Philippines’ obsession with beauty pageants

President Duterte says beauty pageants such as Miss Universe advance women’s empowerment

Girlie Linao –
The suspense over who will be the next Miss Universe has people on edge in the Philippines, a country obsessed with beauty pageants, ahead of Monday’s coronation.
Filipinos have been in a frenzy for the past two weeks, thronging events attended by the 86 contestants.
Even the acerbic and tactless Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte was tongue-tied when the women visited the Malacanang presidential palace days before the finale.
“I wish this day will never end,” Duterte said. Outside the venue of the international competition, where a huge replica of the Miss Universe crown is on display, excited Filipinos have been taking photographs every day.
“It’s such a great honour that the pageant is being held here in our country,” said Regina Sanchez, who dropped by with friends during their lunch break.
“We’re not just celebrating beauty that is skin-deep, but beauty that comes from the heart, which Filipinos are known for,” she added.
Some of the spectators wore sashes with the countries of the beauty queens they support. Most were wearing a Miss Philippines sash, but others had Miss Thailand, Miss Venezuela or Miss Indonesia.
Fans have also expressed their support for the candidates on Twitter and Facebook. A Facebook page dedicated to beauty pageants in the Philippines had updates, memes and trivia.
Three women from the Philippines have won the Miss Universe title since 1969, including the reigning Pia Wurtzbach who won in December 2015.
Many are hoping for a back-to-back win, but former Miss Universe Gloria Diaz lamented that Philippine candidate Maxine Medina might not be successful.
“The host country cannot win,” Diaz, the first Filipino to be crowned Miss Universe, said during a television interview.
Diaz likened winning the title to taking for yourself a popular dish usually served at special occasions instead of sharing it with guests.
“I hope I’m proven wrong for the first time in my life,” she added. “I want her to win. I want us to be so proud, but you know, that’s life.”
Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo said the Philippines stands to gain from hosting the 65th Miss Universe pageant, the third time the South-East Asian country of more than 100 million people has become the venue of the contest.
“Everybody will be looking at us because during the contest, all the beautiful places, the destinations will be featured,” she said.
More than half a million people were expected to tune in to watch the coronation, which will be broadcast on Sunday night in the United States. Donald Trump, now US President, has dabbled in entertainment and media investments, including the Miss USA and Miss Universe beauty pageants.
Security has been tightened at the venue, the Mall of Asia Arena, where hundreds of police officers have been deployed and several checkpoints set up.
“There is no direct threat to the staging of Miss Universe, but we are not complacent,” said Oscar Albayalde, a regional police chief.
On Thursday evening, the 86 contestants showcased their national costumes in the preliminary competition.
Only six contestants will move on to the final question round. Judges will then choose the Top 3, who will be ranked after a “final look.”
Gabriela, a women’s rights group, has criticised the hosting of the Miss Universe pageant as “yet another attempt to package the Philippines as a lurid tourist destination for cheap, easily exploitable women.”
“Gabriela opposes pageants and other festivals that exploit women as these are tools to commodify women,” said Congresswoman Arlene Brosas, a representative of the women’s group.
But Duterte, who has banned swimsuit competitions in his home city of Davao where he was mayor for more than 23 years, said he believed beauty pageants such as Miss Universe advance women’s empowerment.
“More importantly, this is chance for you to make an impact, to inspire change, and even be the change that you wish to see in the world,” he told the contestants who visited the presidential palace. — dpa