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The meshed and the mixed: The undefined meaning of Filipina beauty

A sparkling stage and a towering list of expectations, beauty pageant contestants are no stranger to competition. All that work and fight for a sash and crown, symbols of success to any aspiring Filipina beauty queen. The definition of beauty has changed repeatedly, from corsets to lip gloss to threaded brows—the interpretation of beauty shifts as quick as fashion trends fade. It leaves us at a loss at what counts as true beauty and considering our long history of colonization, what we think of as Pinay beauty has, of course, changed as well. We sat down with a Binibining Pilipinas finalist for what it really means to stand out as a representative from a country with a truly diverse population.


Up on the platform

The grueling journey to the top is rife with challenges. Training camps to learn proper posture and catwalks, studying and dissecting pageant questions, unleashing their inner beauty and confidence—every detail polished and perfected by aspiring beauty queens.  Determined to succeed, these women stand tall on platforms that put them under the scrutiny of the public, riding the waves of harsh judgment that come with the title.

As someone who is no stranger to the harsh, blinding spotlight of beauty, Larah Grace Lacap tells us of her memorable experience participating in one of the nation’s biggest and most prestigious competition. “The most memorable part of my beauty pageant journey [was] being able to meet different kinds of people because I [learned] a lot from them. From their experiences, life lessons, and even new things that will help me become better in what I am doing,” she shares about her experience of succeeding as a finalist for Binibining Pilipinas.

Moved with the passion to empower others and to use her voice so that the unheard can be heard, courageous women like Lacap march on stage wearing five-inch heels, their best smiles, and steeled nerves, with the intent of showing what inner beauty is. Lacap explains, “When a candidate starts to step out on a stage, you will see how this lady prepared for this from saying her name, up to the gown she will wear. Every beauty queen presents herself, and that’s how you will see how beautiful they are.”



Along the timeline

Stories are shared, questions are raised and answers are conveyed for the audience’s consumption. With the moment immortalized and captured by hundreds of cameras from every angle, the audience remains oblivious to the true question.

Following the initial query of “Does her beauty match the standards of the judges and of society?” comes the even bigger question: “Does the candidate successfully stand as an accurate representation of Philippine beauty?” The image of what “Filipina beauty” is has evolved through the years, with the once distinct set of features evolving and transforming. With Binibining Pilipinas participants looking more mestiza than “Filipina”, what truly is Filipina beauty?

Pearl jewelry, traditional indigenous clothing, and even skin tattoos—the beauty standards of old gave way to the image of Maria Claraesque women of the Spanish-Filipino elite, and until now they are still changing. Although, the penchant for Western features remain.

What the battle of Mactan and the infamous victory of Lapu-Lapu failed to do was close the country’s door to Western influences. Colonizers came one after the other, adding bits and pieces of their culture to the local Filipino identity. As the dilemma of having contestants with Eurocentric features for Binibining Pilipinas presents itself, beauty is at crossroads. Is real Filipina beauty the morena with “traditional” features, or mestizas with fair skin and high-bridged noses? Or maybe it is both, and neither?


Under the tiara

While the question remains unanswered as to whether or not these women are accurate representations of the current definition of Pinay beauty,
the speculation does not stop hundreds of aspiring beauty queens from trying. As the stage stairs are climbed, the entire space of the elevated platform is filled, and the different countries are represented, similar nationwide competitions like Binibining Pilipinas no longer becomes a competitive exhibition of facial features and physique, but rather a challenging showcase of the radiant spirit and soul the candidate brings with her onstage.

When asked about which characteristics would earn the highest points from her if she were a judge on the contest itself, Lacap states, “If I were a judge, I will be looking for a candidate who is confident, who can walk with grace, and who can handle the pressure even if people are no longer interested, because that will show how strong you are while being a beauty queen.” With the grace and poise that only a true beauty queen can possess, Lacap concludes that it is one’s character that determines a person’s true beauty.

Yanna Zhang

By Yanna Zhang

Kay Estepa

By Kay Estepa

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