Miss Universe Philippines (MUPH) is back with another roster of beauty queens to root for. However, this year’s contest has hit a snag with one of its contestants currently facing backlash. Shaira Aliyah Diaz, the candidate representing San Pablo, Laguna, is under fire for alleged blackfishing.
The 21-year-old beauty queen, who also goes by Filipina Barbie online, is said to have made major changes to her looks. In her MUPH videos and photos, Diaz flaunts her dark skin and coarse 3C curly hair; her features suggest that she has Black or mixed heritage. And if her moniker is anything to go by, these features are a point of pride for her.
Diaz said in an Instagram post that facing discrimination while growing up pushed her to start a brand advocating against colorism. “I grew up in a generation where being morena was as if it was a sin. Wherever I go, I get bullied and called names like Ita, kulay tae, ulikba, and the like,” she wrote.
It’s a touching story—one that reminds us of the narratives of last year’s morena candidates like Ayn Bernos. However, posts that netizens unearthed from her public Facebook account have made many question whether Diaz grew up with these physical traits. Photos that she uploaded before 2021 showed that she had a lighter morena complexion and straight hair. During the early months of the pandemic, Diaz and the hashtag #OustBarbie went viral after she caught flak for several TikToks where she sported box/stitch braids. Some netizens have expressed their disappointment in what appears to be a lack of authenticity and accused her of blackfishing, with some even calling for her disqualification from the pageant.
Vogue writer Raven Smith calls blackfishing “celebratory blackface” and culture “theft.” “Blackfishing embodies the look of Blackness without the racism, the discrimination, the chronic negative expectations of Black people, making Blackness something to put on. It allows white women to live Black, or at very least racially ambiguous lives, without the inherited mess of literal Blackness,” he writes.
While Diaz seems cognizant of the prejudice that dark-skinned people face, the possibility of her appropriating their narratives is offensive. There are pageant contestants that have addressed colorism in the industry and fighting it has been an advocacy of a number of MUPH queens last year. But if you want to celebrate morena Filipino beauty, darkening your skin promotes neither self-acceptance nor empowerment. It simply commodifies darker skin tones, as if it is a costume, and ignores the lifelong marginalization that comes with it.
Whether the claims are true or not, this is a reminder for us not to speak over dark-skinned people. Trying to be their representative without their lived experiences isn’t it, no matter how well-meaning the intentions. There are more respectful ways to show solidarity, like listening to them and providing them opportunities to represent themselves.
Preen has reached out to Diaz and MUPH for comment.
Photo screengrabbed from Diaz’s MUPH Fashion and Runway Challenge video