First and foremost, I want to give a huge thank you to everyone who liked, shared and commented on my previous post, Let’s Talk About Body Shaming in the Philippines. I am completely moved and humbled by the feedback it received — some of it was negative and a lot of it was positive, but most importantly it got people talking. Together, we started a very important conversation, and this is just the beginning, friends!
As overwhelmed as I was by the number of people talking about this issue, there was one person who shared my article that took me by surprise — Lea Salonga. If you’re unfamiliar with her work, let me give you a very short summary (because I could honestly go on for days). Lea Salonga is a Filipino actress and performer known for a number of roles and awards, some of which include being the singing voice of Princess Jasmine (in Aladdin) and Fa Mulan (in both Mulan and Mulan ll). She also pushed boundaries as the first Asian cast as Eponine in Les Misérables on Broadway. And of course, let’s not forget her astonishing role in Miss Saigon. Intelligent, talented and groundbreaking — Lea Salonga is a force to be reckoned with.
If it wasn’t obvious already, Salonga is one of my biggest idols. With every performance, award and shattered stereotype, she’s only made me that much more proud to be a Filipina. So you can only imagine my glee when I found out she shared my article on both her Facebook and Twitter accounts. I’ve never been more starstruck.
Once I was able to finally catch my breath, I got a wild idea. Knowing full well that it was a shot in the dark, I reached out to Salonga to thank her for her support and to ask if she would be interested in an interview — she said yes!
I got to pick the brain of a woman I’ve always looked up to, about an issue I care deeply about — I think it’s safe to say I’m smitten. So, without further adieu, I’m proud to share with you what Lea Salonga had to say about body shaming culture in the Philippines.
Based of off the comments and reactions to my latest post, it seems that many Filipino women related to being body shamed and name-called throughout their lives — some of which expressed how this negatively impacted them at a young age. Did you experience body shaming or name-calling growing up, and if so how did it affect you?
“I do remember some of my mom’s friends telling [me] that once I turned 12, I had to start dieting (I was a chubby kid). I wasn’t a large teenager, but I was already in show business and took it upon myself to stay in shape and look good. Once I got to college though, I put weight on. And then when Miss Saigon happened, the pressure to look a certain way was great. It wasn’t just about looking good, but looking right.”
As a world renowned artist, you have a wide fanbase that keeps up with you. This often times provokes unsolicited criticism. How have you dealt with fans criticizing your appearance?
“Now that I’m older I just scream “GO F*** YOURSELF” in my head. I also realize that in this business people are just out to find something wrong to make themselves feel better. Their criticism is borne out of their own insecurity. So I just have to let it slide. I have a job to do.”
To follow that up, how have you dealt with body shaming in the workplace or on set?
“It’s not always easy. Especially when it’s something that’s obvious, like how I look. I just hire a team that helps make me look my best, whatever my weight. I’m 46 years old now, so I have to cut myself a little slack.”
Has your reaction to body shaming changed over the years, and if so why?
“I guess the older I’m getting, the less I pay it any mind. This body has won awards and birthed a baby. I think it deserves a break!”
As a mother of a young daughter, changing this culture for future generations must be important to you. What’s one piece of advice you would like to share with Filipino youth to help them build self-confidence and a positive body image?
“Get away from trying to have this cookie cutter image of what you’re supposed to look like. We were all created uniquely so naturally we’re not going to look the same. Be strong, be healthy. Not everyone is meant to be stick thin, curvy, or whatever. Just be your best self.”
Thank you so much to the wonderful Lea Salonga for supporting this cause and taking the time to answer these questions.
Thank you to the lovely and talented Niki Waters for this amazing illustration!
Illustration: Niki Waters