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Walking The Ramps Of A Beauty Pageant

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Autor:  anton  22 December 2010
Tags:  Walking,  Beauty,  Pageant
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Walking the Ramps of a Beauty Pageant

Christopher Lowell once said, "Beauty is not skin deepВ…." but is it really so with the exposure of today's generation to media's promotion of their own concept of beauty? Turn on the television and see that most commercials, especially those selling beauty products such as Ponds, Skin White, and Gilette for Women, are endorsed by thin, tall, pimple-free, smooth-legged and fair to white-skinned women. Flip pages of fashion magazines, see fashion shows and discover that models are of the same description. The same goes for beauty contestants in a beauty pageant, wherein there are set standards with regard to one's physical attributes before parading oneself onstage. Certainly, one cannot be called a beauty queen without at least being 5 feet and 5 inches, in a Binibining Pilipinas beauty pageant ("Become"), and not have her vital statistics broadcasted while modeling in a swimsuit. Although beauty pageants, such as the Miss Universe and the Binibining Pilipinas, as a whole supposedly celebrate beauty and femininity, empower women, and give equal importance to women's intelligence and physical beauty, they actually only highlight a narrow-minded or limited standard of beauty and femininity, reduce women to the status of commodity, and emphasize only on physical beauty.

The purposes, then, of this paper is to show that through beauty pageants, women are made to accept the concept of beauty as only physical, physical beauty is given much emphasis compared to a woman's intelligence and women are being objectified, all of which will be achieved through presentation of the pros and cons of beauty pageants.

Through the Years of Beauty Pageants

Many people have been tuning in to the television broadcasting of beauty pageants both locally and worldwide. Among the prestigious beauty pageants, the Miss Universe is the most watched by children, adolescents, adults, men, and women alike.

In 1952, the Miss Universe Beauty Pageant had its debut in Long Beach California, in which the Philippines was already one of its participants (Romulo 24). Since then, the Philippines has been joining the said pageant every year and is proud to have had the Miss Universe crown twice with the victory of Gloria Diaz in 1969 and Margie Moran in 1973. To qualify to be a representative participant in the Miss Universe Beauty Pageant, one must first win the title of Miss Universe in her own country's local beauty pageant, which in our case, is the Binibining Pilipinas Beauty Pageant.

For over half a century, many people have been fondly watching these pageants with striking awe and admiration for the beauty of women and their bodies. For most males who watch such pageants, they just enjoy the pleasurable sight of beautiful women especially in swimsuits that bare the women's skins. For females, however, some simply watch for the sheer enjoyment they get from it, some watch to genuinely admire and to compare the beauties around the world, and some watch just to satisfy their curiosity who the year's Miss Universe will be.

As one of those avid viewers, through the years of watching beauty pageants, I have grown curious of why the participants have to meet a certain height requirement and why there seems to be no plump women among the candidates. I once dreamed of becoming one of the beauty queens put on a pedestal, but that dream vanished with the realization I could never be one with my height being a hindrance. It made me wonder, "Does one have to be tall and thin in order to be beautiful and be crowned a beauty queen?" Surely, some of those million other people who periodically watch beauty pageants have, at one time or another, ask themselves a similar question. How, then, is the concept of beauty projected and how is femininity celebrated in beauty pageants?

Projection of Women's Beauty and Femininity

Beauty pageants are said to celebrate beauty and femininity as contestants are "to embody the highest ideals of femininity (Veneracion 24)" through chances of showing off commendable communication skills, voicing out women's opinions, visions and ideals, as well as their well-shaped bodies. Viewers admire not only the beauty of these women (Caruncha 12), but also the ability of these women to carry themselves as representatives of their respective regions and country as well as being ambassadors of good will. Women from different locations come together, interact, and act as bridges to unite and form friendships among different nations (Ople 23). With this, women have indeed, as compared to centuries back, become highly regarded today and are given much respect and importance in today's society.

The concept of beauty, though, has evolved as the eras have changed. In the olden times, such as the time of Julius Caesar, beautiful women were perceived to be those who were chubby or healthily plump such as the goddesses and the women who modeled for paintings (Monsalud). Today though, the perception of beauty is nothing like that of the olden times. Rather, it is quite the opposite. Pennie Azarcon-De La Cruz, author of "The Plain, the Pretty, and the Real: Good looks and other variations" from Sunday Inquirer magazine, shares that beautiful women today in beauty pageants are considered to have a 36-24-36 body figure, an almost towering height, smooth skin, long legs, and straight, white teeth. These are standards aren't there before, but now many women are drawn to meet these standards, almost desperately, in order to be called beautiful (4). Who, then, made and set these standards of beauty? In the beauty pageant setting, of course, the organizers are the ones who set such standards. In the real world setting though, it is actually society who has done so and the Philippines, having been colonized for years by Westerners, is one country whose society and culture is greatly influenced by them. Thus, Filipino women adhere to the dictates of the West of what beauty is, which is implied in fashion magazines, commercials, and other forms of media (Chapkis 40). With all these and having the Miss Universe first launched in the United States, our own versions then of such beauty pageants have patterned their standards with the beauty standards of the West (Candor 3-4).

