With smiles and charming wits that could disarm the coldest of hearts, male pageant contestants command the stage donned in the slickest of suits, redefining traditional Filipino masculinity with every step. Despite such circumstances, male pageantry’s popularity pales in comparison to that of its female counterpart. This is primarily true here in the Philippines where Filipina beauty queens, like Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach and Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray, are household names—staples of pop culture—while pageant kings are rarely heard of.
On the surface, it may seem odd, as both types of pageants are celebrations of beauty and human talent. Yet the two occupy different spotlights, with female pageants mostly taking center stage. It does not help that, traditionally, men are expected to be rugged and uncaring about their own looks. Reimagining this perceived notion of disinterest is where the core of most male pageants lies, especially here in the Philippines. In an era of innovation and reinvention, Filipino male pageantries are paving the way for a newer and healthier type of masculinity.
Smile and wave, boys
Male pageantry is the showcase of the male form in its crowning glory where individuals vie for the title utilizing their natural charisma and good looks. Jethro Mendoza (IV, BS-CHE), who represented Ilocos Sur during the Mister International Philippines 2022 competition, clarifies that male pageantry is “not only limited to looks, but [also] how we should view masculinity and diversity and promoting (sic) one’s advocacy.”
Furthermore, male and female pageants may be cut from the same cloth but each has their own distinct patterns. But as Manuel Genabe—owner of BorGen Entertainment Ventures Company and chief executive officer of Ginoong Pilipinas—observes, a contestant’s physique and other physical traits are at the forefront in male pageantry. The ability of male contestants to piece succinct and meaningful answers is not as highly valued compared to that of female pageants. Nevertheless, both types of pageantry value such attributes of beauty, albeit at different levels of priority.
As such, before one grabs ahold of the coveted, prestigious title, each contestant must first go through a series of trials, such as having their appearances in formal wear and swimwear subject to the scrutinizing and often sharp gazes of the panelists. Personal interviews and final pageant performances are also a part of the nerve-wracking experiences these men go through in their pursuit of the crown—not that different from female pageants.
These pageants are structured in a way to ensure that, as much as possible, the winning candidate is the complete package—a shining example of what the organization advocates. While personal advocacies are commendable, they tend to only play a minor role in the selection of the winner. “The moment [the contestants] win the pageant, that’s the time they have to work in sync with the advocacy of the pageant,” Genabe calmly explains.
The making of pageant kings
Narrating his encounters, Jasper Neill Ong, who represented the Filipino-Chinese community in Misters of Filipinas 2018, mentioned how he stepped out of his comfort zone through his male pageantry journey.
Joining male pageants, he shares, requires a budget for costumes, diet plans, and other preparations. To ensure that a candidate looks his best, meal plans and workouts go hand in hand. Some do weight lifting and even cardio exercises, such as jump rope and running, to build toned muscles.
Male pageantry, Mendoza remarks, is mainly challenged by its representation. They command attention, as they influence how society perceives men and shapes the stances of the crowd regarding various subjects. “It is extremely cautious, critical, and crucial,” Mendoza says, that the pageantry inspires insights about masculinity, beauty, and values by deterring from objectifying and being too standardized.
Aside from delighting the audience with their charisma, pageant kings also commit to emphasizing a positive force in society, by reframing the narrative: that an empowered man is not fueled by domination and aggression. Mendoza states that an empowered man is “responsible, kind, and service-oriented”, while Ong adds that a pageant king commits to being a great role model.
Being a great role model inspires those that follow the world of male pageantry and tells them that their dreams of making it big in this arena can come true, although Mendoza remarks that connections are integral to success, advising aspirants to think like a businessman and that “you, yourself, [are] your proposal.” He also adds that building rapport with co-candidates, the organization, and the audience creates great influence.
By and large, the pathway to a pageant’s bejeweled tiara and golden sash carries a medley of trials; for any hopeful to succeed, a genuine love for the craft is crucial. Genabe expresses that it all boils down to the strength of one’s resolve. “You have to do it because of a purpose,” he firmly asserts. “Pageantry only becomes meaningful if and only if it gets to inspire the people that are watching.”
Testaments to this unwavering belief are the pageant journeys of both Mendoza and Ong. “I joined pageantry because I was so passionate about advocating for fitness and mental health, which helped my depression during the pandemic,” Mendoza recalls. In the same vein, Ong reveals how his platform at Misters of Filipinas enabled him to pursue his advocacy of youth empowerment. Fondly remembering a visit to a nursing home, he remarks, “It made me continue to visit and connect with similar organizations, [like] orphanages.”
It is in these experiences that Ong proudly emphasizes, “I am a better version of myself today because of the pageant.” After all, the very nature of male pageantry drives all contestants to reconnect with their identity as a man–a task that often opposes the traditional conception of what masculinity is. “We often perceive men in power to have the qualities aligned to domination and harassment,” Mendoza points out. Entering a pageant where one is evaluated under the female gaze starkly contrasts this supposed superiority.
Thus, Genabe posits that “Male pageantry is creating a whole new perspective of masculinity in the Philippine setting.” Every pageant workshop, interview, and runway stage showcases individuals who confidently reject the typical stereotypes given to them in the traditional and rigid gender binary–flaunting men who wear makeup, celebrate high fashion, and courageously enter an arena previously exclusive to women.
The handbook that society has written for men has always been centered on ambition, aggression, and assertiveness; nowhere is it articulated that they should be beautiful, too. From competition to competition, male pageantry has made it its mission to interrupt this calculated state of affairs. As such, Mendoza spiritedly declares that the vision of male pageantry is simple: “[To] re-empower men towards aligning [with their] real masculinity.”