Though I now confidently feel good about my brown skin, it was not a feature I was fond of preteen and teenager. Growing up, all womxn or friends I had were fair or at least were trying to be using various whitening products. I was pretty young when it became apparent to me that whiter skin equated to beauty.
From celebrity posters, commercials to my peers and people I was surrounded with. I wasn’t excused to the unnecessary toxic remarks insulting my brown skin yet I’m one of the lucky ones who never really took them to heart. It never occurred to me that I would want a fairer skin… And yet, there are other folx who struggled and was bullied, teased and shamed for it.
A year ago, I was humbled to chat with Asia Jackson an activist who encourages a positive self-image, and self-worth to learn a bit more about the movement she started, #MagandangMorenx, which means “beautiful brown skin”. It is a campaign aimed at challenging the traditionally enforced beauty standards within mainstream media. In the sea of hashtags these days, you’ll find #MagandangMorenx posts spark dialogues on colorism and being the voice of honesty and wit within black and brown communities.
Asia opened up, “I’m just now seeing conversations about colorism within Asian communities. It is still so prevalent because no one wanted to talk about it. #MagandangMorenx was created to fight against negative media prejudice. Sure, beauty standards affects women differently, but colorism affects society at large.” You can read my full interview and get more insider with her here.
Because this year, as #MagandangMorenx attempts to become increasingly more active online, I spoke with other black, brown, Asian folx about how the campaign helped them learn more about themselves and their identities, how they found support, self-love and beauty within. To Asia, #MagandangMorenx community and all our fellow morenas, here’s our stories and love letters to you.
I grew up in the Philippines, and I was very insecure about my dark skin. Earlier in my childhood, I’ve been called uling (charcoal), sunog (burnt), and lots of other things. But the insecurity became more pronounced when I started noticing the small differences in the way people treated me because I was darker-skinned than most of my peers. It wasn’t the blatant name-calling that hurt most, it was all the microaggressions that I couldn’t even pinpoint at that time of my life.
It took a while, but I believe I’ve finally gotten to a point where I can say that I’m confident in my skin and that I actually celebrate being a brown girl. It was consciously improving myself, gaining knowledge, and honing the skills that helped me boost my self-esteem. In turn, it helped me really look at colorism from the outside. I realized that what other people thought of me, and the beauty standards surrounded me, never truly defined my self-worth. #MagandangMorenx was very empowering to see how vocal fellow morenas has become, and it also inspired me to keep going and keep fighting for the same advocacy. Last year, I founded Morena the Label, a clothing line that celebrates sun-kissed skin.
Look how pretty you are. See that’s the only thing my 7-year old self wanted to hear but rarely did because I was too dark for most people. I wish she’d known then that she’s beautiful, too. So now, whenever you talk to fellow brown girls who are struggling with that insecurity, you tell them how beautiful they are, and you make sure they know what you mean every single word.
Being a dark-skinned Filipina, it was hard to feel confident naturally when I was surrounded by girls who were fair-skinned. I envied them deeply. I knew no one who looked like me. I would cry to my mom numerous times about why my hair wouldn’t lay straight or why my skin was so dark, which ultimately made her start buying skin whitening products as well as relaxing my hair regularly.
Confidence didn’t come until I was in my late teens to early 20s. Before, I was always trying to seek validation from other people, altering my appearance etc. Today, I feel amazing and beautiful. The older I get, the wiser I became. Living through certain experiences has made me tough. This campaign means everything because for the longest time, I felt alone. It’s crazy to know that there are literally thousands of people all over the world who are dealing with the exact same issues I had. We have to uplift each other.
You are way stronger than you know. Your hair and skin are your most powerful features and you should not be ashamed. Be kind to others. You never know whose life you’re going to change just by sharing some kind words with them. You are loved and not alone. Live in your truth and embrace everything.
I’ll never forget when I went to the Philippines with my family and we were in a mall. I will preface this story by telling you that I am considered tall for a Filipino, I stand at 5’7 and I have brown skin and embrace it fully. But there, I stood out like a sore thumb. I could feel people staring at me. I felt confused because even though most people share this trait with me, the standard of having light skin is so ingrained in their idea of beauty that having brown skin is something that should be “fixed” by lightening.
My relationship with myself and my body now is so much healthier. #MagandangMorenx embodies the meaning of living your truth unapologetically and inspiring others in the process. I always had this mindset about embracing my brown-ness but the hashtag was what encouraged me to talk about it on my social media. My motivation comes from interacting with fellow WOC and being able to listen to their stories and share my stories with them. If I can inspire other young girls to embrace themselves and their brown skin, then I know that I have succeeded in creating a safe space.
