Love Chic

BAYO: What’s your beef?

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Last weekend in Trinoma, we spotted this window display—rather, it stopped us in our tracks. We stood in open-mouthed silence for a good thirty seconds, before walking off with a shrug and two words: “What’s new?”

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Many have sounded off about these allegedly racist ads on Twitter, and the controversy has reached news sites. For those who haven’t heard about it or seen the ads in question, this is BAYO’s latest campaign, “What’s your mix?”

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Before writing about this, we wanted to give BAYO the benefit of the doubt, that maybe they would find a way to explain themselves or amend the campaign somehow. Instead of instigating anything, we waited it out, planning to write this only if and when others have seen it and formed an opinion for themselves. But these images had us confused, offended, and unsurprised.

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Confused, because the brand name itself, BAYO, is a Filipino word for “clothing.” BAYO used to have those heartwarming Pinay pride campaigns and endorsers. BAYO used to sell those cute shirts with cursive handwriting that says “Filipino and proud.” (Coincidentally, we had just sold ours in a bazaar or we would’ve taken photos.) We couldn’t reconcile that image of BAYO, the values it stood for, with this blatant promotion of colonial mentality.

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Offended, because yet again, this is proof of the foreigner-worshipping self-discrimination we Filipinos love to heap upon ourselves. We are always bombarded with subtle and not-so-subtle messages of how better it is to be a foreigner or of mixed race rather than “just” Pinoy here in the Philippines, no matter the industry or demographic. Heck, it’s the case even with our pets.

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Unsurprised, because BAYO wouldn’t be the first and only brand to come out with a message that says “You can only be happy, beautiful and successful if you’re white or of foreign descent.” Stop reading this and look around you. Flip open any local magazine, turn your head to the TV, look out your car window or check out your toiletries counter. Chances are you’ll see either of two things: an advertisement featuring a porcelain-skinned beauty of foreign ethnicity, or a product label’s few lines promising whiter skin faster than you can spell “glutathione” out loud.

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The only difference with BAYO is that theirs is a message so in-your-face and so unapologetic that it actually struck a nerve. Because of this campaign, the unspoken truth that has been around us for decades—nay, centuries—came out and bit us all in the arse. The truth that we think of our skin and soft features as inferior to their foreign-ness and aquiline attributes. All BAYO did, fortunately or unfortunately for them, is choose to be all-out in proclaiming it.

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To be fair, the ad campaign could just as well be interpreted as being proud of your ancestry, your roots, your heritage. These models don’t just have Filipino blood to be proud of, but a mix of other ethnicities that make up who they are. The campaign could be seen not as an expression of their superiority over pure Filipinos, but just as that: embracing their identity. There is nothing wrong with that—having something against non-pure Filipinos would be just as wrong and merely the reverse of the current situation. It isn’t about whether mixed or 100% is “better.” As the Black Eyed Peas once sang, “If you only have love for your own race, then you leave space to discriminate.” Rather, it’s about our sheer lack of love for our Filipino-ness. Our lack of confidence, for one, that Filipinos could sell clothes, magazine covers and just about every commodity out there just as well as mixed Pinoys or foreigners can. Our lack of self-assurance that we are just as good.

As we mentioned before, we’ve personally been trying to make a change with what little we can do from within this industry. But let’s face it. Everyone—you, them, us—contributes to this. We can all say we color our hair because this or that shade just looks better. We can all say our contact lenses aren’t transparent because colored irises make our eyes stand out better in photos. We can all say that fair skin is simply easier to dress up/apply makeup on/style/photograph. We can all state the need to look more interesting because consumers and audiences easily get bored with the “ordinary-looking” (translation: black hair, natural skin color, Pinoy features). It doesn’t matter—at the end of the day, we all have a part to play in this dramedy. So, racist or not, can we really complain against the very thing we help promote? What’s the beef, really? That BAYO said those things, or that BAYO said those things out loud?

Next week, we celebrate Philippine Independence Day. Yet, save for a few redemptive moments every now and then, it is doubtful that we will free ourselves from this mentality anytime soon, just as it is certain that this issue will simply die down after a few days and things will go back to normal. And so long as “normal” includes local soap operas with characters in blackface (by the same TV network that produced this and this) and magazine covers with “white is might” implications and editorials that suggest “darker skin is a tweaked kind of perfect” and commercials that equate love and beauty to fair skin and fair skin only, then perhaps all we can hope for is a few tweets of indignation here and there. The way we see it, it isn’t solely BAYO’s misgiving. It is all of ours.