By Clement Mesenas
Megan Young’s success at the glittering finale of the Miss World pageant in Bali on September 28 could not have come at a more opportune time to cheer her countrymen.
For weeks they had been sickened by “pork barrel scandal” reports which revealed how their political leaders had been enriching themselves to the tune of billions of pesos, feeding at the national trough over the last decade with impunity.
Filipinos can and have been taking the natural calamity of typhoons and earthquakes in their stride. The horrors of the Zamboanga conflict – a three-week-long clash between Muslim fighters and the military resulting in the loss of numerous lives – made them mourn their misery.
Things could have been worse.
But Filipinos will tell you, with a shrug and a grin, that that that’s life in the Philippines.
They will stoically agree with the country’s Tourism Department sales slogan, “It’s more fun in the Philippines”, even while wading through perennial floods in the capital to get to work.
Young’s triumph, it could be said, reflects their never-say-die spirit. Vice President Jejomar Binay was quick to exult over her Miss World victory as “proof of the beauty and excellence inherent in the Filipino people”.
“Amid the many issues our country is facing today, Miss Young’s victory is a candle of hope that assures us we will pull through,” he said.
Politicians in the Philippines never fail k to seize the opportunity to ride on the triumphs of their beauty queens and sporting champions. And the man in the street – with childlike candour – is willing to forget the trials and tribulations of life and bask in the fleeting limelight generated by stars like Megan Young. Don’t forget also how the entire Philippines, well almost, comes to a halt when boxing icon Manny Pacquaio gets into a Las Vegas ring.
First Filipina Miss World
Young made history — she not only bagged the Miss World title, which had been eluding the Philippines, but she also put her country on the podium for being the first to win in five major international beauty pageants.
While Brazil was the first to win the “Big Four” – Miss World, Miss Universe, Miss International, and Miss Earth – and Venezuela is the “most successful” with 19 victories from the four pageants, the Philippines holds the record for winning five major pageants, including Miss Supranational.
Miss Supranational? Well, it’s not included in the Big Five, but who cares.
After Young’s historic win as Miss World, the Philippines now has nine title holders from the five pageants, following Venezuela’s record of 19 and United States’ 14.
Beauty pageant pundits will no doubt proclaim that the era of the dusky beauty queen has begun. Young is a morena, a brown-skinned woman not as highly regarded as her fair-skinned mestiza sisters. Mestizas somehow rank higher in the beauty stakes in the Philippines just as they are in South America, despite the fact that the majority of Brazilian women are dark-complexioned. But Young’s success – coming so closely on the heels of the new Miss America Nina Davuluri, a dark beauty of Indian origin – might signal the end of the reign of the mestiza queens.
Skin apart, Filipino beauties are often expected to do well in beauty pageants. Young was tipped to win the Miss World contest. Still, as millions of Filipinos viewers held their breath around the world, the winner could have been any of the other finalists. There was the sexy Marine Lorphelin of France, the classy Navneet Dhillon of India, the statuesque 6ft 1.5in Carranzar Shooter of Ghana.
So did Young win because of her exotic looks, her well-defined curves? Or was it her ability to speak English – which she does very well although her detractors might say so what, she has an American father? In fact, some of them are already saying that she is more American than Filipino as if to say that she would not have won if she was a “pure” Filipino. Truth be told, many Filipinos are well and truly mixed – the blood of their Malay ancestry blended with that of European and other Asians. The Chinese have been trading with the Philippines for close to 1,000 years. In the last 500 years, the 7,000 and more islands of the Philippines have absorbed various foreign influxes– from Spanish to American, and Arab.
The Filipinos themselves have spread to all corners of the world – from America to the Gulf and Africa, all 10 million of them forming part of the Great Filipino Diaspora. Their resulting offspring is a delightful fusion of the West and the East and several races in between.
Filipina beauty contestants
But we must not overlook the natural desire of the Filipino woman to always want to look beautiful and her propensity to want to put her beauty to the test by taking part in beauty contests. It’s embedded in her genes, as some pundits might say.
Helen Rillera, a writer, puts it this way: “No matter how modest a Filipina may be, there is always that natural something in her heart that craves for flattery and attention. These, she is given aplenty, and in a short time, her name is on the lips of many Filipinos from city to city. The popularity and beauty contests all help to herald her name more and more to her people.”
But this triumph is often short-lived, says Rillera, as men are too selfishly interested in their own pleasures to give thought to the poor girls’ sentiments and sacrifices.
She wrote this essay while she was a student in the United Sates in the 1930s. Have things moved forward for the Filipina – beautiful though she may be – now that decades have passed since Rillera wrote her lament? One wonders.
Cory Quirino, the organizer of the Miss World pageant in the Philippines, says she is pleased with Young’s humility despite her “high-profile” showing in the run-up to the finale in Bali. “She’s the favorite of the media, but you can see it hasn’t gone to her head,” says Quirino.
Young herself cites the “values” attached with Miss World as a charitable organisation.” Miss World embodies the beauty in giving, and I think I have a lot to offer when it comes to that,” she says.
Young says she identifies with the message that the Miss World pageant projects about the diverse kinds of beauty. “I think it inspires younger women to embrace the beauty that they have, whether you’re tall or short, whether you’re big or you’re thin. You know, we’re not just beauty and looks. We can also fight and be as strong as men are.”
On her part, Young thanked her supporters – as well as her critics. “Thank you for the hugs, thank you for being mean to me, thank you for understanding, thank you for misunderstanding, thank you for caring, thank you for not giving a damn, thank you for the love and affection. Thank you, thank you, thank you,” she wrote.
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