You look lovely today.

About 90% of all women in Davao City have their eyebrows shaped and plucked to perfection. Or at least, that’s the impression I get every single time I go there. The women of Cagayan de Oro City also seem to be catching up. More and more women I get on the jeepney with or meet on the street now have perfectly-shaped eyebrows,

Sometimes it makes me feel bad because I think that maybe I should care more about my eyebrows, my appearance. I mean, who wants to be the slobby-looking hag in a world of people who, on a daily basis, look like they’re ready for a cover shoot? But the sad fact is that it’s nearly always the last thing on my mind.

The last time I touched my eyebrows was about two years ago. (Only because I had to attend a wedding.) I have never had a pedicure in my life. (I clean my toenails by myself, thank you very much.) I have had a manicure exactly once in my life. (My fingernails are always trimmed very short. This is largely due to habits passed on to me by both my borderline OC mother and nursing school.) My hair is always natural and boring. My idea of makeup is some powder or foundation and a bit of lip color. (I used to put on blush and eyeliner when I was in college as well, but even then I did it only when I felt like it.)

In high school and college, it was easy to think of brushing my hair or primping up mostly because my friends made regular trips to the comfort room to do so. Besides, I just might run into my crush on campus. When I hit my twenties, my friends started to have less and less time to remind me about my appearance. And I’ve decided that if the guy I’m crushing on doesn’t like me if I look like I’ve just gotten out of bed, he damn well doesn’t deserve me on the rare occasion that I decide I look real nice.

But wait, you might be thinking. If I don’t care so much, then why do I even notice?

Well, As an artist, I am a bit obsessed with people looking pretty. They’re people who are just asking to be put into a photograph or a painting.

But also as an artist, I am also a bit obsessed with how pretty people are even when they’re not even trying. Due to the all the work I’ve been doing the past four years, it has been both my misfortune and my privilege to have seen a variety of people at their very worst. I must say that even when people think that they probably look horrible, they still do look pretty amazing.

A friend once asked me whether I thought he was good looking. That question got me confused because I had never thought about it before. It’s not like I rate everyone I meet at a “pretty” scale of one to ten. Sometimes, there is the occasional person who I think looks just amazing, but they are never usually the conventionally beautiful. As for my friend, I simply said I thought he looked just fine.

You don’t think I’m ugly, do you? he asked. I answered no, I don’t. After some thought, I added that I don’t really think of anyone as ugly. Every person is beautiful in their own way.

Now, you probably think that that’s a bit cheesy, Pollyanna-ish everyone-is-beautiful-deep-inside bullshit.

Hey, I’m not saying I can’t also be shallow. I have rejected potential suitors at some point because I didn’t like the way they look. I didn’t think they were ugly per se. I just didn’t like looking at them. (Some of them were actually attractive, so my friends say.) And my boyfriend is, in my opinion, so good-looking it’s unbelievable.

But the aforementioned rejection was never solely because of looks. Usually, there was something off about their personality as well. Maybe it’s a case of attitude affecting attraction. I don’t know. And on top of being good-looking my boyfriend is also so kind, patient, witty and intelligent that I often privately agonize over the fact that I do not deserve someone like this.

And at the end of the day, what I told my friend still holds true: Everyone is beautiful in their own way.

In the years I’ve spent secretly drawing people from life and from photographs, I have also been reflecting upon the things that are considered conventionally pretty. In Filipino culture, that usually means any variation of fair-skinned, petite, skinny, silky hair, big eyes, thin nose, and heart-shaped lips. To be honest, conventionally pretty is overrated.

When I look at random strangers in the name of artistic research, I often wonder whether or not they know exactly how beautiful they are. I think perhaps at one point they may have felt bad about themselves for having dark skin or a wide nose or uneven teeth. I think perhaps that they may have felt that they should not have gone out in that outfit, or they feel they need to lose some weight, or that they haircut doesn’t look good on them. But none of that is true.

And I draw them as they are because, as I have said, they are beautiful in their own way.

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