Have you ever broken a taboo or have you always followed what society and culture dictates?
By the age of 34, I had already broken the mold of a traditional Filipino woman. I have multiple tattoos, been married multiple times, divorced a few times, and have never lived up to the “Maria Clara” image of a traditional Filipina.
I grew up in the Philippines. Not in the part of the country where tattoos are accepted as part of the tribal culture. I grew up where people are mostly religious and old fashioned. I also grew up in a time when not many women had tattoos. If they did, it’s because they probably got them in jail. Times have changed. Back then, it was not as accepted in my culture and people were not as liberal as today. There were a lot of taboos.
“Women are supposed to be demure, shy, soft spoken. Maria Clara De Los Santos was the leading lady in the famous novel by Dr. José Rizal (a National Hero) called Noli Me Tángere. She embodied the traditional Filipino woman. I was far from being Maria Clara. I was neither conservative nor ladylike. This usually got me in trouble in the Philippines. Some said I thought and acted too much like an American. I felt like an outcast in my own country.
“Women are supposed to be virgins on their wedding night.” This is a big one in my culture. I felt so ashamed after losing my virginity as a senior in high school. I thought “How can my parents be proud of me now?” “What will my future husband think of me?” I carried this guilt for a long time. When I became an instructor and taught Anatomy & Physiology, I realized I stressed all those years over a piece of tissue. The hymen is the stuff lores and legends were made of. It is often associated with purity. I think it’s only important when it comes to children because it could be a sign of incest or abuse if it’s broken. Otherwise, a woman should be able to choose if she wants to share her body with someone.
“Women are supposed to be married only once in their lifetime.” I stayed with my second husband for years even if I wanted a divorce. We were both miserable in our marriage. I didn’t want to cause my parents grief. I didn’t want to be the reason that could cause my dad to get sick or die of a heart attack. Unfortunately, no matter how hard I tried, I ended up disappointing them because the marriage ended anyway.
The Philippines is predominantly Catholic. When I was there, a very long time ago, there was no such thing as divorce. Today, the only legal recourse for unhappy couples are legal separation or annulment. I saw a lot of unhappy women. For some reason, it was okay for men to have multiple affairs and women were supposed to just grin and bear it. If a man cheated on a woman, he was called a “player” but that was acceptable. When a woman cheated on a man, she was called a “whore” or “puta.” The double standards favored men and were harsh on women. I’m glad a lot of women nowadays choose to change their situation. They choose to leave their cheating husbands and find men who appreciate them. Kudos to you modern women!
“Women shouldn’t have tattoos.” Women and Tattoos were two words that didn’t go together. It was a cultural taboo while I was growing up. I had to cover up my tattoos during family gatherings. I have many tattoos on my body and I’m proud of them. The PPOD is a favorite of mine. I left it unfinished on purpose. My life is unfinished… so I decided to leave my last tattoo unfinished for this purpose. Each of my tattoos mean something special. They remind me of a specific part of my life. They are a form of self expression. Why a Koi? Why does it look weird? Why a lotus?
A Koi fish means transformation, fulfillment, and a long lasting and loving relationship. I was at a point in my life where I felt things were finally changing for the better. I was changing and so was my situation. My life was becoming more stable (personal, career, family, and love life). When I first saw how the Koi turned out, I thought one of the eyes looked weird. I could have changed it, but I let it be. I’m not perfect and this Koi is supposed to reflect me. Why the lotus? It represents enlightenment. A lotus’ roots grow in muddy water yet the flower rises above the water with purity. To me, it represented the messy life I had and the faith that helped save me. The same faith that I learned as part of my culture. My faith helped me stay above water. I’m far from pure but I try to live my life honestly.
The final taboo I want to talk about is body disorder and modification. I’ve had different body piercings in the past but that’s not what I mean. This is my own personal taboo because I was embarrassed about it. I didn’t want my friends and especially my family to know. I’m talking about an eating disorder and plastic surgery.
Growing up, I’ve always admired Marilyn Monroe. The voluptuous breasts, the tiny waist, and the Va-Va-Voom hips. Unfortunately it gave me an unrealistic image of what a woman should look like (just like how magazines used to portray skinny women as ideal).
In my teens, I learned about purging food to avoid gaining weight. I had Bulimia. Back then, I didn’t know there was a medical term for it. I binged then vomited. It was a vicious cycle. It took almost 10 years to overcome this disorder.
After giving birth to my children, my body changed. This didn’t help my already low self esteem. So I did something about it. I got a “mommy make-over”. This included breast augmentation and a tummy tuck. I modified my physical appearance and tried to hide the fact that I had surgery to accomplish it. The outside appearance was easy to change. But it took a while to change how I saw myself on the inside. How can I expect people to accept me when I can’t accept myself? Why am I talking about it in public now? It’s because I finally learned to love my body and myself.
If you’re a woman and have been naturally gifted with the perfect body, good for you! If not, I’m all about empowering women. Do what makes you feel better about yourself. So what if people call you “fake” or “plastic.” You need to be comfortable plastic or not. Who doesn’t want to look or feel better? You be “YOU!”
To some, I probably painted a negative picture of the Filipino culture. Don’t get me wrong. I love being Filipino! I’m proud of my heritage and birth country. I LOVE the Filipino culture. Taboos are a small but interesting part of it. There are many positive things about the Philippines, it’s people, and it’s culture.
A source of embarrassment in the past is now a source of pride. Today, I celebrate being a woman in my mid-forties, being a re-married divorcée, choosing to be happy, having meaningful tattoos… and breaking taboos.