Why are we so obsessed with beauty contests?
- Wilson Lee Flores () - December 15, 2002 - 12:00am
Is it the combustible mix of sex, showbiz, fashion glamour, fiesta gaiety, youth and the sheer loveliness of the female form that have made beauty contests a national obsession? Why the unabated passion for beauty pageants in our jueteng republic, despite our problems of poverty, excessive bickering by mentally-retarded politicians and shameless corruption? Is this part of the wasteful and extravagant aspects of the fiesta and porma culture bequeathed by Spanish colonial misrule to the Philippines as well as to Central and South America?

Can beauty contests be held in such a way that they do not degrade or exploit women, while retaining their sexiness and excitement? Can we use the national obsession for beauty contests as an instrument for national development, such as capitalizing on it for tourism promotion, mass education of the people by injecting new positive cultural values into beauty contests or using them to boost economic efficiency and to bolster national optimism?
Beauty Contests To Overwhelm RP’s Terrorist And Kidnap Image?
Why can’t the government make beauty contests into dollar-earning tourist attractions to change the unfair image of the Philippines as infested with terrorists and kidnappers, instead of beauty contests just becoming self-indulgent local spectacles similar to the shows regularly put up by some corrupt Roman emperors to sate the consciousness of the masses?

Contrary to what hallucinating bureaucrats or mentally-retarded politicians might claim, the country today has only a few globally-competitive cottage industries, and one of these is our beauty pageants which never fail to bedazzle the nation.

In recent weeks, the national capital region successfully played host to the Miss Asia Pacific Quest, the Miss Manila pageant, the Miss Earth contest and others. This writer was recently invited to sit as judge in the December 7 Metro Manila semi-finals of the new "Miss Fort Ilocandia" pageant which gave away cash and other prizes to winners. It was a pageant meant to boost tourism in Ilocos Norte.

In the countless fiestas throughout the archipelago, local communities no matter how impoverished, are able to annually stage beauty contests. During the summer months there are the quasi-religious Santacruzans with the usual showbiz stars as the Maria Elena, accompanied by her sagalas or lower-rank beauties. Even this costly tradition of debuts are often staged as veritable mini-beauty pageants.

Beauty contests are so popular as a national obsession like jueteng, politics, rumor-mongering, showbiz and text messaging. A lot of national politicians even fly off on weekends to far-flung town fiestas just to be in the local limelight by crowning local beauty queens. Even the high and mighty corporate leaders with their offices in Makati have their own "beauty contest" of the best-looking belens. Shopping malls have beauty contests for the best-looking Christmas or Halloween decor among shops, whether in SM malls or Robinsons or Greenbelt. Subdivisions have beauty contests of best Christmas lighted homes this season. Even schools already teach kids to be hooked on beauty contests, but with fund-raising aspects and competition to raise money to buy votes (good training for future politicians in the ultimate beauty contests of national elections?). The beauty contests nationwide are stunningly diverse and endless, like the annual Lechon Fiesta in San Juan. Batangas has an annual beauty contest of the best-looking and best-costumed roast pigs. In Nueva Ecija during Holy Week there are beauty contests of best-looking kubol or makeshift Catholic chapels where devotees sing the pasyon, in some provinces during the fiesta of San Isidro Labrador, there are beauty contests on the best-looking carabaos. And the Pahiyas fiesta in Quezon has the beauty contest of homes with the best-looking colorful kiping made of rice materials which are edible.
Beauty Contests As Subversion Of Semi-Feudal Society
In our semi-feudal Third World society trying to become an American-style textbook democracy, beauty contests have become a way to subvert the status quo and scandalously open the doors of the traditional power elite for aspiring beautiful women of humble beginnings. It is more of a true equalizer than our elections. Beauty pageants help ordinary women with beauty like Maria Isabel Lopez, Melanie Marquez, Alice Dixson, Joyce Jimenez, Maria Theresa Carlson and others to escape into a dream world of high fashion, high income, even marriage into political clans or the elite, or into the high-risk vortex of bold movies and showbiz.

Joyce Jimenez told this writer she failed to win a local Filipino beauty contest in California but a female judge discovered her for Philippine showbiz and she has since delightfully disrobed her way to fame.

