No matter what country we come from the chances are we have heard about or seen a beauty pageant. All over the world beauty pageants are common place but when it comes to the amount of pageants and the importance attached to them, no single country can rival the Philippines. From the smallest Barrios’ in the remotest provinces through to localized events in metropolitan centers, then onto national and international events, beauty pageants are commonplace and form a significant part of Philippine culture.
To understand the importance of beauty pageants in Philippine society it is first necessary to examine their history. It is generally accepted that beauty pageants harks back to the 600 years of Spanish occupation in the Philippines. Within Spanish culture it was common place for the Spanish women to be paraded down the street in a sort of beauty parade. This parade would always feature lavish costumes, sumptuous food and generally celebrate the joy of life and femininity. From these elaborate beginnings it was not a big step to develop into the modern day concept of a beauty pageant.
Miss dreamland beauty competition.
The Spanish influence also defined the characteristics of beauty and these characteristics are still ingrained into Filipino society several hundred years later. For example what the Filipinos think is beautiful is often very different from what the foreigners regard as beautiful. The Filipino concept of beauty can be directly traced back to Spanish influence where they find beauty in characteristics such white skin, long aquiline noses, tall stature and even body hair. All of this is often accompanied by lavish ostentatious costumes and dresses. Foreigners on the other hand will mostly prefer the Malay look with darker skin and smaller bones. It is always interesting watching beauty contests judged by Filipinos as compared to those judged by foreigners. The two will normally have totally different results.
The frequency and importance of beauty pageants in the Philippines can be explained in many ways but I think the most generally accepted explanation is that women in the Philippines outnumber the men. When it comes to the ratio of women to men I have heard various statistics ranging from 5 to 1 down to 3 to 1. No one seems 100% certain what the ratio is but all seem to agree, here in the Philippines women outnumber the men. It is my personal belief that the greater number of women than men creates a sort of insecurity factor and as such Filipina women are well aware of the competition and at the same time relatively insecure about their looks. Entering a beauty pageant and obviously winning one offers great reassurance to anyone feeling insecure about their looks.
Traditionally contestants will parade in several categories including evening wear bikinis, casual wear etc. Pictured above are some contestants from the Maganda Filipina competition sporting their tropical attire.
It is my personal belief that mankind or in this case woman kind is competitive by nature and beauty pageants are a manifestation of this competitiveness. What better way to show your superiority over your fellow female than by being judged as more beautiful. In the eternal feminine jousting between females, beauty is a major factor.
The Filipinas have always been renowned for their beauty and femininity and these two factors are both emphasized in beauty pageants. Looking as an outsider it seems to me Filipino society like many others is obsessed with physical looks. Right from the start you will hear people commenting on a baby saying it is handsome or beautiful. This is a form of social conditioning and kids grow up inherently understanding the importance of physical appearance. For the women beauty contests are a chance to display their physical appearance and be judged against their fellow females. The beauty pageants in this regard provide a definition of female beauty as well as providing an affirmation that a certain person or a certain look meets the criteria of what is considered beautiful.
Beauty and feminine appearance have always represented big business and the acquisition of money. By far the most products sold in the Philippines even more than the basic food stuffs are female beauty products. From skin whiteners and nail polish through to silky shiny shampoo the latest fashion and women’s shoes the beauty industry is big business all over the world but particularly here in the Philippines. Beauty pageants are on one level a cultural event and on another level they are just purely a means of making money, they represent an entrepreneurial venture as much as they represent a cultural event.
Little miss no nose as she cleaned up in the Miss Blue Rock competition.
As a general rule of thumb the bigger the pageant or the more high profile the pageant then the bigger the money involved. On the small level the money will often take the form of a sobre collection. For example in many local schools a beauty contest is a means of raising revenue for the school. The children will be given a “sobre” envelope which is then passed around for people to put whatever extra or whatever spare change they have into it. Often the child that raises the most money wins the beauty contest.
In the bigger competitions such as Miss Philippines and Miss Binibining Pilipinas which are nationally televised the money aspect becomes very much more pronounced and the acquisition of funds goes to a whole new level. In the upper echelons of beauty pageants it is all about the sponsorship funds and these can amount to considerable amounts. Also it is not uncommon for serious amounts of money to be raised for charities. Like in America the charity business is big business especially when it comes to beauty pageants.
Contestants in the Miss Binibining Pilipinas Beauty Contest an event designed to raise money for charity.
As previously stated beauty pageants in various forms are a regular occurrence throughout most of the Philippines and on the lower level there are various cultural implications associated with each contest. For example they are nearly always political with the Barangay Captain his wife the local mayor and his wife all becoming involved. They represent both a chance for economic gain and a festive occasion. The beauty pageants give a sort of identity to a certain Barrio and the important people within that Barrio. All beauty pageants will have an organizing committee which is normally composed of the local power players and their various spouses. For the contestants the pageants represent both an affirmation of their physical appearance and a reinforcement of the cultural definition of beauty. The pageants also represent a chance to gain public exposure and maybe get an opportunity to move onto bigger and better things, the possibility of financial gain or perhaps just the simple enjoyment that comes from wearing a special dress for a special occasion.
Pictures from Miss Philippines 2008 beauty pageant
On the national level the bigger more prominent beauty contests represent the definite chance of financial gain and of course very valuable public exposure. In fact winning a beauty contest such as Miss Philippines is seen as a launching pad for a range of different careers including showbiz, politics, advertising, marketing, modeling, community leadership or even a career in big business corporations. Just as in the smaller local level the bigger competitions are intertwined with politics. For example there will be a Miss tourism and a Miss earth beauty contests.
Gionna Cabrera a contestant in Miss Philippines 2005 had her own web site.
As is clearly obvious the beauty pageant and its associated implications go right to the roots of Filipino society. They are off huge cultural and economic significance. In fact some enterprising foreigners have conducted their own beauty pageants with varying degrees of success but one thing they all have in common is economic gain. Two of the more successful pageants conducted by foreigners are the Miss Blue Rock contest and the Dreamland Leather and Lace competition. In both cases the beauty contests result in increased occupancy rates in their respective hotels and they provide the perfect social venue for foreigner men and Filipina ladies to mingle and have fun. Last but not least they represent a perfectly legal means of presenting available Filipinas to available foreigners. This is not prostitution and cannot be construed as such, this of course makes the girls a lot more at ease and if the truth be known many of the men as well. Another big event is the Maganda Filipina event which has even branched out into using other mediums such as press and the internet.
Contestants in the Miss Atlantis beauty pageant competing in the swim suit section.
Just like in American society beauty pageants work on several levels and are always a popular event. In the Philippines they are important on a cultural level as well as an economic level and when this is combined with the fact that women outnumber men in this country then beauty pageants take on significant importance which influences all levels of Philippine society.