The Race Towards Beauty

By Consul General Paul Raymund Cortes

What is it really that makes Pinoy’s go gaga over the international beauty contests? Are Filipinos by nature very critical when it comes to looks? Most ethnicities have pigeon-holed Filipinos into being extra neat, hygiene-meticulous, and uber-fastidious as far as grooming is concerned. We seem to put an inordinately high premium on the physical and exert more effort in making ourselves look and feel good. We spend time and money (most of the time, unnecessarily so!) on things that advertisers say would make us more beautiful, more appealing. For most Filipinos, however, our standards for beauty are most often skewed towards the Western perspective – fair and tall, traits that do not describe the typical Filipino. Our passion towards international beauty competitions, therefore, poses a bit of conundrum.   


Beauty tilts – per barangay, per town, per municipality, per province – even the Bb Pilipinas and the Miss Universe, Miss World, and all the other international pageant hooplas – are events Filipinos love to gather to. In my tour of duty in Hawaii, there was never a weekend where I didn’t get an invite to crown pageants organized by local associations – hence, Miss Ilocos Surian, Miss INCAT (Ilocos Norte College of Arts and Sciences), Miss Hawaii Teen Filipina, the list goes on and on and on. How then do we reconcile the seeming contradiction between our love affair with pageantry and our adopted perspectives of beauty, and the corporeal truths of most Filipinos?


Personally, I find it incredulous to bequeath to a few judges the right to determine who should claim the title The Most Beautiful Woman in the Universe (or Earth, or Asia, or the World for that matter.) After all, standards of beauty differ from person to person and for them to decide who the most drop dead gorgeous candidate is subject of much scrutiny and debate. It baffles me then that year in year out, town in and town out, wherever we go, Pinoys find themselves in the middle of heated exchanges as to whom we should field in as candidates to these pageants and who rightfully deserves to be crowned. Just a few weeks ago, whether or not the Philippines should host the next Miss Universe was debated over FB – one of the manifestations of how much the Filipino is agog over such events.


That most Filipinos put in so much attention to height as a major determinant of beauty is likewise quite a puzzle for me. It is a given that in beauty contests, height is what makes or breaks the dreams of those running for the title. Since early in life, I’ve been made to believe that height makes men and women attractive. The magazine ads say it all. Most models are slim, tall, square-jawed; never mind how they look, but almost always, the height does the trick.  The array of Philippine movie stars prove it – most are taller than average, as if standing taller than the rest makes one a more likeable person. They may not say it out loud but Bb Pilipinas obviously prefers taller candidates than the petite ones. Was there ever an international beauty queen who stood at 5’4” or less? As far as most societies are concerned, the shorter you are, the less attractive, the less stunning, the less likely you are to be called beautiful, the less of a queen or for men, king you are. Physically, the average Filipino is shorter than Caucasians or Africans or other ethnicities, and yet Filipino communities all across the globe celebrate local and international beauty stints, as if postulating whether or not our height really matters to the world as far as beauty is concerned.


Deep inside, I suppose most Pinoys would like to feel confident about themselves, but they need to be constantly reminded that beyond the physical, it is inner beauty that matters most. Our penchant for beauty contests probably mirrors our preferences towards certain criteria for beauty and how the rest of the world perceives our non-Western physical attributes. Perhaps there is this desire to prove to the rest of the world that predetermined notions of beauty as dictated by so-called prestigious pageants are feeble attempts at categorizing humanity as either pretty or not, appealing or repulsive, capable of love or not. Most of us have fallen in love with non-beauty queens, or men who are less than tall, dark, and handsome – and as such, we are perfectly aware that standards of beauty as normed by those international competitions do not eventually and essentially matter. Deep down, we understand and accept what it means to truly feel the ethereal glow of love, the ultimate element of our souls.


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