In the Philippines, “Dyosa" Does Not Refer to Me or You
The long road to beauty standard decolonization
Nowadays, women like to call each other queen as a way to show support and encouragement. You see it in social media like instagram where practically every woman is labeled queen by her close circle, and supporters. It seems “queen” is the new flex for women.
But is there something else more powerful than queen? Something that can rise above earthly proportions and description? Something powerful?
In the Philippines, the Filipino translation of goddess is “dyosa.” In the context of Philippine society, diosa is someone preternaturally beautiful, and whose characteristics are superior to mortal women. In Philippine mythology, she is supernatural in form and spirit.
A few years ago, there was a TV show in the Philippines that had the title “Dyosa.”
The synopsis goes: “Dyosa tells the story of Josephine who grew up unaware of her true identity as the "Takda" (Chosen One) and how she learns of her lineage and destiny in the world of gods and goddesses. Josephine is a young orphan who finally finds out she is no ordinary mortal after reaching the age of 18. After years of being raised by her foster parents, Josephine finds out she is the 'Takda' or Chosen One with divine powers and must help save the world from the Kasamyan, who are evil creatures from Lower Earth. After becoming a full-fledged goddess, Josephine also discovers that she has the power of the earth, air and water.”
This was suppose to be an exciting storyline because its roots are based on precolonial Philippine mythology. How wonderful is was to be able to share mythical stories of our precolonial ancestors to a larger Filipino audience.
But what turned out to problematic, but never seen as such by Filipinos, is the actress who played Dyosa. A character that should have embodied neither trace nor influence of european identity was played by an actress who epitomized Philippine society’s obsession with eurocentric beauty standard.
Now imagine you’re a young girl growing up in the Philippines or anywhere in the world where your Filipino household will surely have a cable subscription of the Filipino Channel, the not-so-subliminal message that is being reinforced on you is that the most beautiful and powerful woman in Philippines legends is someone who does not look like you. When you look at yourself in the mirror, you can't recognize the features of the potential goddess qualities that rise above the average and mediocre. How could you? When you watch the epitomy of a dyosa, you don’t look like her. Your friends probably don’t look like her. You really don’t know anyone who looks like her. But she is suppose to be the embodiment of the Precolonial Filipino goddess.
Based on what media is telling you, dyosa is the one girl in your class who has one white parent, or even that girl in school who has the fairest skin even if she doesn’t look like a half white mestiza. White skin is good enough.
But for most of the girls in school, at work, or in any place in Philippine society, who has brown skin, Malay features, and black hair, she is not up to the standard of beauty and influence of a dyosa. Atleast that’s what Philippine media, and society is telling you.
Here is where we should underscore that beauty is a facet of power. Being considered beautiful will give you access to certain spaces, and increase your power in certain settings. By the same token, a perceived lack of beauty could also result to real consequences. And what are the consequences of this perceived lack of beauty for many Filipino women who do not conform to the euro centric standard?
Lack of self esteem is the most glaring. What becomes of a country where half the population does not feel adequate or seen? Although, there is a caveat that euro centric beauty privileges also apply to men; the ill effects on self esteem and personal empowerment is more felt and embodied by women in any society.
Today, when I see Filipino girls, I see nothing much has changed since I was growing up. They still idolize celebrities and aspire to the euro centric beauty standard marketed by the media. Living in the Philippines is like experiencing racism from your own people, in your own country. It's a country where everyone knows that being born half white is like winning the genetic lottery because your physical features opens metaphorical doors. There is even a favorite quip that aunties commonly say when they find out that a relative has a white spouse or partner, "They will have a beautiful child. Send that child to the Philippines to become a celebrity and earn lots of money."
Maybe one day, a few generations from now, the Filipino post colonial trauma will finally be cast off, like a snake shedding its old skin. What we can do is to actively participate in decolonizing our minds, questioning long held beliefs by critical thinking and investigation, and sharing this dialogue with fellow Filipinos. Deconstructing the narrative that has been regurgitated by generations of Filipinos is our gift to ourselves, and to the young women who will come after us.