Alicia Soller’s excellent personal essay at Everyday Feminism is both very familiar and somehow fresh. Soller’s story echoes so many thousands of stories of internalized racialized self-hatred, each one worth reading and thinking about. What struck me about Soller’s version, from the lens of Body Impolitic, is how very embodied it is.
Soller lays out clearly the four ways in which growing up Filipinx-American in a predominantly white community in Florida damaged her self-esteem and ability to appreciate herself.
- I was conditioned to believe I was different, and therefore inferior.
She illustrates this one mostly with talk of food, and embarrassment over traditional dishes in school lunches. As I’m currently almost done with Michael Twitty’s The Cooking Gene (which I will review here soon), this topic is very close to my heart. Twitty never fails to remind us of the connection between food and embodiment: we are, in very real senses, what we eat. Thus, when Soller feels forced to ask her mother to stop packing traditional Filipino foods in lunches (though she loves the food), she is literally rejecting her own body’s pleasure.
2. I had poor body image.
Enough said, but let’s hear some of her own words:
I had a difficult time seeing the beauty in my own features because I was taught to believe that they weren’t desirable. For much of my life, I felt that I looked undesirable and wished to look more like the white women I revered.
Even the “pretty Asian girls” I went to school with sported a more eurocentric aesthetic: they dyed their hair light, contoured their noses, and wore only American or European brands.
I have a wide, round nose with a flat bridge, a feature that many of my Filipinx family members also share.
Of course, any media push to make her want to look different was echoed by members of her family and nastily reinforced by her schoolmates. To underscore how serious this was, she says:
Self-consciousness doesn’t quite capture the entirety of how I felt about my physical features: I felt shame and embarrassment, which often led to low self-esteem and depression.
3. I felt ashamed of being Filipinx American.
In this less embodied, and important, section Soller talks about her own family’s reinforcement of that shame, which again reinforces the body shame.
4. I felt conflict from my identity and questioned whether I was “enough.”
I grew to feel conflicted about Filipinx culture because of its heavy influences of colonial forces. What constitutes as ‘authentic’ Filipinx culture when so much of it is deeply rooted in colonialism?
I felt a lack of belonging when I so badly yearned some semblance of it.
Being disconnected from our identities and our cultures is, again, a kind of disembodiment, an inability to live in the container that we are born into, the container that is who we are.
Soller goes on to talk about how to fight colonial mentality, again partially by directly embodied choices:
One way I’ve done this is by literally loving the skin that I’m in. Over recent years I’ve been following Filipinx American influencers on social media. Exposing myself to Filipinx American voices that were unjustly missing from my childhood has allowed me to embrace the beauty in my features that I once stubbornly denied.
She doesn’t use the phrase “making the invisible visible,” but that’s one way to frame her decolonization process: making sure that she surrounds herself with images of (and realities of) beauty and power that look like her, that reaffirm who she is.
This work, of which Laurie and I are one tiny part, feels unending, and often impossible. But every essay like Soller’s, and every person like Soller who doesn’t take the time or find the platform to write an essay, reminds me of why it is important … and how it is improving people’s lives. That’s why I chose to illustrate this post with a beautiful portrait of a Edna, a Filipinx-American, from Women En Large.