Reflections on raising my Filipina baby girl

What do we pass onto our daughters? Maria dives into her Filipino culture to decide which parts of it she wants to teach to her daughter.
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Cold Tea Collective is partnering with Dove and Refinery29 for Self/Service, a campaign that celebrates the diversity of girls and women, and empowers them to shatter beauty stereotypes and invest in their self-esteem. For more information on this partnership, visit www.coldteacollective.com/selfservice

When I found out I was pregnant, I began reviewing my Filipino culture to decide which values I wanted to pass onto my child. 

Then I found out my baby was a girl.

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Photo submitted by writer.

While I was excited to develop a mother-daughter relationship, these thoughts quickly transformed into concern for the challenges she would face because of her gender. It\’s scary to think about the impact society will have on her body image and self-esteem.

To be raised in a Filipino household

My family immigrated to Vancouver from Manila, Philippines when I was seven years old. 

We travelled back to Manila every couple of years, so while I lived in a diverse melting pot, I still felt the pressures of growing up as a Filipina woman. My parents instilled important aspects of our Filipino culture, like respecting our elders and keeping family time sacred. 

But not everything my elders said was good for me. 

Women with fair skin and slender bodies are considered ideal in the Philippines and this was emphasized heavily by my extended family. At our family gatherings, cousins who fit the Filipino beauty standard were praised, while the ones who didn’t were criticized. 

Growing up, the family elders warned me of the dangers of getting too dark. The common understanding is that the darkness of skin dictates the opportunities received in the Philippines. Fair-skinned people were considered wealthy as they didn’t have to work heavy labour jobs outside. Grocery stores and television commercials further enforced these standards as most, if not all beauty products sold were advertised to whiten skin. 

Along with being fair-skinned, women were expected to be slender, like celebrities. In the Philippines women are always portrayed as petite figures with long straight hair in every billboard or television show. 

As a teenager, I didn’t fit the Filipino beauty standards or ideal body image. When I looked into the mirror, I saw a short, thick girl with glasses and keloid scars. I felt far from confident or empowered.

Unlearning and relearning

After university, my Lola had passed away and a few months later, I lost my eight year old nephew to pancreatic cancer. It was after this devastating time that the Filipino ideals of what I should look like were finally shaken out of me. Life felt too short to focus on anything that made me feel not enough.

Since then, I’ve worked hard to develop and consciously practice love for my body and my appearance. 

I diversified who I surround myself with, both in real life and on social media so I’d be influenced by people who are confident in the beauty of difference. 

I started to look at the different features of my body with love: from my curves and stretch marks from adolescence to, more recently, my c-section scar from giving birth. And I’ve come to acknowledge that my physical appearance is a result of generations of Lolas and Lolos. If I look long enough, I can even see my parents’ features on myself. 

But my practice isn’t perfect. I still have my off days and moments where social media drags me down. And the elders in my family still comment on my appearance. One time, they even criticized my body the day after my wedding.

I cried, but then addressed their comments and educated them on the difference between medical advice and damaging comments. 

But this is what scares me. 

To raise a Filipina Canadian daughter

It worries me to think that my daughter’s opportunities in life will be determined by her appearance and that social pressures of what bodies should look like will affect her self-worth.

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Photo submitted by author.

I hate that my daughter’s confidence will likely be affected by people’s judgement on her appearance, especially from family under the disguise of Filipino values. Looking back, I can trace my lack of self confidence to the unrealistic ideals held by elders in my family. While Filipino culture is all about respecting your elders, there is a difference between respecting someone and letting them get away with derogatory comments. 

In addition to Filipino culture, my daughter will also be shaped by Western beauty standards. Thankfully, there are many companies and prominent women on social media rallying to change the norms of ideal beauty. But at the same time, the average woman is still put under pressure to reach certain standards and flooded with products that tell her she isn’t good enough. 

A mother’s role

Now that I am a mother, I am even more driven to push society towards recognizing all forms of beauty. I recognize my power in guiding my baby girl’s perspective of beauty within herself and of others. 

It’s my responsibility to ensure she feels beautiful in her own skin. I make a practice out of greeting our reflection with wonder and love. I’m always conscious of how I react to myself when looking in the mirror when she’s around. And I make sure our bookshelves are filled with beautiful people of all shapes and sizes.

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Photo submitted by author.

As a Filipina, family and respecting elders will always be a priority but the most important value I hope to pass on is love. Love for herself, love for our family, and love for other people who are visibly different.  

Ensuring the survival of my baby is a daunting responsibility, but I want more than just survival for my baby; I want her to thrive.


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Cold Tea Collective is partnering with Dove and Refinery29 for Self/Service, a campaign that celebrates the diversity of girls and women, and empowers them to shatter beauty stereotypes and invest in their self-esteem. For more information on this partnership, visit www.coldteacollective.com/selfservice

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