A native of the Philippine province of Pampanga, Merritt began her international modeling career when she was 18 after New York-based modeling agency Wilhelmina International sent her an invitation to sign up as one of their talents.
“It was April 2015, my first trip to New York,” the 21-year-old Filipino American model told Philippine Star last year. “My parents were hesitant to bring me there because I was young, and I wasn’t really exposed to living by myself. But you know, you’ve got to make it happen!”
And while her recent inclusion to the prestigious fashion event made many Filipinos proud, others have dismissed the accomplishment due to her allegedly “European” look.
Twitter user @CINESUPREME for one has claimed that having someone who does not look “traditionally Filipino” join the event is not that special.
“[A] European looking Pinay walking for Victoria’s Secret??????? shocking. [C]all me when someone who actually looks traditionally Filipino does it,” she tweeted.
She went on to point out in a series of tweets that while she does not mean to discredit Merritt, a “white-looking woman walk a predominantly white fashion show” is not groundbreaking.
@CINESUPREME also dropped the names of Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach, Miss Philippines-Universe 2018 Catriona Gray, and actress Liza Soberano to make her point that while they are all gorgeous, they don’t exactly look like the typical Filipino.
“Why should the face of the Filipino people not look Filipino?” the netizen wrote. “What does it say about us when the women we consider beautiful ALWAYS have Euro-centric features … When will we put a Pinay who looks unmistakably Filipino on a pedestal?”
@CINESUPREME’s tweet immediately sparked discussion on social media after it generated thousands of likes and retweets. She has since set her Twitter account to private.
Although some agreed with @CINESUPREME’s points, many also found her tweets ridiculous.
“How do modern Filipinos looks (sic) anyways?” one Twitter user asked, “Like do we fit in a particular mold?”
Some users also pointed out that Merritt’s features aren’t “European” and she actually does look like a typical Filipino with brown skin.
There are also those who explained that having Merritt recognize her roots as Filipino is more than enough to ask for from the young model.
“[A]ren’t we all glad that she dedicated this achievement to PH instead to (sic) her foreign homeland?” one netizen asked.
“People are clamoring for representation in a realm where it’s not necessary. @kelsmerritt got in a fashion show. Not a film where she plays a Filipina, nor a pageant as “Ms. Philippines”— AND YET, she dedicated the achievement to her home country. What more do you want?” another Twitter user chimed in.
At least one netizen pointed out that while @CINESUPREME was criticizing “Euro-centric beauty standards,” she wears blue contacts and uses heavy makeup to “contour” her nose to make it more “Caucasian.”Another also returned criticism to @CINESUPREME accusing her of merely trying to be “woke.”
Wild.. are there really hate tweets towards proud Pinay Kelsey Merritt for not being “Pinay-looking enough” to “represent” Filipinos at the anticipated Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show? Talaga, pati yun iba-bash?
My goodness this Kelsey Merritt debate should not even exist. She is walking the VS fashion show. She got casted and decided to announce to the world that this achievement is not only hers, but also the country’s. She is a proud Filipina and that’s it.
I don’t understand… we are proud of Pia Wurtzbach, Apl.deap, Bruno Mars, Nicole of PCD, Jordan Clarkson, etc. I am even proud of Sandara Park because she loves our country so much even if she has no Filipino blood. But why can’t with Kelsey Merritt?
Kelsey Merritt is opening doors for Filipinas. Filipinas come in all shapes, sizes and shades, but this IS the fashion industry we’re talking about. It’s a small step towards inclusion but a step nonetheless. It should be okay to celebrate that.
In response to her critics, Merritt also took to Twitter and expressed her love for the Philippines in an impassioned tweet:
Pinanganak ako sa Pilipinas at lumaki ako sa Pampanga. Tinapos ko ang pagaaral ko sa Manila bago ako lumipat sa US last year. Mas pinoy pa dugo ko kesa sa mga “pure” na hindi pa nakatapak sa Pilinipas. I love my country and I’m proud of where I came from. ❤️
It is worth noting that since the Philippines is comprised of diverse ethnic groups with a variety of body and facial types developed from centuries of intermixing with neighboring countries and other visitors, saying someone has a “typical Filipino look” is not as simple as it appears.
Since pagkakaisa (unity) and bayanihan (cooperation) are known Filipino values, one would think that bringing another person’s accomplishments down based on her physical appearance is more un-Filipino than someone who merely does not have a flat nose or brown skin.