We have a new queen in the running to be the next Miss Universe after Beatrice Gomez of Cebu City won the title last night, Sept. 30. We’re definitely looking forward to seeing how the openly queer beauty queen can inspire Filipinos in local and international stages.
This year’s pageant was a tough fight. There were several strong candidates, including runners-up Miss Cebu Province Steffi Rose Aberasturi, Miss Taguig Katrina Dimaranan, Miss Cavite Victoria Vincent, and Miss Pangasinan Maureen Wroblewitz. Among the finalists were personalities with large followings such as actress Kisses Delavin and content creator Ayn Bernos.
The finale was certainly entertaining, but was it able to truly empower? Here, Preen associate editor Zofiya Acosta and junior content creator Amrie Cruz discuss the Miss Universe Philippines pageant and its finale, and how the competition can improve in its next iteration.
Amrie: Is it just me or did the finale feel like a long elaborate ad? The show was exclusively streamed on KTX, unlike the public pageant broadcasts in the past. What I found more concerning though was the limited access to the show. I understand that the organizers want to compensate for the lack of live show tickets. But apart from toning down the scripted promotion, I wish that MUPH gave the candidates more airtime to speak about their advocacies concerning local communities and be heard by more Filipinos.
Zofiya: Definitely. I know all beauty pageants are essentially advertising with a side of competition—you can say that about any large-scale modern event really—but this year’s showing was especially egregious. All those breaks dedicated to the queens talking about their favorite online shopping purchase? Renaming Miss Photogenic to Miss Luxxe White Face of the Universe? (We should totally talk about this in a sec too because that’s hella colorist.) It truly felt like the ads had taken over the show.
Amrie: Yes, it’s definitely high time for the show to be more inclusive to women with darker skin tones.
Zofiya: Okay, to be absolutely fair, there have been recent morena pageant winners: Venus Raj, Shamcey Supsup-Lee, and Pia Wurtzbach. (And if you remember the 2010s, god the way people attacked Raj and Supsup for winning was so vicious.) But even though they were morenas, they still benefited by being tall mestizas who conformed to the Eurocentric beauty standards.
What we haven’t seen yet, and that’s something I talked a little bit about in my other story, are the morena beauties that Ayn Bernos represents. “People with very Filipino features are so underrepresented in our own media,” Andrea Atienza, a morena makeup content creator, pointed out. People you wouldn’t call “miss white face,” you know?
Amrie: We also have to mention the Shein sponsorship. It was a lost opportunity to partner with a local designer. Instead, the candidates wore fast fashion garments from a company that has faced backlash from artists accusing it of design theft. Isn’t there a conflict of interest here? Some of the contestants have environmental advocacies and are creatives themselves.
Zofiya: See, here’s my thing. They made two new titles this year, Miss Universe Philippines Tourism and Miss Universe Philippines Charity. The former seems like an acknowledgement of the need for us to champion our own country. And if the reigning Miss Universe can’t fulfill her duties, Miss Tourism can take over. “The promotion of tourism and involvement in charity are two pillars that the MUPH Organization champions. By having individual queens focused on these, we can further our cause,” the organization said beforehand.
That sounds good and all, but it also feels empty and meaningless. Neither Miss Tourism nor Miss Charity can compete in other competitions using those titles. And Miss U not partnering with local brands follows a similar vein. It just shows how hollow their advocacy for tourism is. Like, okay, let’s stan people from other countries visiting the Philippines but we won’t patronize our own companies, our own brands and creatives?
And this is more of an aside, but I honestly think that Shein being a fast fashion brand is an even bigger sticking point than their design theft. If anything, the latter is more a symptom of or a byproduct of it being a fast fashion conglomerate.
Amrie:Yes. Because of the choice of brand partnerships, statements from candidates and organizers on issues like body neutrality end up seeming like lip service.
Now, let’s talk about the swimsuit portion. I was not a fan of those swimsuits. I’m not sure when it started but pageant swimsuits in recent years have turned into glorified lingerie. They were a far cry from the garments worn by the candidates for their swimsuit presentation photos. The swimsuits worn in the finale didn’t look as dynamic, flattering, or comfortable. Seeing the swimsuits felt like being splashed with a bucket of cold water. Hello, we are still in a sexist society!
Zofiya: I don’t actually mind swimsuit portions as much. You can call it a thinly-veiled excuse to parade these women’s bodies, and I get that, but what makes it any different from the runway portion? What I do take more umbrage with is how slimy people can be when reacting to it. Like when [host] KC Montero called it “the part that everyone looks forward to the most.” Gross, and factually untrue unless you’re a straight man!
Amrie: When we got to the question and answer portion, I was underwhelmed. I found the questions toothless. During the preliminaries, MUPH asked about graft and corruption. I don’t see why they felt the need to tone it down for the finale. Some of the questions were even personal. Maureen Wroblewitz was asked about the difference between model Maureen and beauty queen Maureen. It felt like MUPH was pandering too much to the celebrity hype.
My biggest worry is how the push to entertain overshadowed the advocacies these women have. I’m not against making the show fun to watch but isn’t the purpose of the pageant to bring attention to the issues faced by Filipinos and the steps we need to take? Looking at the Miss Universe Philippines website and social media pages, it’s hard to glean what the organization is for. I’m all for encouraging women to be confident and to feel beautiful but in 2021, the platform could have also been used to promote other issues like voter registration, for example.
Zofiya: I see what you mean, though I can’t say we should’ve expected anything radical from a beauty pageant. When it comes to politics, the questions acknowledging voter registration and the pandemic already pushes the envelope for this event. It’s a pageant. It’s glitter and fluff by design. Maybe it’s because I’m a kid of a small-town pageant queen à la “Dumplin’,” so I grew up with it, but I understand that the spectacle is what matters here.
That said, pageants still stand for something, and that’s usually beauty and womanhood. It would’ve been such a huge statement if Ayn Bernos (who has spoken about competing as a woman who doesn’t fit conventional beauty standards and has been lauded for her answer in the preliminary interview) or someone like her won, or even reached the top five. It could’ve been a way for the pageant to challenge the beauty standards that it has been upholding. And hell, still no trans beauty queens? Clock’s ticking.
Amrie: One example of a pageant that fully embodies a cause is Miss Trans Global. The pageant was created by transgender beauty queens and activists to raise awareness about the plight of transgender folk around the world. Our very own Mela Habijan was crowned as its first winner and one look at her social pages tell you just how dedicated she has been in advocating for LGBTQIA+ rights and civil rights issues.
Zofiya: Can I say though, hell yeah to Beatrice Gomez winning. She’s our first openly queer Miss Universe Philippines! Our first Miss Universe Philippines with a girlfriend, can you believe?
Amrie: Oh, absolutely. I can’t wait to hear Gomez open up more about her queer experiences and to see her be unabashedly queer with the crown on. Habijan set a palaban precedent during her reign as Miss Trans Global.
Also, I love how Gomez’s girlfriend Kate Jagdon posts sweet messages for her on Instagram. She wrote in one of her posts, “Just be your authentic self the way you have always been since the day I first met you, I’m sure the people will love you for being you, just like I do.” How sweet is that?
I really hope to see Gomez use her Miss Universe platform to champion gay rights and women’s rights in general. This includes being a loud and staunch supporter of the campaign to pass the SOGIE Equality Bill.