To The Women Before Me Stronger Than Black Coffee

To The Women Before Me Stronger Than Black Coffee

An ode to my ancestors whose noses bridge like mine.
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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.

Cover Image Credit: Jerrin Concepcion

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Double Standards Towards Straight Males Are Harmful To Both Men And Women

There's an unfair double standard that while straight women can have fun with their sexuality, straight men aren't allowed to.

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I was scrolling through my Facebook timeline a few days ago and came across an article that intrigued me. It was about a video of Ezra Miller's band Sons of an Illustrious Father, covering "Don't Cha" by the Pussycat Dolls. The cover was interesting and the video was very artistic. However, it was something else lit up a fire of extreme annoyance within me.

Towards the end of the article, bandmate Lilah Larson said the original song has a "very destructive, dated, distinctly heterosexual male perspective on women and discourses of desire."

It got me thinking about the way male heterosexuality is viewed in today's culture. There seems to be an unfair double standard when it comes to straight men and straight women. When straight women are confident in their sexuality and have fun with it, they're often viewed as empowering. When straight men do the same, they're often viewed as predatory.

In recent years, much of this attitude can be stemmed from the growth of the #MeToo movement. I would hope it's clear that you can't judge a group of people based on the bad actions of some. Not to mention the fact that there's a big difference between sexual harassment and men simply having fun with their sexuality.

Don't get me wrong, I believe sexual harassment and assault is wrong. It's a horrible crime that nobody should have to experience or endure. However, the obvious gender disparity in terms of representation is helping nobody. When Harvey Weinstein's female accusers come forward, nobody can escape the headlines. Yet, when Asia Argento was accused of the same thing by Jimmy Bennett, the story came and went fairly quickly. There was even a photo of the two in bed and texts Rose McGowan's partner provided where Argento admitted the whole thing. There's also the untrue perception that if it's a male victim, he must've wanted it and should've enjoyed it. It's no wonder so many men don't come forward about these sorts of incidents.

My point being that men shouldn't be treated as predators while women are treated as angelic creatures who can do no wrong. I don't think it should be the other way around, either. And I don't think we should treat both as predators, because that will only bring us to a place of prudishness. We should be able to recognize when something is harassment and when it isn't. We also need to recognize when objectification is harmful and when it isn't.

Not all women like to be objectified, but there are some women (and men) who get off on it. Some women even sign up for it, like in the adult entertainment industry. In that case, they might not be getting off on it, but there's an understanding and it's consensual.

We also can't assume that a man is objectifying a woman just because he likes the way she looks. Especially if it's just a woman in a magazine or someone walking down the street. What else does he know about her? At that point, all he knows is her looks. You can be sexually attracted to someone in a solely physical way and still think of them as a human being.

I grew up in a time when women were starting to take ownership of their sexuality and express it more in their art. It was a new shift that some people weren't used to. However, the place it's evolved to doesn't seem to be a fair one. I believe that what was meant to be a push for equality moved into a place of replaced superiority. While the pop music world is currently ruled by women, men come secondary, if at all.

We see it in the imagery as well. A female pop star can have a bunch of shirtless guys bumping and grinding behind her. But if a man were to do the same thing, we would claim he's objectifying those women. Look at the controversy surrounding Robin Thicke's song, "Blurred Lines." People called the song "rapey" and demeaning to women. They took particular issue with the line, "I know you want it."

Yet, when Jessie J released her song "Bang Bang" shortly afterward, it included the same lyric. Even "Don't Cha" by the Pussycat Dolls included this line as well. However, nobody was batting an eye. It was given a pass, if not completely ignored.

When you look into what these critics say, it comes across as pretty insulting to the women they're trying to defend. Most people missed the fact that the "Blurred Lines" music video was directed by a woman. They also don't seem interested in the perspectives of the female models who appear in the video. Do the models think they're being demeaned? Why would they appear in such a video if they did?

Women still have to fight this battle of being able to prove they can own their sexuality. It's only acceptable if it's done in a way that falls in line with the status quo. But if you dare participate in something outside of that, you're seen as someone who couldn't possibly think for yourself. Look at the straight porn industry, for instance. Many people view porn as degrading to women and look at female porn stars as being objectified by men.

What many fail to realize, is that women in porn make the choice to get into the industry. People aren't forcing these women to make porn films. Female porn stars get to choose their male scene partners. They also make more money than their male co-stars. In straight porn, women make more money than men for the same hours worked in the same job at the same company. Think about that. Why aren't feminists getting angry over a gender pay gap that underpays men?

What has become clear to me is that this double standard is harmful to both men and women. Straight men should be allowed to have fun and enjoy the opposite sex the same way women can. Women should be able to take control of their sexuality whichever way they choose. The lesson everyone should learn from this is to lighten up. Male heterosexuality isn't inherently harmful or scary. Women have a mind of their own. If people really believed in gender equality, they would accept those two things.

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Drag Queen Soju Brings Attention To Ignorance Towards Asians In America

Soju's efforts are particularly significant to Asians in the LGBT+ community, who are not widely represented in American media.

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A recent episode of "RuPaul's Drag Race," which is currently in its eleventh season, opened up a conversation about the treatment of Asian Americans in the drag community. During the episode's "reading" challenge, in which contestants jokingly exchange insults, Silky Nutmeg Ganache "read" Vietnamese-American contestant Plastique Tiara by repeatedly shouting what she claimed was the word "hurry" in Japanese. After asking what the word meant, Plastique responded, "I'm not Japanese!" as the other contestants laughed. Fans took to social media to express disappointment in the ignorance of Silky's joke, causing other "Drag Race" contestants to weigh in on the situation.

Soju, a Korean-American drag queen who also competed on season eleven, tweeted, "I'm Korean and plastique is Vietnamese" following the episode. She later added, "This isn't about dragging @GanacheSilky this is about educating. All of us can learn." Soju emphasized that she does not believe Silky is racist, but her read was still racially insensitive.

Soju stated in another series of tweets, "If my friends and sisters don't take my heritage and race seriously, then the problem is on me for letting these 'jokes' go on for too long... I've never had a problem for enjoying and celebrating Asian culture. But statements and jokes to degrade us is just not cool." In response to a reply on her tweet, she also added, "this is and always will be educating society about the reality of how Asians are not being taken seriously in America."

Fans praised Soju for bringing attention to and addressing the issue. Many Asian fans, in particular, were able to share their own experiences in their response to Soju. Jokes like the one made by Silky have always existed in the experience of Asian Americans. While the joke itself may not appear too harmful on the surface, it reflects the general perception of Asians in America. Asians are ignorantly treated as a monolith rather than as a diverse group with diverse backgrounds, and Asian culture is often presented as an amalgamation of cultures (mainly East Asian) as well.

Soju's efforts are particularly significant to Asians in the LGBT+ community, who are not widely represented in American media. Both her and Plastique Tiara's appearance on "RuPaul's Drag Race" have given positive representation to LGBT+ Asian-Americans, and it is especially encouraging to see her using her platform in the community to help educate others.

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