Why beauty pageants are popular in the Philippines

Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 30 2017 05:29 PM

Outgoing Miss Universe Pia Wurtzbach greets the crowd shortly before the winner of the 65th Miss Universe beauty pageant is announced at the Mall of Asia Arena, in Pasay, Metro Manila, Philippines January 30, 2017. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

MANILA - Beauty pageants have become a popular contest among Filipinos, next only to their favorite sports, basketball and boxing. 

From local barangay beucons (beauty contests) to international pageants, Filipinos, here and abroad, have made pageants a part of the country’s cultural activities.

But when did the country's passion for pageants begin?

University of the Philippines-Diliman Arts and Letters Professor Jose Wendell Capili said the popularity of pageants in the country dates back to as early as the pre-World War II era. 

“It really began during the time before World War II. We had carnival queens to help promote Philippine products all over the regions and the carnival queen was supposed to be a side event but eventually it became bigger than the carnival itself,” Capili said in an interview on “[email protected]

Carnival queens soon became iconic figures, according to Capili, with some marrying into affluent families and others becoming successful lawyers, doctors and influential figures.

Beauty pageants became “institutionalized” after Filipinas began to participate and win in international pageants such as the Miss Universe and Miss International. 

The victories of beauty queens such as Gemma Cruz (Miss International), Aurora Pijuan (Miss International), Gloria Diaz (Miss Universe) and Margie Moran (Miss Universe) were followed by long parades from the airport to Malacañang with streets filled with adoring fans.

Soon, pageants become a business activity. 

“It was institutionalized and became a big source of livelihood. In Filipino communities overseas, there's always a Little Miss, Miss Gay, Mister and a Mrs., and it binds people together in some way,” he said.

Capili added that pageants become rooted in the national consciousness because government officials also encouraged mounting them in barangays, provinces and regions. 

“It becomes very deep into the consciousness of the ordinary people,” he added.

Missosology correspondent Ameer Gamama shared how he grew up loving pageants ever since the country hosted the Miss Universe pageant in 1994.

“I really love, enjoy pageants,” he said, emphasizing how “passionate” he feels whenever he watches one.

However, for women’s party-list Gabriela, pageants should not be an excuse to stray from real and pressing issues, especially with the country’s hosting of the 65th Miss Universe.

“Filipinos gaining somehow from this pageant, much remains to be seen. As far as the Miss Universe franchise is concerned, it's big business. It's profiting from the exploitation and use of women's bodies and beauties that makes the Miss Universe pageant thrive,” Gabriela secretary-general Joms Salvador said.

However, Capili explained that exploitation should not be attributed to pageants alone since different forms of it can happen anywhere.

“Whether you're in the corporate world, in the academe, or in the pageant, there will always be forms of exploitation of the good or bad people and pageants will not be an exception,” he said.

Capili said international pageant winners usually use it as a stepping stone to advance their advocacies and careers.

“National pageant winners who win initially have the strong potential to generate support for a particular cause. So, we do have several candidates who have used pageants as a stepping stone to relevant careers,” he said.