Despite controversy, the appeal of beauty contests does not wane

Miss U beauty pageant
Miss Universe beauty pageant

Filipino American Miss USA R’Bonney Gabriel clinched the 2022 Miss Universe crown, but suspicions are being aired against the organization that made her the new queen of the universe in its 71st year.

beauty pageant
Filipino American Miss Universe and Miss USA R’Bonney Gabriel —SCREENGRAB FROM MISS UNIVERSE TWITTER ACCOUNT

Critics are saying that the Miss Universe Organization, now owned by transgender businesswoman Anne Jakkapong Jakrajutatip, had a hand in Gabriel’s proclamation as winner. They point out that the Miss USA and Miss Teen USA pageants are also under the Thailand-based media group JKN Global Group, of which Jakrajutatip is CEO, and speculate that she might have rigged the results of the international pageant.

Jakrajutatip has branded these accusations as absurd.

Meanwhile, on the home front, there are calls for Miss Universe Philippines director Shamcey Supsup to resign and hand back management of the pageant to the Binibining Pilipinas Charities Inc. of Stella Marquez-Araneta.

Netizens were quick to portray Supsup and her fellow organizer Jonas Gaffud as the main culprits in the defeat of Miss Universe Philippines Celeste Cortesi in the Miss U competition held in New Orleans in the United States. They claimed that Supsup and Gaffud abandoned the Philippine candidate in the middle of the competition, especially when she failed to land among the Top 16 beauties.

Supsup denied this, saying that she had always been behind Cortesi, and that the latter did her best every step of the way.

But Supsup has yet to respond to the demand that she return the pageant management to Marquez-Araneta’s Binibining Pilipinas Charities. All she has said in that aspect was that the application for the 2023 Miss Universe Philippines is now open. 

In a recent interview with broadcast journalist Dyan Castillejos, Supsup said the pageant under her wing would be stronger.

Glitz and glamour

For all that, despite the controversy sometimes besetting beauty contests, their appeal doesn’t seem to wane. 

Or at least not in this country, where the pageantry of beauties, male and female—and yes, the LGBTQIA+ community notwithstanding—has been serving as occasion for pride for Filipinos since Gemma Cruz Araneta became Miss International in 1964 and Gloria Diaz became Miss Universe in 1969. They were the first Filipino women to have done so.

Beauty contests are one of the outlets of glitz and glamour, especially for those who aspire to climb the social ladder. They serve to enrich the sociocultural landscape of a Third World nation bereft of many privileges, and accord the great unwashed a seeming panacea—an answer to their vicarious longings for the wonderful and admirable physical traits of the human body, and, for certain candidates, for a passport to popularity that can lead to a new career, etc.

The list of beauty contests in the Philippines is long, and it seems like a new search is born almost every day. From Miss Philippines came Binibining Pilipinas and other competitions on the side that became promotional tools for certain products and programs. Remember Miss Magnolia (Dina Bonnevie was one such titleholder), Miss Caltex (Aurora Patricio and Elsa Payumo come to mind), Baron Travel Girl (Coney Reyes was a winner), and Miss Green Revolution (Charo Santos-Concio was once one), etc. 

Out of the Binibining Pilipinas winners, reps are sent to the Miss Universe, Miss International, Miss Young International, etc. pageants. Miss RP used to bring candidates to Miss World, but the Philippine franchise has been awarded from time to time to new organizations.

 Mutya ng Pilipinas is another beauty title to win aside from Miss Philippines Earth, Miss Supra International, etc.

For male quests, there are Ginoong Pilipinas and Mr. Maharlika contests. 

For gay beauty pageants, there’s Miss Gay Philippines or Miss Transnational, the winners of which also compete abroad.

And don’t count out the post-singlehood competitions for  Mrs. Universe, Mrs. International, Mrs. World, etc., which are also interesting stories to tell.

Molding aspirants

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Rachel Romero Ong

Whatever the nature of each beauty pageant, how is an aspirant molded? I remember the way a student like Rochelle Romero (now Ong) prepared for a competition like Mutya ng Pilipinas.

I was (and still am) close to the Romeros and the Ongs even when Rochelle hadn’t bagged a Mutya title yet in 1998. Her mom, Faye Romero, was a radio broadcaster at dzXQ, an AM station where we worked together but on separate time slots. The airwaves were our melting pot. We hung out together in malls or in her home.

At the time, Rochelle was still a high school student at Siena College in Quezon City, an all-girls’ school run by nuns. She recalled that she and her classmates grew up with nuns and were not exposed to beauty contests, but were able to watch the pageants at home on TV.  

Rochelle was already stunning then, but when she got to college at the University of Santo Tomas, she became more attractive, having managed to care for her skin, face, hair, everything. And she is a tall girl—an advantage in a beauty search.

She has until now the discipline to harness her personality. “I am an introspective person,” she told me. “I don’t depend on what good people say about me. I examine myself and make myself better than the impressions I give.” 

Rochelle’s training for the beauty contest was mostly by herself, with the help of her mother. “My Mom wanted the inner beauty to show, and not to focus on the outside appearance,” she said.

She also observed, both personally and on TV, the way Gemma Cruz Araneta and Melanie Marquez (Miss International 1979) walked and dressed. “I was influenced by their social graces,” she said.

Marilou Bendigo-Christensen —FACEBOOK PHOTO

Marilou Bendigo, 1981 Mutya ng Pilipinas, was also a self-taught beauty queen who relied on her own initiatives and on her friends, including, she said, certain fashion designers “who taught me how to act properly in public.” 

Both Rochelle and Marilou now live in the United States and venture into showbiz affairs when time permits. 

Boot camps

But these days, training future title holders are in the hands of professional groups such as Kagandahang Flores and Aces and Queens—boot camps for beauty queens. 

They command fees and don’t come cheap. One of them trains candidates for presence on the international stage, including walking, speaking, interacting with people from all stations in life, even handling oneself in the competition’s question-and-answer portion.

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