To my mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and her mothers,
I honor you for making me an heiress of coffee-colored skin. I honor you in the name of modesty, not vanity.
As an American-born Filipino woman, my mocha-latte complexion is exotified by those who think they know me like they know their coffee—a bitter beverage turned sweet indulgence—but I’m more coffee cake than I am coffee. I am quick to absorb the comments people make to me about my physical features, which I cannot permanently change without cosmetic surgery.
As pastries do, I crumble.
At times, I feel like that one slice of coffee cake that’s been left in the bakery display case for too long because pastries like me won’t sell unless there’s some convincing. I’m that one slice of coffee cake that will sell on the days I am sprinkled with chocolate trimmings, crystal sugar, and garnished with buttercream flowers.
As an American-born Filipino woman with a mocha-latte complexion, I mustn’t dumb down my understanding of self-worth to be based on how positively my appearance goes noticed. I wear makeup to temporarily augment the plumpness of my cheekbones, cut centimeters from my jawline, fake fuller eyebrows, and dramatize the wideness of my eyes.
To the women who feel like me—Filipino or not—who wear makeup for the same, opposite, or different reasons, there’s one thing I want you to remember:
We come from cultural heritages with values richer than dark chocolate, and a line of women stronger than black coffee.
Filipinos do not have any cultural connection to coffee (that I know of), but there’s something about a piping hot cup of java that has become symbolic in my life.
As an American-born Filipino woman, I used to wear foundation that tinted my skin the way an Americano lightens in color once a tablespoon of sugar has been dumped and dissolved in it. I sketch two parallel lines down the bridge of my nose to thin it out the way whipped cream edges are browned on top of a toasted hot chocolate, as seen on Starbucks advertisements where all the drinks are dressed in fancy mugs.
While I compared an artificial facial composition to an overpriced caffeinated drink, I realized that waving a mascara wand in my eyelashes expecting to magically gain confidence is just as bad as adding excess amounts of sweetener to black coffee.
As they say, if you add sugar to your coffee, it's not really coffee without its punching bitter taste.
When I disguise my wide-bridged nose with a heavy contour, I am not representing my mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and their mothers.
Every night when I shower, I watch my foundation slip from my face, trickle through my toes, and circle into the drain. When I step out and look in the mirror and see leftover charcoal flakes freckled on my eyelids, I think about how I vainly I use makeup to look better, to feel better.
To my mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and her mothers:
Starting tomorrow and continuing the days after, I will dedicate every sip of morning coffee I take before putting makeup on to honor the strength of our tan, wide nosed genes that I am part of preserving.
I am a descendant of ancestors who lived happily enough looking like me without magic mascara wands to wave. For you, the highest standard of beauty I will live up to is to be black coffee—to be unapologetically and strikingly strong without the garnish of sugar.