Brown-skinned Asian girl with sunglasses posing in front of a mural.

Being a “morena girl” wasn’t always a thing. There was a time when there was no catchy label for having darker skin. There was a time when people would rather not have it at all. Over the years, having a – now a catchall for any skin tone that’s not naturally mestiza or cosmetically lightened – has slowly become desirable. But while inclusion and self-love have always been ideal, using your skin color for clicks and likes is not it.

The hashtag #brownfishing has 1.4 million views on TikTok, and most of the posts call out light-skinned women of all races who are self-tanning or using filters to appear darker than they are. While seemingly harmless, the behavior raises the question of privilege – specifically, the privilege to switch skin color without having to take on the stigma that systemically comes with it.

Are we overthinking it or are we on to something? We asked Filipinas about their experience of having morena skin and why being a morena girl isn’t just a phase or something you do for the ‘gram.

Being a Morena Girl Means Challenging Norms

“I was made aware of my morena skin in a negative way,” shares Jim Bea. “Growing up, I was always told that I should avoid going out under the hot sun or to use a specific type of soap to . It made me feel like people would treat me better if my skin was lighter.” Jim recalls hating makeup because makeup artists would always use shades that were for her. “I felt like they were trying to cover my skin.”

It was when she moved to Hawaii for college that she started to embrace being a morena girl. “People around me were proud of their brown skin. No one made comments about my complexion. I felt empowered enough to question the beauty industry and society for always putting morenas down,” she shares

These days, having morena skin is like sitting on a gold mine, at least for content creators. But for Jim, this is a good thing. “No, it’s not a trend, but on the other hand, social media introduced me to content creators who are proud of their skin color.” The former Hawaii resident finds Bretman Rock and Ayn Bernos especially inspirational. “One of the things I love about morena representation on social media is how it’s transformed the notion of ‘getting darker.’ It’s not a scary burden anymore.”

Brown Skin Is Personal

Some people or use self-tanner to achieve a certain look, but morena girls see brown skin as more than just an accessory. Sky Gavin used to be insecure about her skin color. “I always had classmates with lighter skin, and some called me ‘negra’ and ‘maitim’ when I was in grade school. I was bullied.” she recalls.

“I only started embracing my brown skin when I was in college, where I met people who intentionally try to become tan. Later, I’ve come to appreciate it for more personal reasons.” She continues, “I love my brown skin because I got it from my grandfather. I lost both my grandparents during the pandemic, and I was really close with my lolo. When I look at his picture, I feel like he’s still with me because we have the same skin color.”

For Sky, being a “morena girl” is more than just an aesthetic. “It’s who we are. It’s from our ancestors. It’s because of this . I think it’s important to show everyone that we love our skin color so the future generations that there are all kinds of beauty,” she says.

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Morena Skin Is Empowering All Year Round

Morena girls give off a cool, carefree vibe. Maybe because they can go out in the sun without worrying about getting darker, or because they just couldn’t care less after years of trying to fit in. Of course, not all brown-skinned girls struggle, but most of them do.

“I grew up in an international community, so my tanned skin always stood out. I’d be the first to burn during swimming parties and the last to be picked to be a princess,” shares Jana Blanco. “I remember someone even saying, ‘She’s fun to play with even if she isn’t so like us’ – they were all blonde-haired and blue-eyed little girls.”

“It wasn’t until high school that everyone wanted to tan and show off their bikinis. People were jealous of the fact that my skin was ‘golden’ all year round,” Jana says. Now a proud morena girl, she loves how her brown skin pops in colorful outfits. “You’re able to go outdoors and do all the sports you love without thinking twice about the tan you’ll get. You just get to live in the moment and enjoy. I also love looking like I spend all my time at the beach – I wish!” 

But more than anything, Jana celebrates her natural skin color for her kids. She says, “It’s a hidden middle finger to all those who still believe in colorism and have a colonial mentality. As a mom who’s given her morena skin tone to her kids, it’s important they see that I embrace and celebrate my skin color and so should they.”

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It's Not a Trend, But an Evolution

Many times, the content we watch growing up influences our views of ourselves – including how we feel about our natural skin color. This is true for Regine Mercado, who was always described as a “morenang chinita.” “My two older sisters and my mom are all morena – and I’ve always found them beautiful. I also always had tan skin because I did swimming lessons during my summer breaks. It wasn’t much of a bother to me confidence-wise,” Regine shares.

“I think a lot of the unnecessary self-judgment comes from the TV shows that were available growing up. They would show women who were darker, , and a bit bigger transforming – supposedly for the better – into someone skinny, light-skinned, straight-haired (hello, Wansapanataym!).”

While we see less of this type of “entertainment” these days, we still have a long way to go in representing the morena girl. “It's important for the media to publicly celebrate naturally morena skin, so kids can see that it's cool to love it. I don't think we talk about this as much as we discuss being queer or curly-haired. We need more morena content,” Regine says.

She adds, “I feel like more people are . It’s more of an evolution than a trend. My niece, for one, loves her skin. She enjoys being out in the sun (safely!) and actually wants to get even darker.”

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Being a proud “morena girl” isn’t just about posting photos of your glowing skin. It’s celebrating your natural skin color despite the pressure to conform or change. These beautiful Filipinas are proof it’s possible.