Yet part of our conversation broke my heart. Because the Philippines have been influenced so much by American culture, they have a desire to “fit in” and “look American.” The girls told me how much they wanted whiter skin and informed me that there were powders, pills, and even injections available, but they didn’t have enough money to purchase them yet. Never in my life had I wanted someone to believe in their beauty and dignity so much. I asked the girls to teach me how to say “You are beautiful,” and we repeated the phrase of “Maganda ka po” over and over, each time with more blushing faces and shy smiles. Regardless of the number of times I could look them in the eyes and tell them they were beautiful, it was hard to say goodbye after an hour. The media was poisoning their souls, and it was painful to watch; these girls were gorgeous.
Beauty is a strange thing. The world tells me to find beauty in everything materialistic and everything superficial. The Philippines turned that upside down. I saw beauty in the outstretched arms of the children who had been abandoned by their parents. I saw beauty in the wrinkles on the hands on the women who gave us more than enough food. I saw beauty in calluses on the soles of the feet of the Missionaries of Charity. I saw beauty in those wonderful, kind 6th grade girls, even when they couldn’t find it in themselves. I allowed others to find beauty in me. I think beauty is something that the mirror can’t always find, but a few bucket showers and some rice sure could.
Maganda ka po. You are beautiful.