With a slew of whitening products taking over billboards and TV commercials, morenas are led to believe their dark skin is something to be fixed or treated—as if they aren't good enough the way they are. Kids, from a very young age, are then influenced into thinking that brown means ugly, while white equates to beautiful. But Juro Ongkiko, a proud moreno, is having none of this fair-skinned supremacy mentality. "Dark-skinned Filipinos are and have always been beautiful! The obsession for fair skin and everything we've been taught about avoiding getting dark is dumb," he tells Preview.
Upon graduating college, Juro decided to display his advocacy in a more visually creative manner. Thus became Moreno Morena, an ongoing photography project highlighting the wondrous glory and beauty of dark-skinned Filipinos. Each person Juro photographs has his/her own story to tell when it comes to the struggles of being moreno/morena in a society brain-washed by Western ideals of beauty. "I try to get people who resonate with the advocacy first and foremost. I also like to joke that they should be at least as dark as me or darker."
Below, we talk to Juro about how Moreno Morena started, the challenges he once faced as a moreno himself, tips on photography and editing, and more!
What was your inspiration for the project?
"There was a short Vox documentary video going around in 2015 about how color film was produced in a way that favored light skin tones. The idea of a medium like photos being designed to favor certain visual elements such as the lightness or darkness of skin tones stuck with me ever since. It wasn't until after graduating in 2016 when I revisited that idea as something I can build my portfolio for graphic design and photography on. Knowing I would be working on my portfolio for a while, I wanted to choose a topic or theme that I knew a lot about and could be passionate about. With that documentary in mind and the criteria I set for myself, I eventually came up with the idea of doing a project that would appreciate dark skin."
Did you personally go through any challenges or difficulties because of your skin color?
"Yes. Being alive in the Philippines as a dark-skinned person, regardless if you're Filipino or not, means you're going to lose a lot. I spent most my childhood in an environment that didn't really see much dark-skin representation, so that came with a lot of baggage. I would hear all the same jokes about my skin, and I would try to ride those out, but in the end they still bred my self-contempt and eroded any self-esteem that I had."
Could you take us through your creative process?
"On my second year doing the project, I'm at a stage where I'm open to experimenting with different styles. I'm on Instagram a lot so I'm constantly on the lookout for styles I can copy, which I'm not too ashamed to admit. If the style serves dark skin or highlights it, I'll give it a try."
What message do you hope to send out with your project?
"That dark-skinned Filipinos are and have always been beautiful! That the obsession for fair skin and everything we've been taught about avoiding getting dark is dumb. You're scared of getting a tan in a tropical country? Riiiiight."
In your opinion, what are the things that the Philippines still lacks/has to work on in terms of representation for moreno/morena skinned Filipinos?
"I think the country needs to be more self-aware. We'll need to reevaluate why we have these notions about dark skin. It's a good practice to question what you believe in once in a while. Once people realize their attraction to fair skin is hollow, they'll learn to embrace dark skin."
Why do you think discrimination like this still exists?
"There are several reasons for that that, but I think a good way to sum it up is that Filipinos have a desire to look like their colonizers. The demand and standard for fair-skinned beauty wouldn't exist if we didn't associate it with wealth, power, and social status. The discrimination against dark skin and the country have grown up side by side, so it's not something that we Filipinos will get rid of easily, assuming we want to get rid of it."
What's your vision for this project in the future?
"I'm planning to have merch out soon! I'll be doing basic pieces for now but I also want to get into swimwear and athletic wear or clothes for when you'll be out in the sun with in general. I'd want to have something in makeup and the beauty industry. Partnering up with the right local brands to push locally made products is something I'll want to do in the near future too. I'm also open to partnering with local creatives like other photographers, illustrators, layout artists, and maybe even musicians.
"I want to have bigger productions for my shoots. Maybe get into doing video editorials if I can find the right people. I'm considering starting a modeling agency that signs only dark-skinned Filipinos. I hope I won't have to do that but I'm willing to go pretty far to prove a point.
"I also want to explore the prevalence of this bias for dark skin in the country. An ethnographic study of beauty standards and dark skin in the Philippines would be amazing."
Do you have any advice for Filipinos who struggle with/or have experienced discrimination because of their moreno/morena skin?
"I'd tell them that there's a whole community behind them. I've gotten a lot of insights from the stories of people I've featured and even from people who have DM-ed me just to express their sentiments about the project, and what's surprising is how they all have their parallels. It's also a big help to surround yourself with body positivity whether it be online or in real life because it does wonders for undoing the effects of growing up being taught that fair skin is better."
The photos are lovely, by the way. Could you give us some photography or editing tips to really bring out or highlight morena/moreno skin in photos?
"Thanks so much! I'm not sure how to translate my process on the computer to mobile apps since I up the contrast, browns, reds, and yellows. Sometimes I edit the photos to a point where the subjects are darker than they actually are because who in their right mind would make themselves darker? I do that to mock the practice of editing yourself to be fairer. Some real life things you can try are going out and getting that tan and dressing for your skin tone. Earth tones are a safe neutral and more exciting than black and white (at least for me) and try experimenting with a yellow and blue combo."