“The gods fought, and the very earth shook. The soil broke in half; and from there came Xander Ford.”
This was exactly what I thought when the news about Marlou Arizala’s beauty transformation flooded my Facebook and Twitter news feeds. Three of my close friends sent me links which led me to funny memes that showed his before-and-now faces. Just months ago, he was a consistent victim of cyber-bullying for having a “Pinipig Face”— or in simpler terms — an ugly face; but, starting today, he may rise up to become a typical ideal Filipino guy — an “oppa” before the eyes of women.
I am never going to deny that I hated Marlou or Xander. In fact, I hated him not because of his ugliness, but because of his arrogance and his ceaseless demand for public attention and his unfounded search for fame. However, today I did not laugh because of memes about him, for I realised that our hatred and pessimistic attitudes towards him — not his actual transformation — are the ones that need to be called out and be corrected.
Social acceptance and beauty standards in the Philippine society
The Filipino standards of beauty, perhaps, has evolved via the amalgamation of other cultures’ perceptions on beauty. By merely looking at the television, we can see how the entrenched colonial mentality and the forces of globalisation have moulded us to conform to the Westernised standards of beauty. In the Philippine mass media, one can rarely see black or heavily dark-skinned actors playing a major role in a drama or movie; but if they do, they would only be allowed to perform comedic acts or have their skin lightened. Some actors or comedians who seem “ugly” before, upon gaining financial stability, had placed plastic surgeries on top of their list of priorities in order to please their followers and the general public.
But that is not only the problem. In a country in which fame in social media is being highly valued, many Filipinos are so hooked up on trying to look good and beautiful in order to gain wider acceptance, and consequently, more friends. If you look ugly, you may become a subject of online harassment — which was exactly the problem of Xander and the others. Such a problem may have convinced — or impelled — him to undergo a surgery, which I claim to be aesthetically successful.
Xander’s act of transformation, therefore, exposes larger problems — that our standards of beauty are becoming a requisite for others to obtain our respect and acceptance and that one needs to appear handsome or beautiful in order to rightfully demand social attention. Moreover, in a relatively conservative country like the Philippines — in which many people would tell you to accept and preserve whatever face or body that God has given you — those we consider as “ugly people” are further forced to face a moral dilemma on top of their physical struggles, thus, inevitably trapping themselves in a never-ending quest for social acceptance.
Opportunities for beauty capitalism
Talking about beauty in the Philippines will reveal contradictions in our culture. Like what I said in the previous paragraphs, one key example is how our conservative culture could influence ugly people’s decision to transform. However, in spite of such problem, cosmetic surgery businesses in the country never died; in fact, it may further grow now, since tools and equipment for such operation are continuously undergoing innovations to achieve optimal results and to undermine the Filipino conservatives’ fear of the possible drastic consequences of having such surgeries. Shows played in the television are also subtly challenging the current conservative views on cosmetic surgery.
Furthermore, Xander’s (or Marlou’s) transformation could be taken as an opportunity for beauty capitalists to expand since such marketing strategies involving his transformation — which, initially, are targeted for the propulsion of Xander’s fame and career and the cosmetic company’s reputation — may benefit the whole industry as well, especially if the demand for cosmetic products and services increases. Moreover, the industry could utilise Xander’s narrative of harassment and bullying in order to create an illusion that such horrendous actions might end upon availing such products and services.
Lastly, ever since this news came out, one pertinent question which arose in my mind is how “ugly people” from all socio-economic classes would respond to the Filipino society’s ever-changing beauty standards. However, one fact remains clear: “ugly Filipinos” who live within or below the poverty line will be forced to swallow the reality that they will remain poor and ugly … and that the beauty is also only a want and never a need and is always out of reach.
Our hatred against Marlou Arizala (or Xander Ford) before and after his transformation is not only a reflection of our individual biases and attitudes, but is also a worsening image of a society in which tolerance and acceptance are difficult to obtain. The beauty standards that we have are so warped that we are actually forcing people to empty their pockets for surgeries in order to be deserving of our attention. Nevertheless, in the end, in this battle, cosmetic businesses will be the real winners, and the contradictions within our society will further alienate and oppress those we perceive as “ugly people”.
The author, Josue Mapagdalita, is a graduate of UP Manila Political Science program.