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  • Philippine Arts Council

Threads of Life

The Filipino in Me - Insights into Living Heritage

Entry by Riana Torrejon. Edmonton, Alberta


Artist's Statement

One of four article submissions in The Filipino in Me - Insights into Living Heritage.

Each article is a reflection of the push and pull I have experienced growing up as a Filipinx-Canadian woman. Navigating my identity with clashing cultures was difficult, to say the least. I am still finding the harmony that allows these two to dance with one another. Each article is from a different age, showing the evolution of my perspective as I grow up.


Threads of Life

When I was young, my mother would hand-press coconut pulp to make milk for my hair. It was a laborious task, but she wove it into our weekly routine. Every weekend, my mother would soak the strands on my head and brush it out afterward. The very memory of it brings me back to my cultural roots.

My hair has always been symbolic of my life, and my culture. It reminds me of how subjective beauty is.

In the Philippines, my hair was regarded as beautiful for how it was smooth and silky, and shined in the sun. When we moved to Canada, my long, dark hair frightened other children who exclaimed that I looked like a witch.

As an immigrant, I have faced clashing beauty standards. It left me confused about which standards I should aim to uphold. In Asia, it's beautiful to have fair skin and long, dark hair. My double eyelids and nose bridge were always given compliments. However, I did not have a petite figure which was not well-accepted. I remember being teased for my chubby cheeks and my parents discouraged me when I reached for second servings at mealtime. When my feet hit Canadian soil, however, I was regarded as beautifully petite. "You're so skinny!" was one of the most confusing lines I had ever heard.

As time passed, I realized that I was hairier than the Western standard. A boy once exclaimed that I had more hair on my arm than him. It was the first time I had been told that the hair which had always been present on my body was something to get rid of. I bought my first razor that day and shaved everything off. In the Philippines, hair on your legs and arms were regarded as the norm, but here in Canada, it is something to rid yourself of. I know now that this was a ploy for razor companies to garner more customers, especially amongst women.

Then, a few years ago, thigh gaps were coveted and celebrated. In an attempt to meet new beauty standards, I ate less to achieve a thigh gap. I was successful in my endeavour, but I lost twenty pounds in the process. It was never enough weight. I remember my mom's cries, begging me to eat. My thighs no longer met, but I also stopped meeting myself and accepting myself just as I was. One day, as I was brushing my hair, I realized that it was falling out a handful at a time. It no longer held on strongly to my head, and I knew I had let go of my fouindation.

I had to reintroduce me to me.

These experiences brought the old adage "beauty is subjective" to a new light for me. I realize that these standards are relative to the time and space I was confined to.

Something that I appreciate about my hair is that no matter how much I abuse myself or try to get rid of it, it never gives up on me. I've lost so much of it, and it grows back all the same.

My hair alerts me when I'm being healthy and when I'm being unhealthy. When I feed myself healthy thoughts, my mental health and my head are in a good place, and my hair reflects that.

In the womb

My long, dark hair allowed me to bond with my mother

My chubby cheeks make my joy more prominent to others when I smile

I thank the heavens that the hair on my scalp and my arms returned, thicker than ever.

My hair, my skin, my thighs are stronger and thicker than ever.

I will push against the grain and condition myself.

As for unhealthy thoughts, I will rinse them out

And repeat.

I soak in the richness of coconut milk. I know what will nourish my hair and my soul and keep me rooted to the reality of my beauty.

Today, I hum songs and brush my hair. As I stare at myself in the mirror, I am brought back to my roots. What's beautiful is what your body can do for yourself and others.


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