"Are beauty pageants incompatible with feminism?"
As the Miss Universe Pageant unfolds today in Bangkok, Thailand, Filipinos are eagerly watching the nation’s candidate Maria Catriona Elisa Magnayon Gray as she competes against the delegates of 93 other countries.
In the preliminary events leading up to today’s competition—evening gown, swimsuit—Gray was a standout for her charming smile and fluid facial expressions ranging from sweet and sincere to seductive and sexy. But she captured the world’s attention with her now-signature moves.
In the swimsuit walk, wearing a fuchsia-pink bikini, Gray executed a slow spin while quickly whipping her head around, causing an amazingly buoyant hair flip. Fans dubbed this the Slo-Mo Twirl.
In the evening gown portion, Gray, her curves accentuated by a beaded flame-colored dress, seemed not so much to walk the runway but rather ooze across it, undulating like lava flowing down a mountain. This move, called the Lava Walk, was another hit.
The terms should be copy-righted. Both moves are so popular with viewers that videos are appearing on the internet showing Gray doing them over and over in a loop, as fans dissect each frame of movement and arc of motion.
Gray is seeking to be the country’s fourth Miss U titleholder after Gloria Diaz (1969), Margie Moran (1973), and Pia Wurtzbach (2015).
But each time pageant season rolls around, the debate on whether beaucons (beauty contests) advance or retard the feminist cause reignites. Are beauty pageants incompatible with feminism? They promote objectification and body shame. Many, if not all, contestants, have undergone cosmetic surgery, dental and skin treatments, and other invasive and manipulative procedures to bring their appearances closer to the culturally-imposed beauty standard which is Western in its ideals.
In the Philippines, contestants who are mixed-race with predominantly Caucasian looks have better chances of winning or placing, favoring those who’ve won the genetics sweepstakes. Overall, African- and Asian-looking candidates, particularly those who are dark-skinned, do not fare well in international pageants, pointing to the racism and lookism that are at the core of the events.
But the question of being pro- or anti-beaucon is complicated because of other factors that enter into the equation. One is freedom of choice—as some women may decide to burn their bras and eschew makeup, others may choose to enter pageants if they wish.
As suffragist Lucy Stone said in 1855, in a statement that cuts both ways: “It is very little to me to have the right to vote, to own property, etcetera, if I may not keep my body, and its uses, in my absolute right.”
Another factor to consider is national pride. With little to boost our collective spirits nowadays and much to dampen it, seeing our compatriots triumph on the world stage bearing our flag uplifts and inspires.
When it comes to global accomplishments, the majority of Filipinos are concerned with two categories—sports and beauty. Achievers in other fields—science, music, arts—attract less attention. Manny Pacquiao (boxer) and Wurtzbach get more recognition from the person on the street than Reina Reyes (astrophysicist) or Lisa Macuja (globally acclaimed ballerina). This reflects the battle between low-brow and high-brow, between the pop culture of the masses and high culture of the elites. Given this, putting down beaucons can be perceived as being elitist.
Pageant contestants, like competitors in other fields, work hard with determination to accomplish personal goals and achieve fame and fortune, albeit within an entrenched patriarchal system that rewards genetic luck and augmented beauty over skills, character, and intelligence.
In time this may change as we mature as a people. Certainly we must not raise our daughters to believe that their worth lies in superficial attributes such as appearance. Such an attitude is discriminatory, counter-productive, and demeaning.
But the fact is that at the moment Miss U is happening whether we object to pageants or not, and we might as well support our manok. Gray is a strong contender. Missosology on Twitter, which prides itself on having correctly predicted the winner of this year’s Miss World contest (Mexico’s Vanessa Ponce de Leon), held Dec. 8 in China, tweeted two days ago: “Miss Philippines Catriona Gray is Missosology’s Choice for Miss Universe 2018!”
May she of the Slo-Mo Twirl© and Lava Walk© bring home the crown!
Dr. Ortuoste is rooting for the Pambansang Muning, CAT-riona Gray. FB and Twitter: @DrJennyO