Aiza Seguerra was a winner in the noontime TV pageant "Little Miss Philippines," paving the way for her as a phenomenal child star, who later dropped out of showbiz, but was resurrected last year as the singer of the hit song Pagdating Ng Panahon. Since our Hispanic-influenced society places a high premium on physical form over substance in character, brains, social pedigree and economic success, many beauty queens are readily more accepted as honorary members of the power elite, often as trophy wives. A more tragic example of a Cinderella that did not live happily ever after was the late Maria Theresa Carlson, who became the unhappy wife of Ilocano politician Rudy Fariñas and allegedly committed suicide to end her miseries.

Even the less glamorous "Calendar Girl" of Magandang Tanghali Bayan of ABS-CBN 2 or the "TV Babes" of Eat Bulaga on GMA-7 and other similar inane contests on lunchtime TV shows have catapulted some nubile beauties into fame, infamy and into new careers. What is so incredible about this national beauty contest craze are the such bizarre yet popular variations, such as the "Super Sireyna" gay beauty pageant of Eat Bulaga on GMA-7 and even the fast-spreading gay beauty contests in provincial fiestas nationwide. Siemens Mobile Phones executives Clare Alvarez, Jonathan Penilla and Dennison Lim at a reception reminded this writer that there are also increasingly more male beauty contests, such as the "Mr. Pogi" pageant of Eat Bulaga on GMA-7 where the poor youth Jericho Rosales was discovered and transformed him into a matinee showbiz star. Other modeling pageants are variations of the national beauty contest obsession, such as "Bodyshots," the Slimmers World physique contest and the proliferation of Mr. & Ms. Bikini contests.

Miss Universe winner Margie Moran was not poor, but she married into the country’s biggest banana-exporting Floirendo landlord and political clan. Miss International Gemma Cruz was not poor, but she married Tonypet Araneta of the landlord clan.

Gloria Diaz became an actress and celebrity after her Miss Universe win. A beauty queen married Carlos "Honeyboy" Palanca III, who remains wealthy despite his third generation having lost control of La Tondeña to San Miguel Corp. Even the middle-class Ruffa Gutierrez, a voluptuous Miss World finalist who was embroiled in a Senate investigation on her alleged visits to entertain the Brunei power elite, has unashamedly announced to the world that a foreign millionaire had apparently been smitten by her charms.

Former controversial model Maria Isabel Lopez won as Miss Philippines, did well in the Miss Universe pageant, became the star of some local and Japanese bold movies, and is now the wife of a Japanese businessman in the surfing business. Tweety de Leon won in a Supermodel contest before settling down as the wife of a businessman. Actress Daisy Reyes also a winner in a local beauty pageant, is now reportedly in the beer distribution business. Gladys Reyes the villain in the ABS-CBN soap opera Dulo Ng Walang Hanggan got her first crack at showbiz by winning the noontime TV pageant "Little Miss Philippines." Dusky beauty Anjanette Abayari suffered a heart-breaking disqualification in the Miss Philippines title due to citizenship issues, but it was her problems in Guam that cut short her rise to showbiz success.
Imelda, Charlene Gonzalez, Dayanara, Miriam Quiambao, Erap’s Miss Colombia
Despite her fall from grace in 1986, the ultimate Cinderella social success epic among beauty queens in the world is still the inimitable and controversial ex-First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos, the former Rose of Tacloban from the poor side of a prominent Leyte political clan. Imelda’s beauty pageant celebrity status caused by the Miss Manila controversy and her good looks charmed her future husband the ambitious Ilocano politician Ferdinand Marcos. The former beauty queen walked on the world stage like a real queen, popularized the butterfly-sleeved "terno" internationally and Cosmopolitan magazine once listed Imelda among the world’s top 10 wealthiest women.

When in the early 1970s Imelda Marcos successfully hosted the Miss Universe pageant in the Folk Arts Theater in the CCP Complex, her project, she even reportedly sent military planes to chemically seed the clouds to ensure a sunny day for the outdoor portions of her extravaganza that was broadcast live to a global audience. It was the ultimate palabas of our fiesta and porma culture by Imelda, who is herself the personification of the national obsession for beauty pageants, and it was one beauty pageant that really benefited the country’s tourism promotions and international prestige. The first time the country figured prominently in the Miss Universe pageant was when the first winner in the 1950s, Miss Finland Armi Kuusela, got married to Filipino businessman Virgilio Hilario.

When she became a widow, Armi was for a couple of years the live-in girlfriend of then businessman Joe de Venecia, now more well-known as the dutiful husband of the speaker of their household Gina de Venecia.

