Who’s That Girl: Janelle Mayo
With warmth in her skin and a unibrow across her forehead, Janelle Mayo introduces love to natural Filipina beauty
With the exception of three years spent abroad and the occasional family trip, the entirety of my childhood was spent in the Philippines. A country that celebrates whiteness and thinness, where virtually anyone with a drop of foreign blood can make it as some form of celebrity, it wasn’t the best place to teach me to be kind to my tan skin, baby fat and hairy legs. “I want to grow up already,” was a constant wish that echoed in the back of my mind as a child of the Philippines––not because I wanted to earn my keep or chase the dreams that burned brightly under my skin. I wanted to take the fast track to adulthood so I could tame my eyebrows, afford whitening soap, get rid of all my unwanted body hair forever.
This is reality for the young Filipino girl. This is the everyday for the woman who grows up here.
It turns out, though, that even for the Filipina woman abroad, the sky-high standards aren’t any easier to meet. Coupled that with being surrounded by people in a foreign town who look nothing like you, it’s easy for the things that make you look unique to become the things you dislike most about yourself. Just unlocking that sense of okayness with your features is tough enough, what more achieving acceptance?
No double takes were necessary when I spotted Janelle Mayo for the first time. Her warm skin, striking unibrow and unshaven underarms punctuated my Explore page in a 2018 campaign for Billie, a women’s shaving start-up that went against the grain by showing real girls with real body hair. While several of the Billie ads featured Janelle alongside several other women, seeing her set a surge of familiarity running through me. It was that nostalgic feeling of seeing a fellow Pinoy in a far-flung restaurant overseas. That same sensation that runs through you when you pick up on a random Filipino conversation on a crowded foreign street. Southeast Asians share plenty of similarities––the warmth of our skin, the blackness of our hair, the relatively limited height spectrum––but I found Janelle’s features so distinctly Filipina that there was no room for second guessing. True enough, her Instagram handle @filipinogrndma gave all the confirmation I needed.
These days, she posts beautifully lit selfies generously, her concentrated blush lending color to her cheeks and her brushed up monobrow taking center stage, but this wasn’t always Janelle’s story. “I grew up looking like absolutely nobody in my town,” she expresses. “Not a single tan Filipina with a unibrow in sight.”
Right ahead, Janelle Mayo discusses skincare that keeps her complexion in check, recalibrating what beauty means to her and the disconnect between what most Filipinos look like and what they want to look like.
Wonder: Take us through your usual makeup routine. What are your holy grail products, and how do you use them play up your natural features?
Janelle: My usual makeup routine is pretty minimal (in my opinion!). After my skincare, I go straight in with GLOSSIER’s Stretch Concealer and apply that onto any dark spots that I have. I like to contour with MAKE BEAUTY’s Moon Stick in Charon. I swipe that under my cheekbones and a little bit on the sides of my nose and blend it in.
My favorite part of my routine is blush, and I think that anyone who personally knows me or has followed me for a while is very aware of my over-the-top blush. I use the MAKE BEAUTY Bisou Bisou Lip & Cheek Stick. I swipe the product onto my fingertips and tap it onto my cheekbones in a circular motion, focusing the color on the center of my cheeks. Then I highlight the high points of my face with GLOSSIER’s Haloscope. At this point I look like an oily mess, so I mattify and set my makeup with any translucent powder that I own at the moment, bronze with MAKE BEAUTY‘s Bronzing Brick and brush my brows up with their Sculpting Lash and Brow Gel. Lastly, for lips, I either go for a neutral lip like GLOSSIER’s Generation G in Leo or a rose-toned lip like SUNNIES FACE Fluffmatte in Girl Crush.
W: We admit we habitually double-tap your posts whenever they come up on Instagram and one thing we always notice is how healthy your skin looks. Any skincare secrets to share?
Janelle: Thank you so much! My skin hasn’t always looked this good. It took me years to find the right products and habits to clear up my skin. It’s no secret that I (and many other influencers) get some makeup for free, so I like to splurge on high-end skincare. My favorite skincare products are the LANCÔME Advanced Génifique Sensitive Antioxidant Face Serum and Bienfait Aqua Vital Lotion. I also feel like a lot of people already say this, which I’m sure is awfully annoying at this point, but drink water. Seriously. There’s a reason why the most said skincare tip is to stay hydrated, along with wearing SPF every day––which is also something I do!
W: Let’s talk childhood. Did you grow up in the Philippines or in the USA? How did your upbringing shape your beauty ideals?
Janelle: I grew up in the USA, but both of my parents are originally from the Philippines. My mom is from Pangasinan and My dad is from Ilocos. Growing up, I lived in a rural town in Washington and according to the recent demographics on Wikipedia, the majority of the population in the town I grew up in is 72.1% White or 31.4% Hispanic, with Asians only [making up] 3.0%. It wasn’t the most diverse population and there isn’t much of a Filipino-American community. I remember being approximately 1 of the 5 (counting my siblings) Filipinos in my high school. So, for a while I didn’t really know much about what it meant to be Filipino American. Not a lot of people looked like me and my only Filipino friend knew a few words and simple phrases in Tagalog, just like I do.
Despite the lack of knowledge of the language, I felt like I was always willing to learn. When I was younger, I remember constantly watching Filipino teleseryes with my mom and relentlessly asking her what the characters were saying.
I know I was ashamed the moment I realized that I was different. I’m ashamed to admit that, but as I grew older I started to appreciate my Filipina beauty and began embracing my culture.
W: Tell us how you were able to get this comfortable with your natural beauty––and how it feels now, being so delightfully unabashed about it.
Janelle: I was ashamed of my body hair only because no one else around me seemed to have it, but I think that’s why I started to grow it out: because I want people who look like me to feel powerful and represented. Those were things that I never imagined feeling back then and I want to inspire everyone (including all of the little Filipinas with unibrows) to embrace their natural beauty. I didn’t have someone to look up to that looked just like me and my goal is to be that person to somebody else.
W: As someone who knows and has seen the harsh beauty standards of Filipino society first-hand, would you say that our perception of beauty has improved over time?
Janelle: I’d say there’s been little improvement I think or at least I hope so. I noticed the lack of diversity in Filipino media entertainment. Watching teleseryes to this day, I still see the usual lighter skinned actors and actresses. I think a part of that did make me ashamed of my skin tone at a very young age. Aside from faces like mine, I would really appreciate much darker skinned Filipinos on TV. We still seem to have this obsession over paler complexions.
RELATED: A Beauty Debate On Skin
Keep up with the life and times of Janelle Mayo over on Instagram!
Art Alexandra Lara
Images c/o Janelle Mayo