If you want to be considered beautiful in the Philippines, you need to have white skin and European features. You shouldn't be pure Filipino, and you most definitely shouldn't have brown skin, meaning you shouldn't be morena.
This is an ideal that's a result of Spanish and American colonialism, as well as a history of Chinese influence on the Southeast Asian archipelago. The thought is that being pure Filipino and possessing the features of a native is lower-class, something you should strive against.
Ayn Bernos, a lifestyle and beauty vlogger from Quezon City, is working to change that. Bernos' YouTube moniker is "Sun-kissed Somewhere," an ode to her brown skin and aspirations to go beyond what Filipino society says about women with her skin tone.
"I really wanted to focus on me being morena because I understand that we lack representation, not just in entertainment but in the digital space as well," Bernos said.
The Filipino YouTube community is still growing and many brands still look to micro-influencers with a small but genuine reach to promote their products. Morena beauty influencers are tapped by many brands. However, the Philippines is known to be the largest market for skin whitening products. This overwhelming availability of skin whitening brands can sometimes limit content creators to working with those brands.
With that, the range of content centered for morenas has become over saturated with tips on how to get rid of their brown skin. In fact, a search for "How to Get Whiter Skin" in the Philippines brings up more than 90,000 search results on YouTube alone.
For Sun-kissed Somewhere, Bernos makes sure to create content that makes morenas feel confident in their own skin. She makes a point to steer away from whitening, meticulously reviewing products to ensure that they don't include agents that get rid of her glow. Although she has been approached by brands in the past to promote their whitening products, she has politely declined.
"I don't ever want to sound ungrateful, but at the same time I never want to recommend something I wouldn't use," she said.
Her approach is working. In a little under two years, Bernos' YouTube audience rocketed to more than 12,000 subscribers and counting. Many of her viewers look to her exclusively for her morena-centered videos.
"I'm realizing that by sticking to what I believe in there are viewers that say 'I've never heard of that before' or 'there's finally someone who wants to stay morena," she said.
Like anyone who's met with success, Bernos has come across some nay-sayers who, for whatever reason, respond negatively to her positive demeanor. In one particular incident, she was attacked for her preference to speak English in her videos which, according to Bernos, is a way for her to connect and be accessible to her worldwide audience.
The offender — or should we say troll — had commented on one of Bernos' videos saying, "English ka nang English, mukha ka namang katulong." Roughly translated, the commenter said, "You keep speaking in English, but you look like a maid."
Bernos responded gracefully and rather than firing back aggressively, she started a conversation.
"I asked, what makes you think I look like a maid?" Bernos said. "Is it because of my skin color? What does me speaking in English have to do with me being brown?"
This polite request for discourse, perhaps, stems from Bernos' academic background in applied linguistics where she studied the social aspects of language, particularly colorism. In her thesis, Bernos looked into skin color ideologies in the Philippines and the role of advertisements in maintaining those beauty standards.
To this day, many of her juniors at her alma mater still approach her about that research when they work on their own thesis. The discussions that came about from her work still resonate with people, which is something she says she wants her YouTube videos to do even if she decides to stop rolling.
"I know at one point I'm going to move on to something. Maybe I'll start a family. Maybe I'll have a business. Maybe I'll be something else," she said. "But my stand on colorism, self-love and confidence — that's something I don't plan on changing ever."