Two decades later, the country again hosted the Miss Universe pageant at Imelda’s Philippine International Convention Center (PICC), with the nation falling in love with non-winner Miss Belgium, with then Vice-President Erap Estrada falling in love with Miss Colombia (issuing the controversial statement that he was willing for his wife to die in order to be with his favored beauty), with the late widower public relations man Bubby Dacer supposedly falling in love with Miss Switzerland (was that for real or just to create a media buzz?), with lucky guy singer Ogie Alcasid falling in love with Miss Australia, with Miss India happily stumbling into national pop icon status in her home country by winning the title, with the pretty Miss Philippines Charlene Gonzalez uttering the memorable line that the number of our isles depended on the rise and fall of ocean tides, and with then past Miss Universe winner and former poor girl from Puerto Rico Dayanara Torres falling in love daw with the Philippines for a few years and first trying her luck with showbiz here. In recent years, another beauty queen whose international performance in the Miss Universe pageant is still etched in the national memory is Miriam Quiambao, who fell on stage but whose poised recovery and smart answer won her the first runner-up prize.
The Exxxcitement Of Judging A Beauty Contest!
Organizers of the Miss Fort Ilocandia beauty pageant had invited this writer to join a distinguished panel of 14 judges in the December 7 Metro Manila semi-finals screening night, after reportedly reading several columns paying homage to the beauty of women.

As a person who sincerely appreciates God’s greatest creation of female beauty, serving as judge in a pageant to select 16 finalists out of 27 beautiful candidates is a delightful punishment, similar to the agonizing difficulty of trying to eat all that you can from a delectable buffet feast groaning with an overflow of delicious dishes. Gluttony is a sin, but why invite me to a sinful buffet?

It was an awkward yet spiritually recharging experience to be the only bachelor among the judges. I was seated right in the middle of VIPS on both sides.

The others in the panel included top foreign investors behind the Fort Ilocandia Resort & Golf Club who came wearing elegant dark suits, US Embassy First Secretary Richard K. Pruett, a beauty queen from Toronto, the 76-year-old Pasay City kingpin Mariano Nocom, Waterfront Hotel chain owner William Gatchalian, Bureau of Immigration Executive Director Roy M. Almoro, Air Philippines SVP Patria Chiong, the bewitchingly pretty Miss Philippines Earth 2002 April Ross Perez, Manila Bulletin entertainment editor Crispina Belen and others.

What was I thinking in the middle of the long table of judges and beholding 27 beautiful young ladies strutting their gorgeousness, walking in their sexy sportswear, their bikinis and their cocktail dresses?

Some of the perfectly sculpted bodies had larger than average busts – were these surgically enhanced? This writer recently had a fascinating all-night conversation on beauty, including the aesthetics and sizes of breasts with two sexy pageant winners for the sake of journalistic research and pure intellectual curiosity. The conversation, their candor and their lack of shyness caused my face to flush red with shyness (ehem) and excitement. There are ways to detect natural and different ways of surgically-enhanced breasts, even the way they look, feel and move. I even discovered that some beauty contestants locally and internationally even surgically take out their last rib to have super sexy slim waistlines for the sake of winning beauty contests.

For a moment as judge of the Miss Fort Ilocandia pageant semi-finals, I wished I were a Sultan appreciating this latest batch of 27 new additions to my vast harem of wives. For another moment, I fantasized being the Emperor of China, performing the mundane task of selecting new additions of 16 concubines out of the 27 best representatives from all major regions of the empire. Sexiness and physical attractiveness of the women are all fleeting qualities, but what about their intelligence, their creativity, their genes as future mothers? For a longer time, I also looked at each beautiful smiling face – who among these aspiring young women will go on to become international beauty titlists, top fashion models, future actresses, future bold stars or liquor ad endorsers, entertainers, future wives, single moms, mistresses of powerful men, inspiring successes or heartbreaking failures?

Beauty is not only in the eye of the beholder, because mere physical beauty is not real beauty. I believe that real beauty is long-lasting, impervious to the ravages of time and age. It can only be found deep within each person’s heart, inner character, in our capacity to give and receive love, in our appreciation of life, in our values and personality, in our wit and humor, in the quality of our dreams and imperishable hopes.
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Many of your interesting suggestions will be accommodated in future columns. Do continue to send comments and suggestions. Please also suggest a name for this Sunday column of irreverence, humor and zest for life to wilson_lee_flores@hotmail.com or wilson_lee_flores@yahoo.com or P.O. Box 14277, Ortigas Center, Pasig City

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