The news of the plastic surgery “transformation” of the internet sensation named Marlou Arizala, who now goes by the moniker “Xander Ford”, has been making headlines as well as memes on social media. Marlou had features typically associated with Filipinos: Dark moreno skin and a flat nose. His appearance when he was still Marlou got him mocked by people who wrongly thought that because of his pimply skin and crooked teeth he deserved to be made fun off. But Marlou decided that he had enough of being bullied online for not fitting into society’s Western-centric beauty standards. His transformation into Xander Ford now sees him completely fair and clear-skinned, with a high-bridged nose. His teeth have also been miraculously aligned. This level of plastic surgery has greatly shocked followers of Filipino pop culture, and brought forth discussions on bullying and discriminating others for their looks.
Since the era of Dr. Vicki Belo and her cosmetic skin care business, Filipinos have slowly but surely become obsessed with becoming “prettier” – yet this standard of beauty that they set for themselves is heavily derived from the personalities they see in Hollywood films, local films, and other forms of media. Many of our popular personalities have Western-centric features: Billboards plastered with the faces of Liza Soberano, Pia Wurtzbach, and Derek Ramsey dominate our roads. The attention given to people of mixed heritage in our local acting industry has caused our society to further develop standards of beauty that do not reflect the normal Filipino. Xander Ford’s father has been documented saying, “Wala na yung kamukha ko.” (The one who looks like me is gone.)
Xander does not look a single thing like Marlou; he was driven to exchange his face for another that conforms to our society’s beauty ideals yet, it still isn’t enough. Even now, while he is no longer mocked for being “ugly”, he is mocked for going under the knife and changing for our benefit. He changed who he is for us, but we are not content.
‘It sounds classier’
DLSU Health Sciences Institute alumnnus Dr. Jeffrey James Co confirms, “Plastic surgery is becoming a trend nowadays for Filipinos. When it was considered taboo during the 90s and early 2000s, the news about Xander Ford has turned it into a regular topic of conversation as well as a new kind of status symbol,” Co, who works as an aesthetic dermatologist, also adds that the procedure most requested by patients is rhinoplasty, as Filipinos are mostly dissatisfied with their noses. They would normally want their noses to look more defined and matangos (high-bridged), yet they also don’t want it to be too obvious that they had something done.” says Co.
It is a deep-seated colonial mentality that makes today’s Filipinos unhappy with their own looks. A typical Filipino would have kayumanggi (light to dark brown) skin, almond eyes, and a low-bridged nose, as inherited from our Malay and Aeta ancestors; then the Spaniards came, then the Americans. Centuries of exposure to Western culture have imbibed in us the wish to become whiter, taller, and more ‘western’. Whitening products, from those topically applied like soaps and lotions to those orally taken like pills and tablets, remain one of the best-selling beauty products in the country, endorsed by celebrities who are already naturally fair-skinned and have high-bridged noses to begin with due to their Spanish or foreign lineage; all the while sporting colored contact lenses during photoshoots and shows.
It is a sad truth that while we claim that we are “proud to be Pinoy”, we think it’s “classier” to be foreign; we think that local means cheap, and we don’t appreciate what truly makes us Filipinos. In choosing his new name, his manager reportedly said that they went with the name “Xander Ford” because it sounded “classier” than his old name. Why is it embedded in our psyches that to have a foreign sounding name immediately elevates one’s perceived worth? We are so fascinated with the other that we neglect our own, but our hackles rise when foreigners mock the very things we mock about ourselves. It seems the only ones allowed to point out our faults is us and no one else. Only we are allowed to see the worst of us, everyone else must see the image we try so hard to project. Are we really “proud to be Pinoy”?
Stitching back the holes
Furthermore, our “proud to be Pinoy” brand of support also seems to extend only to Pinoys who have made it internationally instead of locally: Lea Salonga, Michael Cinco, and Manny Pacquiao became famous in the Philippines only upon recognition from groups of Caucasians. Other talents such as ice skater Michael Martinez who began skating competitively in 2010, remained largely unrecognized until only recently in 2015, when he won the Asian Figure Skating Trophy in Bangkok. Couture designer Michael Cinco himself found his fortune in Dubai, as his work was underappreciated in his home country; it was only when the Sheiks’ daughters of Dubai sought his creations, that Cinco was given local awards in the fashion industry. Why is it that we only recognize talented Filipinos when they are praised by foreigners? Is the recognition of our fellow Filipinos not enough when it comes to determining talent? When will we be enough, just as we are without needing to seek validation from the West?
Perhaps this is a wake-up call, one that might finally convince us to look at the bits and pieces of ugliness that make up ourselves and society. Maybe instead of trying to cut those parts off, slice them away into oblivion, and stitching back the holes, we can unweave the jagged lines of our colonial past and unlearn the corrosive habits that hold all of us back. Looks are everything in our society, and it’s time to question why that is. We share posts on social media encouraging self-love, but we tear down people who don’t fit our mold of beauty. We jeer at those who don’t love themselves the way we think they should love themselves. We hope Xander is happier now with his new face, but we wish that he didn’t have to change part of who he is to receive society’s acceptance. It is unfortunate though that someone had to kill a part of himself for us to realize this.