The adherence of our women to such dictates is due to the need to be accepted by others, achieved through "conformity to peer group standards and practices" (Furman 49). Furman further shares that many women, indeed, see themselves as beautiful only when others perceive them so. According to Ms. Jovie Anne H. Monsalud, a psychologist, people conform to such standards and seek acceptance from others because they, in themselves, lack self-acceptance. With the emphasis of how women should look like through the standards in beauty pageants, many women, then, who are having a difficult time accepting themselves for what they naturally look like, are pressured to follow such standards through working out, cosmetic surgery, radical diets, and consumption of various beauty products and growth enhancers (Urla and Swedlund 397), which have all been made to seem normal by the interplay of today's society and culture (424). However, even with such remedies for their physical imperfections, many women could not get to look exactly like those beauty contestants thus, instead of feeling more attractive and confident, and gaining a higher self-esteem, many of these women feel otherwise. Clearly, we see restrictions as though they are laws to be implemented in the beauty of women with the existence of such beauty contest standards.

In addition, such restrictions on the concept of beauty are emphasized with the swimsuit category of the beauty contests. That segment of the Miss Universe Beauty Pageant is said to project the "total woman" (Ortega 31) but does it really do so? Certainly, the totality of the woman does not only comprise of the visibility of her complete physical attributes. Though Ortega points out that the judgment of the swimsuit competition is based on how one projects herself and exudes confidence in a swimsuit, it is still not sufficient enough to say that the said segment is, indeed, to project the total woman since the segment only shows more of the external features of the woman and fails to show so much of the inner beauty a woman has. A woman, in herself, is a complex being that it is hard to project her totality just by modeling and parading in a swimsuit.

Women Empowerment vs. Objectification of Women

Many have claimed that women's status have been elevated with the bloom of beauty pageants. In the article "Beauty Contests Alive, FlourishingВ… and Relevant?", testimonies of past candidates, such as the first Bb. Pilipinas winner, Myrna Panlilio-Borromeo, have been taken saying that joining beauty pageants have developed their self-confidence. By joining these pageants, women are able to pursue the careers they want to pursue as they meet new people, some of whom are actually important, influential people who are possible contacts, says Jackie Maniquis, chief operating officer of Alleje, Maniquis and Associates (17). With the winning of a crown or a title, women are given the chance to travel, discover other cultures, meet more people, and promote her representative country (Medina, 1+). Even Dr. Sylvia Guerrero, a feminist sociologist at the University of the Philippines, says that "В…many women do find them an opportunity for mobility (qtd. In Datinguinoo, 43)." This has actually become a big stepping stone for women since women in the past centuries were not allowed to travel, let alone voice out their own thoughts and opinions. Other women weren't also allowed to show so much skin to the public to keep the value of conservativeness present in the cultures of their country. Today, however, women from conservative countries, such as the Philippines, now confidently glide onstage in a swimsuit and high heels with more than a million eyes staring at them. Through these, we see a streak of women empowerment in these beauty pageants.

Looking through another side of it, however, women in beauty pageants have just become mere objects not only to satisfy the thirst of men for seeing women's long, smooth legs in swimsuits, but also to indirectly sell beauty products (Caruncha 11). Gabriela, one of the radical feminist groups in Manila, strongly agrees with itВ—that women in beauty pageants are, indeed, being objectified, and this objectification is described as "В…demeaning the female body (Ople 23)." As Nelia Sancho, coordinator of the Asian Women's Human Rights Council and chair of the BAYAN women's desk, puts it, "It dehumanizes the woman if you liken her to a commodityВ…. as defined by consumer culture" (Caruncha 11). With the lavish preparations made for the beauty pageants that attract interest in millions of women to see the unveiling of the year's crowned beauty queen, the projection of women as having to fit the standards mentioned earlier is magnified and subconsciously implanted in the viewers' minds thus, stimulating them to buy various beauty products and services in order to satisfy their "need" to see oneself look utterly beautiful with compliance to the said standards.

The concept of beauty here, being only a limited standard of beauty and femininity since it has restrictions, is sold out to viewers of beauty pageants as qualified beauty contestants, with the "right" body image due to having met the standards, walk the ramps of a beauty pageant. To emphasize this, Vinia Datinguinoo, author of "Fatale Attraction: the Pinoy Love Affair with Beauty Pageants" from Filipinas says, "There are many theoreticians who say that beauty pageants are nothing more than a tool of patriarchy, and that much of what is being sold in beauty pageants via cosmetics, clothes, body, images and competitions is a dominant European American standard of femininity for women" (Datinguinoo, 52+). With this, the use of women as mere objects has become evident.

