Bleached from the Inside-Out: Finding My Color Again



Editors Note: This is the first time, in a very long time, that I felt very apprehensive about publishing a work of writing, about writing something like this. Usually writing empowers me and energizes me, but I found writing this made me feel weak, made me want to hide in a corner, and made me tear up. I think that means it's working. 

Imagine ripping a young plant from its resting place, shaking the topsoil from its roots, and placing its roots in a vat of bleach - to cleanse, to detoxify, to sterilize. That's what happened to me when I left Manila for San Francisco at the age of five.

Bleach Makes Everything Clean

I was primed for the “whitewashing” effect from the very beginning. I was an impressionable, adaptable little girl. My mother resented the Philippines and wanted nothing to do with that country or culture. I had begun to learn English before I left Manila, and was perfectly fluent by the time I boarded the plane to SF - so that I would not retain an accent of any kind. I was physically hit if I spoke my native tongue of Chabacano with relatives. They’d shout, “Only English!”

This kind of “whitewashing” went on throughout my childhood in the US as well. My mom would never speak Chabacano in front of me, she always went to a separate room to make calls back home. I was never invited to speak to my aunts, uncles, or grandparents when those calls were made. I quickly got the idea that Filipinos were dirty, uncivilized, stupid, uneducated, and deeply shunned by my mother. I learned that the “home” topic was not to be discussed - what’s past is past, right?

No matter how much I was whitewashed on the inside, however, I could not change my coloring. I could not change my features. Anyone can look at me and determine, above anything else, that I am Filipina or Indian. There’s such an odd irony: It was the first thing people noticed about me, and yet, it was the very thing I was conditioned to hide.

So, who the hell was I? I couldn’t answer that. This question haunted me throughout my formative years, my relationships, through my really dark times. In high school, I wrote a short story about a girl who killed herself by drowning herself in bleach. Earlier this year, I had a recurring dream that had bleached my skin to a snow white, cut my wrists open, and used the blood from my arms to dye my hair red. This dichotomy between my American upbringing, my “exotic” looks, and my internal image of beauty has caused a chaos inside me that I still actively fight today.

Coloring Everything Back In

There have been many times where I thought I had quelled this issue once and for all, then it makes an unsightly appearance.

Question: So, how the hell do I fix this thing? How do I get rid of the self-criticism? How do I not feel jealous or inferior towards every pale-skinned, fair-eyed, blonde/redhead I see on the damn street?

Answer: K-Pop

It’s so stupid. It was completely on-accident. But to say that K-Pop was the start of my salvation is pretty damn accurate.

Imagine: A teary-eyed Julia sitting in a 3rd floor cubicle of her university library. It’s finals week in the cold and dark December; she’s just been freshly dumped by her now-ex; she needs a distraction so that she can stop crying and get to her books. She’s looking for something to listen to, and she stumbles upon this little gem.

Oh. my. god. It was over-the-top, dramatic, and kinda weird. I adored it to pieces. A badass group of girls singing and dancing about “finding their hearts.” And they looked like me! Dark eyes, round faces, dark hair, ASIAN. It was so ridiculous - but hey, I wasn’t crying anymore!

Yoona and SooYoung from Girls' Generation

Yoona and SooYoung from Girls' Generation

I listened to Girls’ Generation more and more. I quickly picked out my favorites out of the eight: SooYoung (She's gorgeous), Yoona (A+ dancing skills), and Taeyeon (A+ singing). I looked up how they did their makeup. I also branched out to other Korean girl groups, and started watching anime and Korean dramas. I soon discovered reddit and the r/AsianBeauty sub, and bought some Japanese and Korean face stuff. My skin cleared up. I was smiling, dancing, and getting excited again thanks to this stupid, saccharine K-Pop music and everything it touched.

Asian girls are so beautiful! Southeast Asians, Pacific Islanders, South Asians - each of these bring something so beautiful to the table. Embracing things that stem from this culture - music, makeup, clothes, television - I think it brings me closer to the “home” I was ripped away from so long ago.

My troubled journey towards being at peace with myself is still very incomplete. Some subconscious part of me thinks I’m inherently dirty and gross, simply because of the color of my skin and where I was born on the map. People might think this and that about what I’m writing right now, or the points I’ve made here - but I’m not writing this for them. I’m writing this for me. I still don’t know who I am, but I guess that’s ok. Many won’t understand, but maybe some will.

I’m just a girl who’s trying to find her way, who got really tired of hating herself everyday. But I’ll never forget the little brown girls that have come up to me over the years and who have instantly formed a bond with me in a room full of white people. I’ll never forget the little ethnic girls who have called me “an inspiration,” a “princess” even. I don’t want those little girls to grow up in a world where they think they’re dirty; where their self-worth is tied to being a white man’s exotic experiment. I don’t want them to dream about bleaching their skin, about dying because they hate how they look so much. They deserve better.

Julia ArcigaComment