Queen Pia: Reigning Miss Universe Pia Wurtzbach stepped onstage at the swimsuit event in Cebu, gracing the audience with her presence — and murdering my self-esteem in the process.
On Assignment: Beauties and the bes
LIFE'S ESSENCE - Irish Christianne Dizon (The Philippine Star) - January 27, 2017 - 7:49pm

It’s raining.

The sky is overcast and the fat clouds promise the arrival of more rain. As our van navigates the wet streets of Lapu Lapu City, Cebu, my companions and I agree that this is the not a good time for any activity that involves swimsuits. (The ideal backdrop for near-perfect bodies in monokinis and bikinis and tankinis is golden sunshine, not grey skies.) Flawless — one of the country’s leading beauty clinics and a major sponsor of the Miss Universe Swimsuit Press Presentation — flew us, a small group of journalists, to Cebu, so we could watch 86 of the world’s most beautiful women slay on an outdoor runway wearing swimwear by Yamamay. This rain puts a damper on everything but the show must go on. There are clusters of locals on the sidewalks, colorful umbrellas in hand, hoping to get a glimpse of the bombshells who, like us, are en route to J Park Island Resort & Waterpark for the first major preliminaries. I doubt the locals even know the girls’ names but it doesn’t matter: In our country, Miss Universe contestants are treated like rock stars.

We arrive to a hotel lobby abuzz with frenetic energy. Cultural dancers in traditional costumes are practicing for their performance, their moves in sync with the booming drums’ beat. There are numerous spectators roaming around, wearing faux Miss Universe crowns on their heads. (The local government thoughtfully provided complimentary paper versions of Pia Wurtzbach’s $300,000 diamond crown.) Among the crowd is AJ Ycong, a pretty and petite 18-year-old who shelled out P12,500 for a seat at today’s event. It’s Pia Wurtzbach she’s excited to see, the woman who made the Miss Universe pageant infinitely more interesting for AJ. “It’s because of her beauty. Sobrang Pinay yung beauty niya,” she ruminates. “And it’s good to have the Philippines again as Miss Universe. Kasi medyo matagal tagal din hindi naka top yung Philippines.” Like AJ, 51-year-old Gloria Chua also paid P12,500 for a seat. “Sponsor kami. Tinodo ko talaga,” she says with a laugh. She’s here with her friends, Lilybeth Barina, 46, and Ella Garcia, 41, who both opted for general admission tickets worth P3,500 each. These Titas of Cebu are all rooting for our own Maxine Medina to win. Ella, who has been a fan of Miss Universe since she was young, explains what she likes about the world’s ultimate beauty pageant: “Yung ma-promote natin yung beauty natin sa buong mundo… and kapag nananalo tayo, it’s our prestige, pride ng ating bansa.”


Now is probably a good time to disclose that unlike AJ, Gloria, Lilybeth, and Ella, I am not a fan of beauty pageants. It’s just not something that interests me. And not only don’t I know anything about pageants, I believe I’m as average looking as average looking can be. This task to be in the presence of flawless glamazons — God’s chosen children as far as looks go — is not exactly a tempting thought for a flawed everywoman. That my skin currently looks like a hotbed of pimple rebellion nearly stopped me from accepting the assignment but I went anyway. I might just pick up something useful from observing these beauty queens.

Pretty Hurts

“Blonder hair, flat chest; TV says, ‘Bigger is better.’ South Beach, sugar free; Vogue says, ‘Thinner is better,’” goes verse two of Beyoncé’s song Pretty Hurts, the anthem of any female who’s ever had to live up to impossible standards of beauty — which makes all of us. But beauty queens, I think, relate to this song more acutely than any other woman on earth. Sure, they have the advantages of good genes, but these ladies, I learn on this trip, go to great lengths for the crown. And I’m not just talking about crazy diets or punishing workouts or even cosmetic surgery. In the van, Mic Sy Lim, the guy behind the controversial blog Fashion Pulis, tells our group about a documentary he watched about Miss Venezuela aspirants, and how one of them had a drastic procedure done to stop herself from eating. I looked it up online afterwards and he wasn’t exaggerating. In the BBC documentary Secrets of South America, Extreme Beauty Queens, Billie JD Porter interviewed Meyer, an 18-year-old from the slums who had a plastic patch sewn on to her tongue to make it “too painful to eat solids.”  “It makes me lose weight quicker. You eat the same but liquefied,” she explained. Billie’s face mirrored my shock. “You can’t kiss anyone then,” she asked Meyer. The latter laughed rather awkwardly. “Yes, obviously.” Food was the first to go on this beauty queen’s journey, and romance was a collateral damage.

