Redefining ‘beauty’



This year’s Miss Universe pageant was perhaps one of the most talked-about editions of the annual search for the world’s “most beautiful woman.”

Global chatrooms and online news highlighted the sale of the pageant’s franchise, noting that for the first time, the franchise owner is not a male-dominated corporate entity but a woman. Local Miss U aficionados, meanwhile, have not stopped discussions on why our representative to the pageant lost – not even making it to the top 16 – despite having been touted as the probable fifth Filipina to bring the plum title home.

Our view is that the latest edition of the Miss Universe pageant may have “redefined beauty” and had done that job well. This was the trend we first noticed in 2012. In this “redefinition of beauty,” our representatives to the Miss Universe pageant dominated the annual contest, winning two of the Miss Universe titles and several runners-up positions in the past 10 years while consistently capturing a spot in the top 20.

In redefining beauty, the pageant owner and organizers raised further the dignity and respect that the world accords to women. They had done away with some of the aspects of beauty contests which tended to present women as “commodities” and as sex symbols aimed merely at pleasing men.

For example, the so-called “vital statistics” of the contestants were no longer presented.

More, the most-applauded portion of the contest may not have been the swimsuit competition as it was in the past. Instead, the game-winning portions were those where the contestants were asked questions, where they thought on their feet and gave well-organized, crisply delivered on-point answers and where they wowed audiences with their intellect and profound perspective on current issues.

The questions required well-thought-out responses. One could discern which contestants were speaking from the mind and heart while answering a specific question and which ones were using a scripted, canned answer.

Even the nature and quality of the questions have changed. The traditional “what is your wish for humanity” questions which used to be answerable with “world peace” are no longer there.  They have been replaced by questions which sought contestants’ views and stand on politics, leadership and social issues confronting women.

In the past, it seemed that the questions asked the semifinalists and the finalists were primarily intended to test their poise and presence of mind in situations where they are put on the spot.

This year, the questions were clearly intended to understand the depth of the contestants’ understanding of, and commitment to, their respective causes and advocacies.

Beauty contest insiders say that the Miss U organizers have now made it a 50-50 share between personality and intelligence in the criteria for selecting winners.

We first noticed this trend when we were invited to be part of the panel of judges to select our representative to the 2012 Miss Universe Pageant held in Las Vegas. That year, we voted for Janine Tugonon, who was then a young pharmacy graduate of the University of Santo Tomas and who hailed from the small town of Orion, Bataan.

Janine ended up as the first runner-up. The title went to Miss America, Olivia Culpo, who was one of the hosts in last January’s edition. There were talks that Janine was “the top choice” to win the title that year, except that there was a quiet consensus to give it to the representative of the United States to help that country “heal” from the pains of a national tragedy – the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School where 26 children perished.

That notion cannot be confirmed. Regardless, Janine would have been an outstanding title holder. She had the poise, confidence, intelligence and looks which many contestants from various parts of the world in the succeeding editions of the Miss Universe pageant sported.

That “look” was of a beautiful person who is in control of her destiny and who knows she has the power to inspire change in the world.

The new owner of the Miss Universe franchise, Anne Jakrajutatip, explained the foundation of this trend.

She said, “on this stage called the Miss Universe competition, we can elevate all women to feel strong enough, good enough, qualified enough and never be objectified again.”

“Diverse cultures, social inclusion, gender equality and creativity could be a force for good,” she added.

She described her purchase of the franchise as a “new era.”

“From now on, it (Miss Universe pageant) will be run by women, owned by a trans woman, for all women around the world to celebrate the power of feminism.”

We like the changes and what we saw in this “new era.” We can only say “salute” and “respect” as we look forward to the next edition of this evolving showcase of women’s power.

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