UPDATED: Woman calls for better Filipino representation in fashion, slammed by netizens

Photo: @CINESUPREME Twitter.
Photo: @CINESUPREME Twitter.

(UPDATED), 1st UPDATE. It was a big weekend for Filipino-American model Kelsey Merrit, who learned that she will be the first Pinay to walk the Victoria’s Secret runway.

This was a source of pride for many Filipinos hungry for representation but one netizen pointed out that this may not be as groundbreaking as others think.

In a tweet posted yesterday, beauty YouTuber Cine Escalona wrote: “[A] European looking pinay walking for Vic/tori’as Secret??????? shocking. [C]all me when someone who actually looks traditionally Filipino does it.”

In a series of tweets, she added that she does not mean to discredit Merritt but simply does not think it’s groundbreaking for a “white-looking woman walk a predominantly white fashion show.”

Photo: Screenshot from @CINESUPREME Twitter.
Photo: Screenshot from @CINESUPREME Twitter.

Below, is a photo of Merritt for reference:


Tingnan ang post na ito sa Instagram


From yesterday 💕💕💕 Thank you @themartyharper for my hair ❤️

Isang post na ibinahagi ni Kelsey Merritt (@kelseymerritt) noong

Escalona went on to mention internationally-known Filipinos like Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach, Miss Philippines-Universe 2018 Catriona Gray, and actress Liza Soberano, calling them gorgeous but pointing out that they don’t exactly look like the typical Filipino.

READ: Life on the drip: Tapping into a country’s color obsession

“Why should the face of the Filipino people not look Filipino?” she asked. “What does it say about us when the women we consider beautiful ALWAYS have Euro-centric features … When will we put a Pinay who looks unmistakably Filipino on a pedestal?”

Her Twitter has since been set to private, but not before it started to trend on the social media platform. As of this morning, her first tweet had 15,000 likes, 1,800 retweets, and 110 replies, sparking an online debate.

Some supported Escalona’s point but many thought she was off the mark.

Twitter user @dogtorcane asked “How do modern Filipinos looks (sic) anyways? Like do we fit in a particular mold?”

@peebleoddle replied to her with photos of Filipinas she thinks could better represent that country, to which @dogtorcane replied: “So you’re saying that, in all accuracy, we’re all supposed to look like this?”

Photo: Screenshot from Twitter
Photo: Screenshot from Twitter.

@peebleoddle defended herself and said that she was simply trying to provide examples of models who look more like the average Filipino.

Photo: Screenshot from Twitter.
Photo: Screenshot from Twitter.

Another netizen criticized Escalona for trying to be “woke” while one said that she should only preach about beauty standards when she no longer wears blue contacts and stops contouring her nose — a makeup technique done to make a person’s nose look higher or more Caucasian.

Some also said that they think Merritt actually does look Filipino and pointed out that she grew up in Pampanga, Philippines, and identifies as Filipino.

Photo: Screenshot from Twitter.
Photo: Screenshot from Twitter.

@eydreeyun even said: “[A]ren’t we all glad that she dedicated this achievement to PH instead to (sic) her foreign homeland?”

Photographer Maqui Castelo had similar thoughts. In a tweet yesterday, he wrote:

“People are clamoring for representation in a realm where it’s not necessary. @kelsmerritt got in a fashion show. Not a film where she plays a Filipina, nor a pageant as “Ms. Philippines”— AND YET, she dedicated the achievement to her home country. What more do you want?”

Photo: Screenshot from Twitter.
Photo: Screenshot from Twitter.

But some people aren’t having this excuse. @tumblrfanatic11 wrote: “Um, fashion should have widespread representation and I think it’s extremely ignorant for you to say.”

In an email to Coconuts Manila, Escalona said that she expected negative comments but nothing as bad as what she received.

“My comment was misconstrued often, mostly [by] people who criticised only the first tweet without reading the rest,” she said. “I can definitely understand why they would be thinking I’m bashing Kelsey if that were true, because the first tweet was definitely harshly worded though not on purpose.”

“I’m very disheartened and sad, if anything, that people would actively tear another person down over an opinion instead of actually conversing,” she added.

Most calls for better representation are usually met with support by the very group it’s trying to uplift, so people’s negative reaction may come as a shock to those who aren’t from the Philippines.

However, those who are familiar with the country’s culture would know that colorism is a touchy subject in the country.

READ: The Color of Money: In Philippine TV and film, white still equals green

Most Filipino celebrities are light-skinned, many of whom are mestizo or mestiza (mixed-race) just like Merritt, and most people don’t see anything wrong with that.

Much like other parts of Asia, skin whitening is very common in the Philippines. Some even go as far as getting glutathione IV drips to get lighter skin.

Pinoy pride also runs high in most Filipinos whenever someone who is Filipino or part Filipino does well internationally, which is why it’s difficult to take this “victory” away from people.

In her email, Escalona clarified once again that her tweet was not an attack on Merritt.

“Kelsey is an amazing model and she’s really put her heart and soul into this career,” she said.

She’d also like to apologize if it came off as an attack.

“I started discourse that clouded a hard working girl’s dream, and I’m heartily sorry that it was through an avenue where things got misconstrued to the point that it seemed like it was a hard critique on her, when it wasn’t,” Escalona said.

“There’s so much to unpack in this issue, but I do hope that people see that it was in good faith that I said all those things. Not to hate, but to bring to light something people don’t often talk about.”

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