I don’t know if any of these Miss Universe sashaying down the runway inside the hotel’s Triton Ballroom did that to be in fighting form, but I sincerely hope not. I have so much respect for people who don’t stop at anything to achieve their dreams, but something about a girl having to put mesh on her tongue to keep herself from eating feels very wrong. I understand that you don’t get Miss Colombia’s gravity-defying butt or Miss Philippines’ model physique by sitting pretty, but a line has to be drawn somewhere.

Rubby Sy Coyiuto, the CEO of Flawless beauty clinic, knows that for many of us, beauty is something we have to work for, not something we are born with. Though not a beauty queen, she knows what it’s like to make a supreme effort to look good. “I was an ugly duckling before, so I really wanted to do everything to make myself prettier,” she confesses. This former banker and entrepreneur decided to put up Flawless in 2001 because “ayoko na ng going to hospitals for treatments. And they were so expensive! I thought of coming up with something for myself and making beauty treatments more affordable to the public.” She is sitting next to me, deciding who best deserves to win the #FlawlessOfTheUniverse sash, plus $US1,000. “I think it should be somebody with confidence, with an inner character that makes her really stand out,” she tells me. “It doesn’t mean that there’s a certain look you are looking for. You are looking for something that is coming from within: Confidence, the way they carry themselves.”

The presentation ends. This afternoon, we’ll find out who’s the most flawless of them all.

Pretty Up

In front of the SM Seaside branch of Flawless, Miss Venezuela Mariam Habach, 20, is declared #FlawlessOfTheUniverse; not only because of her enviable skin and to-die-for body, but because of all the candidates, she has the most impressive social media numbers — the most followed girl in a roster of 86, the one with the most hashtags. I suppose this is the Flawless team’s method of pinpointing that intangible thing they’re looking for: that ability to connect with people, that ability to win them over.

As I walk towards Mariam for a quick Q&A, the Miss Universe security teams whisk the girls away. The crowd is getting thicker and rowdier by the minute, harder and harder to contain. I overhear PR man Frank Briones say, “Grabe. Hindi ko ito ine-expect,” to no one in particular. Again, I doubt these locals even know the girls’ names but it doesn’t matter: In this country, Miss Universe contestants are treated like rock stars. I spot a family jumping up and down in excitement, and a student wearing a homemade sash and Miss Universe crown. His name is Roma Rico Tampus, and he’s been a fan of the pageant since 2007. “I think it [Miss Universe pageant] makes us happy. And it… it makes our problems less [sic]. I think that it is an inspiration to everybody.” Inspiration in what way, I ask him? “They have advocacies like, HIV, the outreach programs… I also want to be a good example to the youth.” Spoken like a true beauty queen.

As the event wraps up, the CEO of Flawless sidles up to me and instructs me to drop by their beauty clinic to have my rebelling zits quashed. I say yes. (Surely, if they could solve Marlou Arizala’s skin problems, they can handle mine.) No one wakes up flawless, not even Beyoncé, not even these Miss Universe beauties. In keeping with Flawless’ four-thronged approach to beauty, the resident doctor at their SM Mall of Asia branch prescribed the following: Advance acne control facial, mesoestetic peel, and Rejuvelite (treatment); SAS soap, toner, erythromycin solution, and skin protect gel (products); Nanowhiteness Glutathione Plus (supplements); and a trip to the gynecologist to rule out any hormonal imbalance (lifestyle). “You have to do these for three weeks before you see any improvement,” she tells me. Nothing is instant.” I left the clinic knowing this full well: I will never be Miss Universe material, not even if these zits go away, not even if I lost all the weight. I’m too short, anyway, plus too scared of doing crazy things, like have a mesh sewn on to my tongue to be at that level.

I will never be Miss Universe material and that is fine. A beauty queen is just one kind of queen. Maybe I’ll just work on being a literary queen.

* * *

Tweet the author @IrishDDizon.

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