Brown Papaya



The Project

37 models


4 featured creatives

a collection of resilient filipinx stories

One day while riding on BART from my internship, my mind was free to roam and ideas began to form. This need to create something was growing, and my hands were getting antsy to produce some type of project. It couldn't just be a project for the sake of making something. I wanted to care about it wholeheartedly, otherwise the superficial sugar coating of colors and typography would seep through the surface. I had a background in community organizing within the Filipinx community in college, and the people I've worked with and learned from ultimately led me to Brown Papaya. Beauty expectations are drilled into children at a young age, especially within the Filipinx community, and more often for Filipina/x girls and womxn. Aside from body size, there is this added complexity of colonized thinking at play. The Philippines was colonized by a number of groups, most notably by Spain and America. With these colonizers come their values and ideals imposed on the Filipinx people, such as beauty expectations. The most common beauty ideals in the Philippines are light skin, straight hair, small nose, and tall, thin bodies. These eurocentric features are portrayed as valuable and attainable through skin lightening products and other problematic advertisements that are just as toxic. I wanted this project to deconstruct what beauty means for Filipinas/Filipinxs, first starting with its name: "brown papaya". "Brown" to reclaim and embrace darker, brown sunkissed skin that is often portrayed as "dirty" or "unattractive", and "papaya" as a play on the name of a common skin lightening product in the Philippines, papaya soap.

In this digital magazine, you will get to know 37 Filipinas/Filipinxs through their photos and interviews, learn of 4 featured local Bay Area creative professionals and get an in depth look at their creative journey, and engage with over 20 pieces of art and writing from the local community. Brown Papaya is not just an individual project, it is a community effort. The participation and support of the community proves that there is a universal need to deconstruct beauty expectations in the Filipinx culture.


“Feminine energy is
infinitely stronger as a collective
rather than divided.”



The Photoshoots

I hosted three photoshoots to include all 37 participants, and before I took their photos, I wanted to engage them in critical thinking, open dialogues. At the start of each photoshoot, we would introduce ourselves. I would then have them individually answer 3 prompts, which I encourage you to answer for yourself: 1) What observations do you have of Filipinas in Philippines and/or American media? 2) What beauty expectations have you experienced growing up? 3) Name two things you love about yourself. After they've answered these prompts on their own, I had them pair up to share their answers to their partner. And then after that round, I gathered them to stand in a large circle and share what they discussed or learned to the large group. Some learned new things from their partners, but at all three photo meet ups many of the same struggles came up. There were a lot of sympathetic, knowing "oh yeahs" and "uh huh, yups" , proving we have a shared experience.

After this activity, I had all the womxn form a line standing side by side, holding hands. Their eyes were closed as I read through a list of prompts. If they could relate to the statement and it was a positive experience they would step forward. If it was a negative experience they could relate to, they would take a step back. But no matter how far apart they got, they were never to let go of each other's hands. Some statements provided a predictable outcome, but to see it confirmed in a physical form was striking. For instance during one of the photoshoots, I said "Take a step back if you ever felt unsafe walking outside of your home because of how you were dressed", and every single womxn in the group all took a step back. After this experience, it was time for group photoshoots, then individual photoshoots. Many felt that because of the activities, they embodied this knowledge and newfound sisterhood as they were getting their photos taken, feeling empowered and full of purpose.

We are more than just how we present ourselves to the world. With this project, I hope you keep an open heart and mind as you read their stories and engage with their art. Let's change the dialogue and move it towards empowering our womxn instead of putting them down or pitting them against each other. You can make a difference, one conversation at a time.


Knocking toxic Filipinx beauty standards starts with rebuilding and healing myself.



Why the "x"?

Throughout Brown Papaya you'll notice the letter "x" in words like "Filipinx" and "womxn". Why use the "x"? By replacing the "a" with an "x", we protest the idea that "woman" is a subset of "man". We are claiming our independence, our own identities.

The spelling of "womxn" with an "x" has evolved throughout feminist history. It actually started with the letter "y", however its origins were not inclusive of the transgender community.

This spelling was first used in 1975 for the WoLF Creek Womyn's Festival and the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival in 1976, but attendees could only be "womyn-born-womyn" (cisgender womxn, or womxn who were assigned female at birth). Allowing only cisgender womxn excluded transgender womxn, or womxn who were assigned male at birth. The prominent use of "womyn" by white feminists and the resultant exclusion of womxn of other intersections led to a shift toward the more inclusive “womxn”.

The spelling of "womxn" with an "x" is a more inclusive term for all womxn. The "x" is open, a space for those who may be genderfluid, non-binary, trans womxn, womxn of color, or identify in ways "woman" does not resonate.

The expansiveness of the "x" is intended in the use of "Filipinx" as a communal term instead of the gendered use of "Filipino" or "Filipina". Contemporary Filipinx American culture often erases LGBTQIA+ identities, so the use of "x" is a space to name themselves.

The interviews in Brown Papaya span the use of "Filipino", "Filipina" and "Filipinx" as each individual has their own experiences and relationships to these terms. "Filipinx" is based on a Western understanding of gender, and in this project, a majority of the participants are referring to Filipinx American culture. In the end "Filipinx" is left open, and does not dictate anyone's identity, so folks can still identify themselves as Filipinx, Filipino, or Filipina.

Editor: Gilbert Gammad



 the magazine