All names were changed to X to protect privacy
“It only takes one look at the ongoing debates on Missosology and forums to see how keen the Filipinos are in winning next year’s Miss Universe.”
Oh, the makings of a beauty queen! A dash of perfectly straightened teeth. A pinch of long, toned limbs. Half a cup of wit and half a cup eloquence. All of which, capsuled in a towering frame.
It’s the age of the slow-motion turn and the famed lava walk. Catriona Gray has set the bar so high and pageantry fans are even more critical of the girls who will be joining the upcoming Binibining Pilipinas. Admittedly, she’s become the standard -it only takes one look at the ongoing debates on Missosology and forums to see how keen the Filipinos are in winning next year’s Miss Universe.
I walk into one of the leading pageant camps here in the country and what greets me is a bevy of stunning girls who have –as I previously discovered – long since placed a crown emoji on their respective Instagram bios in an attempt of not only being a beauty queen but THE beauty queen. It’s all heels no less than five inches, a striking two-piece, and of course, the stoic face of Sir X, the camp owner.
It’s 8 pm. Training has just started and we’re forced to straighten our normally curved backs and lift our shoulders in the midst of the duck walk. A voice shouts to endure the discomfort and do ten more rounds. It’s X, the basic walking coach. He looks up from his phone and sees my faltering stance. He’s just arrived from his day job, his eyes tired from the commute. No one blames him for his bad temper though, he doesn’t get paid to teach us how to strut until 1 o’clock in the morning; it’s a testament to his love for pageantry, really.
“She says she believes pain to be a means of actualizing what she’s been dreaming of since she was a little girl…”
The other girls push through, smiling despite the sore limbs. X, a fellow aspiring beauty queen who quit her job as a Disney princess in Florida is an example. She says she believes pain to be a means of actualizing what she’s been dreaming of since she was a little girl playing with her dollies. And of course, her mom has been a pageant fan for as long as she can remember. The physically strenuous task seems exasperating but for X, it’s the dream that’s her main driving force.
“Often I wonder how soiled and overused “I want world peace” has become.”
There is, however, a motive that’s different from the long since then dream. Others see pageants as a glittering ticket out of poverty. It’s shiny and doesn’t require much. In a developing country, trying out luck with beauty doesn’t seem like a bad idea at all. So, we’re all a bit pageant crazy. The endorsement deals and sponsorships start knocking and so does the money. As always, fame is interrelated with fortune –it’s how our favorite celebrities make a living and the same goes for the hailed beauty queens. Pageantry becomes a win-win. Often I wonder how soiled and overused “I want world peace” has become.
On a particularly chilly Monday, another mentor arrives. He introduces himself as X. We’re all in awe as he speaks, he’s a smart and eloquent guy. “Why do you want to be a beauty queen?” He raises his eyebrows at me. I don’t hesitate; I’ve always been good at flowery answers. At this point, I’ve been modeling while looking for a steady job to earn some extra cash. I answer, “being just a pretty face doesn’t bode well with what I’ve learned in school and I want to have a platform wherein my advocacies, as well as other information, can be successfully voiced out to the public,” adamant that in the Philippines, people give great importance to what beauty queens say.
“‘Kahit maganda sagot niyo, di kayo papasa sa presentation. It’s what really counts, girls.'”
He points at another girl and she gives an answer similar to mine. At the end of our spiels, he merely nods and says, “baliin niyo yung leeg niyo para mas convincing. Taas yung shoulders, mukha kayong maliit kasi. Kahit maganda sagot niyo, di kayo papasa sa presentation. It’s what really counts, girls.”
The role of the beauty queen: speak right, more so, look right. Despite the efforts placed in trying to give more value to what’s inside, it remains that what’s more significant is the outside. I’m reminded of my first encounter with Tito Rodg. He looked at me carefully, asked what school I came from and what I do. He smiled only after his serious appraisal and said, “Maganda ka, pero nose and veneers pa para perfect na.” To this day I’m left conscious about my nose and my teeth.
It’s a warped sense of belief; it seems true because it comes from an industry expert. At X Gym, during a private session, X –the official fitness trainer – agrees. “Veneers are basic for beauty queens, that’s the first thing they enhance. The nose is second.” He calls another pageant candidate, X, “You see, even she got her nose done.” She tells me to touch her nose, proud of how natural it looks and feels.
“It comes with being in the beauty industry – no one bats an eye if a girl had ‘work’ done.”
Likewise, in the camp, various talks about plastic surgery ensue. A beginner set is established: a rhinoplasty, breast implants, and of course veneers. For the full package, facial bone reconstruction and butt implants are added. It comes with being in the beauty industry – no one bats an eye if a girl had “work” done. But what happens when after everything retouched and enhanced, she still doesn’t quite make the cut? X answers, “At least, diba? Perfect na ako,” all the while smiling at her reflection in the mirror.
What do these beauty pageants really signify? I’m asked a terrifyingly probing question by a journalist from Coconuts PH – a question that makes me falter as I try to recollect which part of being judged mainly for how I look is empowering. Maybe the fact that it’s something I chose for myself.
“A point to consider: who decides my worth anyway? Or any of the girls’?”
Yet there’s little empowerment in succumbing to insecurity and effectively changing yourself in the process of attaining perfection. A point to consider: who decides my worth anyway? Or any of the girls’? Is it those men and women sitting and whispering behind the judge’s table? When had it been okay to offer my whole exterior in a platter saying, “watch me walk, judge the way I look, then tell me if I’m good enough?” I leave perfection to Catriona Gray. She does it best.
As I walk out of camp, a voice inquires: am I ever going to be good enough? I fiddle with my phone. In a second I pull up my Instagram and edit my bio. I stare at the queen emoji, then, easily placed and now, easily deleted.