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Beauty pageants here in the Philippines are considered as an opportunity for the Filipino women who dreams to have a good life. It is commonly associated to a brighter future that comes to it after winning the competition. It cannot be denied that Filipino women are exposed to it at such a young age since it is a staple activity to every community celebration. May it be from the fiestas in barangays, to the international beauty pageants seen on televisions. Because of that, Filipinos are obsessed with beauty pageants and the privilege that comes with it.
According to Asilum (2016), the beauty pageant culture first started when Miss Manila Carnival Queens were crowned in 1908. The first Miss Manila Carnival was awarded to Pura Garcia Villanueva of Iloilo (Garcia, 2016). The beauty pageant culture of the Filipinos relates to the search of what best defines beauty; the longing of that concept to be actualized.
The Filipinos’ view on the concept of beauty also has its negative implications. For example, the women joining the pageant has to get the best body shape; in order to have that, they do lots of weird lunges and wiggling (Enriquez, 2014). They walk like ducksin ramps with books on tops just to perfect the standard posture that attract the judges during the competition. The love for beauty has been the sole reason why aspiring beauty queens tend to do all the most ridiculous things that they can do as long as these will help them accomplish their respective goals.
I believe that beauty pageants teaches women that instead of striving for career focused and academic success, they are shown that beauty is more important. It has led to a situation where women are pressured to follow the standards set by the people.
According to Dr. Mina Roces, a professor at the University of New South Wales who has focused her research on women’s history in the Philippines, noted that pageants are harmful for women because they promote unrealistic standards of beauty that only few can achieve. Height requirements and ideal body types for pageants is the reason since it fits a certain scheme and having that unrealistic standard as a stereotype for women, some people who don’t fit the “ideal” would feel less fulfilled as a person and as a woman.
It also affects the self-esteem of women which can be problematic. As Joe Rivera (2009) quotes Naomi Klein in her book, The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty are Used Against Women: “Every day new products are introduced to ‘correct’ inherently female ‘flaws,’ drawing women into an obsessive and hopeless cycle built around the attempt to reach an impossible standard of beauty.” Beauty contests became an avenue to objectify women, making a notion that there is a standard for beauty, which pressures the ‘ordinary’ female population to aspire for things that they could not realistically achieve (Rivera, 2009). The said case of objectifying beauty is unfortunately observable in beauty pageants, most especially in the Philippines.
These pageants imposes a very specific “type” of woman, and, in doing so, they invalidate and demean the majority of other women who don’t meet these requirements. It is this sort of objectification of women – of seeing women as sources of pleasure – that makes some people uncomfortable about pageants; and rightfully so.
Some people would disagree with the competition objectifying women because of the question and answer portions included in some beauty pageants. While I grant that this gives the contestant an opportunity to showcase themselves outside the physical realm, there exists a long-standing expectation of fumbling failure amid this segment of the competition, held by viewers and judges alike. Beauty must come hand-in-hand with personality and substance, or so we are told. This is why beauty pageants allot a question-and-answer portion to showcase the contestants’ intellect.
But why is it that, for a show that lasts 2-3 hours, only 5 to 10 minutes are allotted for the question-and-answer portion for the finalists? Also, they have to answer only one question. Whether they are asked to prepare rehearsed speeches or think of their answers on the spot, the mechanics of the show clearly do not give justice to the candidate’s intelligence, or their personality which cannot be deciphered through just one question. Five minutes of answering questions about world peace cannot compensate for roughly an hour of shameless catwalks, incessant photos and superficial modelling.
Defenders also argue that this can be empowering for women, many of whom may be genuinely proud of their appearance. In response to this, it is no denying that having a woman feel good about herself is a good thing–I am happy for them– but it still isn’t fair to let women compete with each other based mostly on their physical appearance. You cannot deny that these competitions has requirements that not all women can fit into; therefore outcasting most women that don’t belong to the sociatall view of beauty. I say we should find more meaningful ways to empower women, because certainly the effort and resources put into staging these competitions could be of better use.
In my opinion, the ideal beauty pageant and its contestants would then include more realness. I would want to see less fake breasts and injected noses and more truthful waistlines and body cuts; a realistic standard of beauty. I would want the industry to give their contestants a chance to show substance and a significant amount of their wit and character. It’s not just about having more questions, but also presenting sophisticated questions to the candidates.
If beauty pageants follow a more relative, just, and more forgiving system, it can change society’s perspectives in a way that would help them understand the true concept of beauty and provide fairness and equality to women. It would be able to show that there is more to women than physical attributes. We should stop pushing this notion into women’s heads because it would make them lose confidence or even spite their bodies. We each have our own identity and our own quirks.
Another way we can address this according to Roces (2018) is the realization of Filipinos internalized gender inequality, therefore being determined to resist it. Beauty pageants is a challenge for feminists so what we need to do is to give women a feminist consciousness– that it shouldn’t be just about beauty and physical appearance that makes a woman beautiful–to expand the definition of women. We should build a society where women can walk with pride for how they look. An environment where the most important validation women will ever seek will come from themselves.
In this position paper, I would like to argue that beauty pageants does not serve the purpose that they are trying to claim but rather enforces unrealistic standards of beauty to other women. That these competitions lasting idea that a woman’s physical appearance is the most important characteristic when determining her worth. It therefore contradicts the feministic perspective of empowering women. There’s nothing empowering about beauty when beauty is defined only in standards that are structured by society. A patriarchal society. Such as thinness, perkiness, youthfulness or being ageless.
In beauty pageants, it’s really more a display of the flesh. It’s the measurements. It’s the height. You cannot enter a beauty pageant if you’re short, if you’re a mother, if you’re pregnant. There are a lot of single mothers. You have to be certain things to be that kind of woman.
Beauty is so well rewarded in the Philippines, that beautiful women – and beauty queens – enjoy fame and power. People get prestige from having a beauty title. And every Filipina wants to be beautiful because it means she’s virtuous and she’s powerful. According to Roces (2018), there’s a connection between beauty and power. Only for the female. Not for the men. For the men, it’s virility and power that’s connected. This promotes unequal treatment regarding the physical attributes and perception between genders.
Building further on this point, the continued occurrence of these toxic competitions only serves to convince men and women alike that physical beauty is an acceptable measurement of a woman’s worth. Generations of young women, including the young women on this campus, are presently growing up in the shadow of a misogynistic president and his anti-feminist ideals.
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