Beauty & Shame: One Filipinx American Journey

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

All throughout my childhood, this is what I was told from a young age.  But what does that really mean when you are living in a constant game of comparison?

I have a beautiful family and I knew it from a young age.  My mom, my aunties, and my lola were all fascinated with beauty. Not often their own, but the beauty of others. They wanted fairer skin and a pointier nose. This way of thinking definitely trickled down to me.  No surprise,  it had an impact. I constantly compared my own beauty to others. I often wondered:

           Why wasn’t I skinny enough? 

          Why couldn’t I wear that top?

          Why did I not have better hair?

It did not help that I thought I was the “fat kid”  all throughout adolescence. I was a teensy bit bigger then other girls. I never had a flat stomach, never dared to wear a two piece to the beach, never felt tan enough.  I constantly compared myself to my cousins or my classmates. I would never be blonde like the girls in my school and I would never be super skinny like my cousins. I struggled with food as well. My mom told me that I should eat, but also that I needed to watch my figure. I stress ate all throughout high school and college. Food is always a comfort; I enjoy a good meal. I also hated working out, I was never good at sports and was often an embarrassment when it came to physical activity of any kind. All of that made me feel ashamed of my own body and beauty.

It was not until well into college that I learned to value my own beauty. I made peace with my curves, they are a part of me. I will never lose my hips and now I really don’t want to. I started to talk to my mom about how she talked about weight loss to me. I challenged her to use gentler words and she challenged me to be healthy.  I discovered that working out did not always have to suck and sometimes it can be really fun. I worked out because I wanted to be healthy not because I was watching my figure.  With working out came a better relationship with food. I still love a good meal but also really appreciate healthy dining as well.  I also found a fashion style that I grew into and cultivated as my own.

I’m learning that beauty is not all about body image or make up;  it’s about settling into my own skin. It is about loving myself and my body where it is now. I recently looked at those old pictures of myself and realized I was beautiful even then. I might have been slightly chubby and definitely more than a little awkward, but I was uniquely myself and that is beautiful. Two summers ago was the first time I wore a two-piece since I was a child. It was intimidating at first but I am glad I did it.

Every day is a new journey to love myself. Some days, I still look at myself through my adolescent eyes and don’t feel beautiful. In these moments of doubt,  I put on my favorite lipstick,  my favorite dress and dance in my room. Loving myself, my body, and the skin that I live in.  I am beautiful and bold. I am immensely grateful to the people,that remind me of that even when I begin to  doubt it myself. As I grew older I became less bashful about making my friends take pictures of me, in them I celebrate my beauty and how much I have grown.

So here I am. I am strong. I am beautiful! I am Filipinx American. This is me living with #WalangHiya.

This post is part of the Reclaiming #WalangHiya Project; see the landing page for more narratives.


Marieliz Pendang (she/ her/ hers) is a first generation Filipinx American womxn. She is originally from the first state but made her way north to the city that never sleeps nearly 3 years ago. She currently works for a local organizing nonprofit that serves immigrant and marginalized populations in the outer boroughs of NYC.  She is passionate about the communities that she lives and works in and those she has the privilege of being a part of. She believes that self care is critical to good spiritual and mental health as well as being  able to advocate for those that need it the most. She loves her faith, social justice and is alway searching for the perfect meal. She is often found laughing, singing (usually in harmony), or scribbling away in her journal. Twitter | Instagram | Blog

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