I’ve always had a love for old school cheesy love songs. From Boys II Men to Usher to Babyface to Mariah Carey, you name it, and I’ll most probably tear the lights out. On my best day, I could even memorize the heartfelt monologues meant to tear jerk and tear our heartstrings apart. It’s the drama, the passion, and the emotion that pushes me to mourn a heartbreak I never had. Interestingly enough, it isn’t just me, but also the entire world; of course, Filipinos weren’t ones to exclude themselves from the narrative as well (even before it became cool).
For Filipinos, “drama” has been the best thing since sliced bread. In almost every major media coverage in the country, promoters would never hesitate to extract a contestant’s struggling family, medically confined loved one, or bitter heartbreak. It’s what fuels viewership, creates fans, and brings home the greens. While I find no fault in highlighting the same, this modern day drama therapy has gone so far as to become an unspoken pre-condition, sometimes pre-judgement, if a story or an individual is of worth—or not. This is me not watering down their urgency or belittling their struggle, but to regard such “tragedy” as a must before all other plausible, if not equally worthy, strengths to highlight bears one to question the saturation of this cash cow. And there has been no better example than the aftermath of our country’s Ms. Universe Top 10 finish.
With over 100 million people screaming from the Philippines and the millions more around the world, Rachel Louise Peters infinity walked her way to the competition as a clear favorite. In front of her stood other amazing women from all parts of the world, each having their own story to tell and their nuanced reasons for deserving the crown. When Rachel failed to break the top five, everyone started putting on their beauty pageant expert hats and tweeted away as to reasons why she didn’t make it. As uncanny as it wasn’t, what went on the rumor mill was her seemingly “uninteresting” and “uninspiring” story.
As subtle as they were clear, they would normally start off with, “What a run, Rachel! Always proud of you,” and end with, “Pero naman, why did you have to talk about the water and your business when you could have had an advocacy?” These self-proclaimed experts would highlight Ms. USA’s love for science and teaching or Ms. South Africa’s advocacy against sexual violence, and juxtapose those with Rachel’s love for surfing and entrepreneurship. I was appalled if not altogether disturbed with the choice of words coming from the very nation she was from. Albeit being half British, it was unbelievable, at best, for Rachel to receive such condescending and self-righteous comments from the very people who promised her support and loyalty.
We’ve regressed as a nation, and perhaps as a race, to judge human accounts on the normative good in the world. Helping, teaching, and inspiring others are divine advocacies in themselves, but to regard following your dreams and spreading kindness as inferior, plays much to the evil they were trying to prevent.
Rachel did have an advocacy: That was doing what you love and love what you’re doing. In fact, a look into her run in the Binibining Pilipinas pageant will reveal her intention of eliminating divisiveness in the Philippines and promoting a culture for tolerance. This isn’t to say that Ms. Africa’s remarkable account of being abducted and being held at gun point was unnecessary, but to use her as the standard by which others’ background should be treated, devalues the whole point of promoting a genuine and sincere advocacy. When intent is gone, its impact follows.
We jettisoned our favorite for a fault that was never hers. In fact, it was never a fault to begin with. Never was it Rachel’s doing to not have a “heartwarming” story for children or body positivity than that of Ms. Cayman Islands and Ms. Iceland. She was blessed to be born beside the ocean to a loving family, and it was there that she found her love for surfing. She opened a cafe where her heart was, and it was at that time where she felt she became another woman: A woman who fulfilled her dream. It was in that video introduction alone that one could feel the sincerity and candor of a woman the universe deserved.
I’ll be honest though, and say that she wasn’t my pick for reasons worthy of another column. However, it still has to be said that her advocacy and her passions were never shallow or unworthy of a Ms. Universe run. It sheds light to the reality of forcibly conjuring heartstring pulling anecdotes, even when you don’t need to have one. Amazing if you do, and equally amazing if you don’t.
And just when I thought I said all I can say, just wait for part two.