A Question of Equality between Intelligence and Physical Beauty

Beauty Pageant organizers protest that beauty pageants give equal importance to women's intelligence and beauty as "the criteria have also broadened to encompass intelligence, character, and public spirit (Ople 23)" when they are bashed by critics saying that there is too much emphasis on physical beauty when such thing actually does not last (Meily 20). How much percentage is actually allotted for the women's intelligence and for the women's physical beauty? Certainly, there is an apparent difference.

An avid viewer cannot deny that beauty pageants tend to overemphasize on physical beauty more than other aspects of one's femininity (Meily 20). Though there is an allotted segment to test the participants' intelligence, usually named the Question and Answer portion wherein a contestant is supposed to briefly answer a given question spontaneously, it is nothing compared to the number of segments allotted that focus on women's physical beauty. Such segments of the beauty pageant are the Swimsuit Competition and the Evening Gown Competition. It can also be noted that before one is qualified to join the pageant, the applicant must meet the given standards, which are partly comprised of standards that give regard to one's physical appearance. No matter how intelligent one is, even if she is as smart as Einstein, she would not qualify as a beauty pageant participant if she is less than five-foot-five-inches, at least in the Binibining Pilipinas Beauty Pageant. Certainly, one's intelligence quotient is not a factor on a woman's way to reaching her dream of becoming a beauty queen as there are no exams to be taken to test a woman's intelligence for qualification into the pageant. Here, we see an obvious inclination of beauty pageant organizers, and probably of the society as well, to women's physical beauty rather than to their intelligence.

Beauty in its Truest Sense

Through the years, beauty pageants have indeed been an interesting phenomenon. The fascination of many people, mostly women, for them has become hand-in-hand with its unfortunate blinding effects to its viewers. Beauty pageants have projected a distorted concept of beauty as it limits what beauty should be about and how one should look in order to be called beautiful. Beauty as projected by beauty pageants is only physical, which is given more importance than the beauty of the mind. In addition, the physical beauty of women have been used to not only to satisfy the interest of most men but as well as to serve as indirect advertisers of beauty products and services, therefore treating women as mere objects.

The concept of beauty as only being physical definitely does not encompass a woman's femininity. As Anita S. Meily would put it, "The true essence of her beauty is a woman's femininity, her graciousness, kindness, modesty and spirituality (20)." Women cannot continue trying to meet the standards set by society to fill in their own physical imperfections because more often than not, most of them will not succeed in looking like those thin and tall beauty queens.

Instead, they should just come to understand the true essence of beauty. Real beauty lies within each of these women's hearts, dreams, ideals, aspirations. It surpasses physical beauty, encompasses one's intelligence and character, and banks on the goodness of each one. In agreement to Eric S. Caruncha, a woman does not have to be tall and thin, or even pretty, to be called beautiful or even become a beauty queen (11). It all really boils down to acceptance of one's self, how one perceives herself to be, and how one copes with the pressures of society (Monsalud). With the acceptance of who and what oneself is, there one can feel beautiful and be a beauty queen in one's own eyes.

Works Cited

Azarcon-De La Cruz, Pennie. "The Plain, the Pretty, and the Real: Good looks and other

variations." Sunday Inquirer Magazine 15 May 1994: 3-5.

"Beauty Contests Alive, FlourishingВ… and Relevant?" MOD 14 April 1989: 16-17.

"Become a Binibining Pilipinas." Binibining Pilipinas 2004: The Official Website.

Binibining Pilipinas Charities, Inc. 2004 25 September 2004

Candor, Janneth L. "Effects of Television Body Image Advertisements on Women's

Perception of Body Types." M.A. thesis, Ateneo de Manila University, 1997.

Caruncha, Eric S. "Beauty Contest Blahs." Sunday Inquirer Magazine 8 March 1992:


Chapkis, Wendy. Beauty Secrets: Women and the Politics of Appearance. Boston:

South End Press, 1986.

Datinguinoo, Vinia M. "Fatale Attraction: the Pinoy Love Affair with Beauty Pageants."

Filipinas May 2001: 42+.

Furman, Frida Kerner. Facing the Mirror: Older Women and the Beauty Shop Cultures.

New York: Routledge, 1997.

Meily, Anita S. "The True Essence of Beauty." Philippine Panorama 22 May 1994: 20.

Monsalud, Jovie Anne H. Personal Interview. 20 September 2004.

Ople, Blas. "Thoughts on Beauty and Power." Philippine Panorama 22 May 1994: 23.

Ortego, Kitch. "To Project the Total Woman." Philippine Panorama 22 May 1994: 31.

Romulo, Beth Day. "Miss Universe in the Philippines." Philippine Panorama 22 May

1994: 24-25.

Swedlund, Alan, and Jacqueline Urla. "The Anthropometry of Barbie: Unsettling Ideals

of the Feminine Body in Popular Culture." Feminism and the Body. Ed. Londa

Schiebinger. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Veneracion, B.G. "1994 Mutya ng Pilipinas: Beauty and the Beastly." Philippine Free

Press 30 April 1994: 24-25.

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