An elaborate display of women in shimmering night gowns and smiling faces is not new in any country’s colorful history. Women being paraded and gazed at because of their beauty isn’t an entirely new concept either but beauty pageants take it into royally new heights. With dashing beauties, harder question and answer portions, and exciting new twists, anyone and everyone can get caught up in the crown drama.
The Philippines is not a stranger to the crowns of the 4 major international beauty pageants. Just last year, Filipinas dominated the playing field by placing in the top 10 for Miss World and Miss International, and taking home the coveted crown for Miss Earth (Angelia Gabrena Ong) and Miss Universe (Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach).
In fact, the surprising plot twist of Pia Wurtzbach’s coronation only made the hype for this year’s Miss Universe much more fervent. The recent confirmation of the Miss Universe being staged here in the Philippines just adds more fuel to the fire of keeping the crown on a Filipina’s head.
On seeing the crown
Behind the flashing lights and the highest heels that pageant queens wear; even behind the organizers, judges, and sponsors, the fire of beauty pageants wouldn’t be possible without the audience and enthusiasts kindling the very flame. Whether on TV or a live show, the audience will always be there to analyze, criticize, and enjoy the spectacle that are beauty pageants.
Jasmine* (II, OCM) has been a big fan of pageants ever since Venus Raj’s successful streak in the competition. “Her performance really touched me because at that time, I was not familiar that women with darker skin color are considered beautiful.”
Jasmine cites that her experience of tuning in to pageants made her realize beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. “Yeah, it may seem putting women into stereotype, what with the height requirements and weight [requirements], but it shows you so many [facets] of beauty.”
“I find pageants oppressive, but I do like seeing the national costumes and the night gowns that they parade around,” Sam (III, ADV) voices. He thinks that it enforces the notion that women are only allowed to “rule the universe” when they are beautiful. Sam’s view on pageants is also influenced by his being a man. “I feel like it tells boys everywhere that they can judge all women they meet and that it’s okay to do that.”
When asked which part of pageants were her favorite, Carol* (III, AEC-IE) smiled and said, “The nightgown competition first and the question and answer portion second” The question and answer portion in most pageants are reserved only for the Top 5 Finalists, the ones who make it into the final leg of the competition. “I like it so much because that’s where you’ll see if the candidates are just beauties or if they also have brains as well.”
Behind the gowns and crowns
While the audience marvel at the glitz and glamour of awe inspiring display and ceremony pageants, the participants themselves go through their own series of challenges in this spectacle of beauty and intellect. Granted, participants may get into these with their own grandiose elegance, but taking the crown takes more than just looking good on stage.
Ysa Chong, an alumna and pageant contestant of Ms. Chinatown Philippines 2016, shares her experience in the competitive arena of beauty pageants. For her, participating in pageants was a dream that came across her by chance. As an events host, her exposure to all manner of events and pageants led her to an opportunity to be a contestant herself.
“I got tapped to host an ecotourism pageant earlier this year, but the organizers eventually asked me to join instead. I had always wanted to join pageants, but I just never thought I would fit in. Nonetheless, I went to the screening, and made it to the finals! Barely a month after that pageant, I made it to my second one, which was Mr. and Ms. Chinatown Philippines.”
To her, this was also a journey of self discovery and a means to share her perception of beauty. “Beauty is subjective. We shouldn’t feel the need to give in to the pressure of society to look a certain way. But more than just wanting to be an inspiration to others who are going through the same problem with self-acceptance, it was a challenge I took on for myself as well–to get to know myself more, and learn to love myself for who I am. “
While the audience sees only the magnificence and beauty of the pageantry, the environment backstage is a whole other story. Contestants prepare themselves in a multitude of areas other than aesthetics. Ysa shares pageant training goes beyond that.
“We basically had training workshops for standing and walking, Q&A, hair and makeup, personality development, and even basic financial management,” she explains. As a fledgling in this industry she had a difficult yet worthwhile time. “For a person like me who lacks poise, who doesn’t care much about fixing my hair and putting on makeup, and who can barely walk in heels, it was a bit of a struggle.”
They had to also prepare themselves mentally and emotionally in the coming days as these took their tolls on the participants.
“It’s so easy to get disheartened when you’re being judged based on your appearance. I think it really takes a psychological toll on some, if not many. There are just way too many things that go on backstage or internally that the audience doesn’t see, which makes it easy for them to make judgments. Pageant contestants have to be sure of themselves, or at least know how to filter out the negatives,” Ysa shares.
Despite being a competition, Ysa had felt the camaraderie contestants had for each other. While the tasks at hand were quite grueling for all of them, they had the heart to help each other out.
“I was fortunate to have experienced my first two pageants with people like them, because then the ‘competition’ didn’t feel like a competition at all. For instance, I’ve always had a problem walking in heels, and my feet would get really beat up. But I had co-candidates who taught me how to walk, and one who even gave me her foot cushions! They would help me curl my hair, put makeup on, iron my clothes.”
More than just a spectacle
A pageant offers a show and competition on beauty and grace, but it is also an avenue for people to share their ideals of what truly defines beauty. As society becomes more progressive people have begun to look deeper, past the flamboyant gowns and alluring exhibitions.
People like Ysa hope such a change will happen in the perception as well as mechanics of pageants. “Personally, I believe that we have to change some things about pageantry as well. I think we have to put more weight and importance on advocacy, purpose, higher values and the like, with beauty as complementary, and not the other way around.”
Like Ysa, people can strive for a far better and more substantial viewpoint on beauty, and not just judge based on one’s physical attractiveness. After all, beauty is found inside and out.