THE RIGHT MOVE
In the heyday of Manny Pacquiao, a boxing match could lessen traffic anywhere in the country and get people off the roads because they were glued to their TV sets. Over the weekend, another event, the Miss Universe 2023 beauty pageant, proved itself worthy to be in the ranks of a Pacquiao fight as hundreds of thousands of Filipino pageant fans cheered for Ms. Philippines in her quest to take home the crown. When Celeste Cortesi did not make it to the Top 16, some major media outfits reported that she broke the streak of the Philippines candidates in the past 12 years.
This was where we saw the passion of Pinoy pageant fans who came to Celeste’s defense, reprimanding the media outlets that they were inconsiderate to blame her. After all, if pageant fans can feel as passionate as they do, what more the candidates themselves who trained for years in the hope of bringing pride home?
But why do Filipinos have such an ardent interest in beauty pageants?
Talking to pageant expert, Concon Siñel who has been a pageant director, trainor, and producer, he said: “It’s crazy how beauty pageants are deeply ingrained in Pinoy culture! Because of the prestige associated with winning, I know many parents and older relatives encourage their daughters to enter beauty pageants. Filipinos are exposed to beauty pageants at a young age because these are so commonplace. They’re a part of every community – every barangay, city, province, school or even private companies has its own pageant! As a pageant director, I know for a fact that national pageants are a multi-million- peso lucrative industry that draws throngs of sponsors – while highlighting Philippine fashion designers and make-up artists.”
Despite the evolution of beauty pageants becoming more socially involved now as compared to the early days when it was a simple display of beauty, there are still critics who do not see any value in pageants. Concon said: “I’m aware that there are critics out there who claim that an event where women are primarily judged on the basis of their physical attractiveness, particularly one with a famous (or infamous) swimwear portion, is completely out of date. However, I believe that the stereotype is in some ways breaking down. The interview element of pageants, particularly Miss Universe, now has so much weight that superficial beauty is not as important as it could have been many, many, many years ago. The just concluded Miss Universe in New Orleans is testament to this trend.”
He added that today's pageants place a lot more emphasis on encouraging and supporting women.
“Personally, as someone who has worked with many pageant candidates, I think the best thing about beauty pageants is that they can serve as a stepping stone for women to pursue bigger careers in any industry. Former candidates and winners have gone on to become lawyers, surgeons, diplomats, politicians and business leaders – and they all champion social causes that are important to them. One former winner, Miss Universe 1981 Irene Saez, from Venezuela, even ran for president of her country, having been elected as governor prior to running,” Concon said.
This year though, what’s more interesting is a woman owns and manages the Miss Universe Organization for the first time. Quite an ironic realization that an event like this for women was dominated and controlled by men before Anne Jakkaphong Jakrajutatip, the CEO of the Thailand-based JKN Global Group, took over Miss Universe. Anne is not a woman by birth, but is a transvestite woman which I know widens the diversity within the pageant itself. It is an opportunity to take a significant step towards creating a more inclusive and accepting society, but we must bear in mind that this is merely a small piece of the puzzle to promote diversity and equality in all areas of the pageant and society as a whole.
“I believe having a trans woman lead Miss Universe can help break down stereotypes and societal biases.
It can also serve as a powerful symbol of acceptance and equality, showing that all women should be celebrated for their unique beauty and strength, regardless of their gender identity. Additionally, having a trans woman lead a beauty pageant can also be a step towards dismantling the traditional beauty standards and allowing more diversity on stage. However, let me note that simply having a trans woman at the helm of Miss Universe is not enough to achieve true equality and inclusivity. I think it’s crucial to also have a diverse range of contestants. It's also important to have policies and procedures in place to ensure that all contestants feel safe and respected throughout the pageant,” Concon said.
Now that the world, rather, “the universe” is back on its pre-pandemic routine, Ms. Universe and other international pageants are back to its glitz and glamour, and hopefully, the renewed promise of empowering women everywhere to be the best versions of themselves.