On 9th February, 2023, an intern, Yumna Amalia Maghfirah, presented about the Philippines Beauty Pageant industry and how it helps the country itself diplomatically and economically, and how the Filipinos support the beauty pageants. SEA CHAT #38 was attended by 13 Indonesian interns and 3 international interns from Myanmar and the Philippines.
The speaker started the presentation by explaining how the beauty pageant emerged from the ancient Greek and 19th century until the 21st century through different major shifts year by year. Later in the 1950s, this developed as decolonisation and rising nationalism. When the beauty pageant became an example of “women empowering women”, and with the purpose of using femininity to represent world issues and raising awareness for culture, the Philippines also applied this as national aspiration.
Generally, the Filipinos are obsessed with beauty pageants (as a result of Spanish- and American-colonised), and it is a part of Filipinos’ lives, even as a way to escape poverty and that participating and winning beauty contests will change their lives. The speaker took the case of Imelda Marcos as an example, whose family went bankrupt and grew up poor. However, when she won the local beauty pageant at the age of 18, she led a better life with Marcos.
The participants and attendees of SEA CHAT #38 discussed beauty pageant contributions in the global community and if it is a mere beauty showcase and entertainment. Moreover, the Philippines beauty pageant industry promotes national culture, specific global issues awareness, and establishment of inclusive communities. Additionally, it brings national branding (in terms of developing their own human resources and competing in a global contest to reconstruct their image as a “colonised country”), and boosts tourism along with diplomacy and advocacy (beauty pageant as an instrument to conduct public diplomacy and representing marginalised society and underground community).
The nation enhances the beauty pageant industry through national and social media, beauty camps (intensive training and efforts of everyone behind it), and there are several investments and sponsors from many conglomerates and corporations and companies which is beneficial for business companies at the same time.
The speaker then highlighted the part of the Filipino beauty pageant – not winning the top 16 placement during the Miss Universe 2022 despite the former candidates from 2010-2021 sustained the longest streak. It becomes questionable for the speaker to address the future beauty pageant industry in the Philippines. However, the global domination will not end along with their winning streak because of overseas Filipinos who established their own beauty pageant, involved industries (for example: fashion designers and make-up artists), and national culture and Filipinos who believe in the voice of the beauty queen and their obsession.
The session was a fruitful discussion from the attendees and participants could also hear the perspectives of a Filipino intern, and how the beauty pageant industry can be toxic in certain ways and how it is effective in terms of soft power diplomacy across the world, especially underlining the Southeast Asian region.
Written by: Phoo Wai Yan Myint