A couple of months ago, I had a newspaper article published in Balita Newspaper. I have decided to share it on my blog. Enjoy!
In terms of sheer popularity, basketball is the undisputed king in the Philippines. This is undeniable. From viral photos of locals shooting hoops in the middle of typhoons, to 12-part episodic CNN documentaries, the Filipino people’s unique love for the game has been well-documented.
However, a compelling case can be made for beauty pageants to be the second unofficial sport of the Philippines.
Deeply rooted in the Filipino culture is the concept of personal value and societal merit as evaluated through appearance and presentation.
How often are comments about one’s looks the first thing that comes out of a tita’s mouth after she sees you for the first time in months? “Oh my Gad, you’b gained weight!” might as well be the official slogan for Filipino family parties.
Moreover, guests have spent countless hours at Filipino gatherings listening to the hosts’ children play the piano, with their mom and dad smugly standing off to the side – as if the ability to play a musical scale is indicative of parental success.
Judging worth through a person’s exterior veneer is commonplace in the Filipino community, which makes beauty pageants the seemingly perfect competitive manifestation.'Oh my Gad, you’b gained weight!' might as well be the official slogan for Filipino family parties. Click To Tweet
The arguments for and against pageants and their place in a modern society are a whole other topic on its own, but as it currently stands, beauty competitions hold significant cultural importance and – for the near-future – are here to stay.
Filipinos are used to being put on display. And quite frankly, they are pretty good at it.
From an international standpoint, the Philippines have been historically dominant, having won each of the Big Four international beauty pageants (Miss Universe, World, International, and Earth) at least once in the past 5 years. Compare this to the Philippines men’s national basketball team, who have not qualified for the Olympics since 1972, and its clear to see where the country’s competitive edge lies.
Most recently, Rachel Peters finished Top 10 in Miss Universe 2017, securing at least a semi-finalist spot for the Philippines for the 8th year in a row. As stated earlier, Filipinos are no strangers to presenting a show of beauty, and the results of recent international pageants emphatically show this.Filipinos are used to being put on display. And quite frankly, they are pretty good at it. Click To Tweet
However, it is interesting to dissect the type of beauty that has gone on to represent the Philippines on the world’s biggest stages.
As a biracial model, from first glance, one may never have guessed Rachel Peters to be a Filipina. Her personality and disposition are that of a true kababayan (her college double-degree indicates an understanding of education’s importance, and her hospitable nature is expressed through a history in event planning), but Peters’ external appearance is far from that of a traditional Filipina.
A stunning beauty with a slim and pointed nose, rounded and full eyes, and a defined jawline, Peters definitely stands out in the Philippine crowd. However, when the majority of the crowd share features such as a flat nose, small and slanted eyes, and a rounded face shape, it is hard to argue the current Miss Philippines 2017 to be the best and most accurate representation of the country’s beauty.
While there have been several competitors who fit the natural mold of Filipina beauty (most notably Janine Tugonon in 2012 and Venus Raj in 2010), they seem to be few and far in between, with the “white standards of beauty” continuing to permeate attitudes towards appearance, pervasive in beauty competitions from the local to the international level.
This can have stark negative consequences on those affected, particularly those who do not fit these standards. Darker Filipino children are often told to stay away from the sun, or they will become “ugly”. Parents may pinch their child’s nose, in order to make it “grow” and become pointed. From a young age, these youths are taught that a person’s desirability starts with their appearance, and that there seems to be an objective idea of what “beautiful” may be. The popularity of products such as whitening soaps and creams suggests a societal need to cover up or make over into something less natural.
While Filipino society continues to fawn over the Eurocentric “mestiza” look, several movements have popped up, looking to empower those of traditional Filipino appearance. Actress Asia Jackson’s #MagandangMorenx selfie campaign serves to inspire dark-skinned Filipinos and encourage self-love and self-acceptance, while attempting to redefine the white-washed standards of Philippine beauty.
— Fiesta Filipina Dance Troupe (@FFDT_Canada) October 28, 2017
In the process of rewriting beauty ideals to include valuing natural Filipino features, one must remain cognizant to not demean those who fit the current Eurocentric template. Just as those who are born morena cannot help what genes they have inherited, their mestiza counterparts did not choose to be born with features that would eventually be socially beneficial to them.
Empowering one group, does not mean having to bring another group down. Rather, both must work to lift each other up and find a positive meaning of beauty for all.
It is fitting to conclude the conversation by coming full circle and to a topic for all Filipinos: basketball.
The NBA’s current dynasty, the Golden State Warriors, have completely changed the modern game. Their emphasis on ball movement, spacing, and shooting has forced teams to adapt their own playing style in an attempt to compete with the Warriors. Golden State burst onto the scene by understanding their personnel, playing to their strengths, and fostering their players’ development to emphasize their natural ability.
In that same vein, the native beauty of the Filipino people must be nurtured and combined with our innate ability of excelling when on display.
Would we rather live by someone else’s rules, or empower our team and play our own game?
If you’d like, you can answer this question as if it was drawn out of a bowl.