As cliché as it sounds, don’t worry about what others will think of you or your brown skin, because your quirks and your brownness are what make you unique. Your brown skin is so beautiful, so just embrace who you are and don’t forget to wear sunscreen every day because we all need to protect our skin too!
Growing up, my lola (nan) would give my mom skin lightening soap for us on holidays. I didn’t understand where that came from but I knew I had to have a lighter complexion. I would purposely stay out of the sun or try to scrub the darkest parts of my body away vigorously in the shower. It wasn’t until I was 15 that I finally unlearned a lot of internalized colorism.
I am totally confident right now! A big part of how I overcame it was because of representation. Having people who looked like me and embraced their features was so important to me because I realized that I can do the same. It was very important to see Filipinos with dark skin being uplifted and appreciated through #MagandangMorenx. I wanted to be apart of something so beautiful. Since then, I’ve spoken about colorism on my social platforms, not only in the Filipino community but in the Black community as well. Those are two important parts of my identity and they interconnect in so many similar ways.
The journey to self-love and acceptance is different for everyone but surround yourself with people that look like you! They’re out there! Also, take time to learn about your very interesting ancestors and history. You’ll appreciate it more.
It wasn’t until recently where I felt confident about my skin and my physical features. It’s surprising to me that most of the bullying, shaming, and teasing came internally (meaning myself and my family). One of the most profound memories I have is when I was 9 years old and one of my family members told me I couldn’t play outside because I was already “too dark”. I ended up taking a bath that night, taking almost an hour scrubbing my whole body with a loofah to see if I could “wash the dark out of me”.
When I saw #MagandangMorenx trending, I literally thought “it’s about damn time”. The campaign meant everything. It’s finally time for womxn like me to shine and be acknowledged for who we are. I feel that oftentimes Asians are overlooked when it comes to discussing social inequality, stereotypes, discrimination, and flat out racism. We are seen as “too white” to be people of color, but “too dark” to be white. It was more than just a hashtag to me, it was my validation that my struggles were recognized.
The only acceptance that matters comes from within. If you can truly accept yourself, there’s nothing in this world that can break you. Our powers come from the energies and lessons of our ancestors which are reflected through our skin color, our faces, our cultural traditions – own it and use it to cultivate yourself and influence those around you to improve those cultural traditions and values.
In 2nd grade and a little Latino boy was angry about me beating him at tetherball and said, “Well at least I’m not black!” I didn’t understand how that was supposed to be an insult. But I saw how the other kids reacted and I realized that everyone else felt that my skin color was a thing to be ashamed of. It was mind-blowing to see that Black, brown, Asian folx (every part of my identity) had been oppressed, made to seem as lesser just to further white folx agenda of reigning over everything. Once I realized that, my journey to loving and accepting my blackness and my brownness began.
Some days and some spaces make it easier to be proud of my skin color. And in the spaces where I’m not, I’m learning to hold my head high and exist unapologetically. #MagandangMorenx really helped me embrace parts of myself I have always felt alienated from. I even changed my Instagram handle to encompass my identity as an Afro-Pilipina. Whenever I speak up and I receive DMs thanking me for addressing issues that resonate with them, it motivates me to continue to speak for folx like me.
Connect with folx that look like you and are proud of their skin color. It is extremely hard to try to validate yourself when you don’t have a strong self-image from the get-go and you don’t have anyone helping you unlearn the oppressive mindset you’re surrounded by. Loving yourself is something that you must actively work on. When you hear a negative thought creep in, stop yourself. Respond to that negative thought with a positive one. When you feel ugly, look at yourself in the mirror and speak only positive things to yourself. Speak life to yourself. Your words have power. Use them for good.
I have been surrounded by an abundance of love from my family and friends all throughout. In return, their endless warmth taught me to love myself. Regardless of societal beauty standards, I have always felt confident in my skin because of my support system, something I never take for granted.
I used to submit to the model minority myth. I used to be silent when my people were being discriminated against. I allowed my fear of societal rejection to silence me. But because of movements like #MagandangMorenx, I realized my silence and neutrality stemmed from a place of privilege and began using every opportunity to educate myself and others about important topics like this in my community. I have always been an activist but this movement opened my eyes to the complexities of Filipino and Filipino American history. It was an opportunity to take a stand and speak out about the divided community. I didn’t truly embrace my brown skin until this. It just shows the power that people have when we all come together as a community-driven for a specific purpose and hungry for change.
Loving yourself is a two-step process: embrace and be.
Join the movement and show off your support by posting with the hashtag! Let your brown skin glow!