I read this awhile back on Philippine Daily Inquirer.
It’s easy to read newspapers nowadays. With their pages chock-full of ads, you’ll finish reading even before you exhale.
It’s not difficult to become beautiful either. If you believe the ads, you can be the official Philippine entry in the Miss or Mister Asia-Pacific/ International/ World/ Universe contests this year. Who knows how many awards we will win?
Every loyal Filipino consumer living outside the Tabon Cave faces a daily onslaught of ads for health, beauty and wellness products. From TV, radio and print to balloons and the Internet, the attack shows no sign of abating. An army of whitening creams, soaps and lotions, hair-straightening shampoos, hair-softening conditioners, and hair-stiffening gels are fighting over our hard-earned money. An artillery of services is pounding our senses numb (weight-loss programs, mezo-therapy, diamond peel, liposuction, hair removal, wrinkle removal, wellness and spa treatments, 3-in-1, 6-in-1, all-in-one). The beautiful thing about this war is that Dawn Zulueta is leading it.
The Filipino has always been meticulous about personal hygiene and beauty. Pigafetta first noted this when he and his group came upon the islands. But the present fad goes beyond hygiene. It smacks of mass hysteria.
Before, only posh stores like Rustan’s sold beauty products. Now, even Liana’s supermarket sells them. Back then, you could count with your fingers the really beautiful people gracing the local papers. Nora Aunor became the messiah who brought hope to millions of brown-skinned masses. But the fascination didn’t last long; Filipinos really desire a “mestiza” look and businesses are listening. So it won’t be long now before the next Ms Philippines is a former house help. Or the next Bench models come from members of Fejodap.
Others may see this as narcissism, but I see this as a true revolution, less violent than Mao’s, but more radical than what communism offers. This is the Dawn of a new day. Charm is no longer a monopoly of the Forbes Park/Ayala Alabang crowd. The playing field has been leveled. “Yaya” [nannies] of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your dark skin!
New media have pushed our consciousness of the known world. More products have emerged from the forests of Sumatra to the empires of beauty in Milan, New York, Paris. Lower trade barriers also brought in an armada of products, from whitening salt from Thailand to shampoos invented in suspiciously clean research laboratories in Switzerland.
Billboard prices must be very low compared to other media, and this could be the reason they have practically covered the sky along major roads in Manila. Moreover, stiff competition forces a company to look for creative ways to win people’s hearts and money. In times of shrinking income, think small. The winning formula? Beauty in a sachet. If cellphone loads can be sold under P10, why can’t beauty and the feeling of confidence and power it brings? Of course, we cannot overlook the entrepreneurial spirit of Filipinos, led by the visionary leadership of Dr. Rolando Hortaleza of Splash Corp., and Dr Vicky Belo of the Belo Medical Group and Intelligent Skin Care.
I don’t question the intentions of these corporations. Who wouldn’t love Charles Revlon who said that he didn’t sell beauty products but hope? Or Dr. Vicky Belo who is on a mission to erase ugliness in the Philippines, one face at a time? Perhaps researchers have discovered that Filipinos think fair skin as the panacea to all their problems, that it is God’s greatest gift to mankind next to unlimitext.
But before we get drunk on freedom from the dark side, and wake up dazed and naked, it’s good to remember what former Czech President Vaclav Havel said: In revolution, disillusionment often follows euphoria. Let’s have a reality check. Our models have fair skin to begin with. They were born fair and they will die fair. Of course, this is not fair! But they are telling us: Buy tons of this lotion and you will have the fairness of Francine Prieto. Use a gazillion of these soap bars and you’ll look like Pauleen Luna. But I still have to hear of a “palengkera” [female public-market vendor] turning into a darling of lensmen and skin-care giants.
I heard Unilever tried to buck the trend with its worldwide “Campaign for Real Beauty.” What the Dutch giant tells us is that beauty does not depend on fair skin, slim waistline, or long, shiny hair; it depends on whether you use Dove soap or not (just kidding). They call it inner beauty. To prove their claim, they installed a huge billboard along EDSA highway, in Guadalupe, showing a huge lady who could very well be the girlfriend of King Kong. It asked, “Extra Large or Extra Sexy? Text your vote!” Extra Sexy was leading at first, but the company pulled down the ad when Extra Large took charge. I suppose the evidence was just too big to ignore. But I congratulate the firm for going beyond the cheap beauty bandwagon.
They are selling hope, but could it be false? Communism and socialism also offered hope for more than half a century, with disastrous results. One can argue that false hope is better than no hope at all. But I don’t think it’s false. Dark and fat Filipinos really turn white and slim! It’s a miracle that could rival the ones narrated in the Bible. The problem is the assignment of values, which shows how deeply drugged we are with cheap beauty. There is a glaring misallocation of resources. If our test scores in math and science are on a free fall, then something is wrong with corporate and personal responsibility. Last time I checked the aptitude tests, our grade schoolers were still ahead of the whale sharks of Donsol. Thank God! Imagine if our politicians took the test.
These business conglomerates spend billions on advertising. Why don’t these giants sponsor poor kids to study chemistry or fashion design or automotive mechanics? Wouldn’t it be nice to hear a successful fellow saying: “I got my PhD in Astrophysics, thanks to Likas Papaya” or “I am now running my own search engine company, thanks to Marie France.”
Or they could start projects to support a languishing province, like growing exotic plants that darken hair and whiten skin at the same time.
Movie and TV icons can also do social work, like giving milk and scholarships to poor but bright students. I’m sure there are companies and models and actors who are already doing something like this, but much more needs to be done.
Let’s turn this enchantment into a real revolution.