin color, size, and shape and encourage young girls to do the same. Challenge the stereotypes and rise above them. Stereotypes and media depictions of beauty do not have to define you.