The Darker, Less-Sparkly Side Of Pageants (Eyes On You, Miss Universe)
Beyond the choreography of Binibing Pilipinas, Miss World and Miss Universe
Today, the world celebrated as a new Miss Universe was crowned—with the loudest shouts, cheers and claps coming from the Philippines, of course. Catriona Gray, the entire country’s bet, won fair and square. Her walk was unique and eye-catching, her answers spot-on and her confidence was bouncing off the walls.
Now our feeds are filled with congratulations and gifs of that slow-mo strut that captivated audiences around the world. We’ve had an up-close and personal look at that red dress that was inspired by and truly resembled the lava that spews from Mayon Volcano. We are rightfully celebrating the win that our country hoped for, prayed for and needed. But let’s not forget that even the brightest spots have dark corners.
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When I was 13, my mum told me "Honey, I dreamt of you winning @missuniverse in a red dress." At that time I thought nothing of it, and today my mother's dream came true. ✨ Where do I even begin? Lord God, I lift everything up to you – to glorify and honour you. 🙏 Philippines 🇵🇭 what an amazing honor it has been to carry your name across my chest and to embody you in all aspects. I may now carry the sash of Miss Universe, but I'll forever be your Miss Philippines. ❤️💙💛 To my team @carlosbuendiajr @bragaisjojo @mitagray @binibiningnicolecordoves @jololuarca @justine.aliman19 @ton_lao @vheecostyle @francischee_ @styledbypatrickhenry @visionerickson @ardelpresentacion @mackycombe @harleybarleyyy @jellyeugenio @hairbybrentsales @memayfrancisco @mimsqiu @momoisupe @tesserajewelry @maktumang @jearsond @theaiveeclinic @empiredentallounge @jed_jimenez I wouldn't have been able to do any of this with all your time, effort and love 💛 #MissUniverse @missuniverse
The eyes, ears and mouths
The world is literally listening to every sound these women speak, watching every step that they make and taking in every outfit that they put on. In a space that’s this massive and this harsh, someone out there is bound to find a mistake. “Her smile isn’t genuine,” “She shouldn’t have said that,” “Her dress is ugly,” “She’s bigger than the rest of the contestants, isn’t she?”
The results come in the form of women who tire themselves to the bone, eat nothing most of us would call substantial and a handful of ungodly visits to the bathroom to fit into a size 0. The physically draining activities apart, there is the emotional baggage put on them, too.
Coaches, mothers, fathers and friends who—despite not intending so—put pressure on their beauty queen and bombard her with their own sets of advice: “Don’t trust anyone,” “There’s nothing to cry about,” “Say this,” “Say that” and “Keep smiling.”
A little over a month ago, a Miss Earth sponsor was called out for sexual harassment. In what others have called the pageant’s “biggest controversy in its 17-year history,” three contestants went on the record to claim having their phone numbers given away without their consent, being asked for their hotel room numbers and being made to dance.
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I left to compete at an international pageant in the Philippines about a month ago. I was so excited because I had been to the Philippines before and loved the country and the people; however, the experience with the pageant was not what I had expected. I left Miss Earth because I did not feel safe under their care. The second day of the pageant I felt uncomfortable because a sponsor from the first night was given my phone number, without my consent, and was calling me asking for my hotel and room number. I gave my phone to a team manager so that she could resolve the issue, but it did not work. He showed up to almost all of my events telling me he could take care of my needs and asked for sexual favours in exchange to get me further in the pageant. I was disgusted. He showed up to a hotel some girls were staying at and when I ran into him he continued to ask for my room number. I was lucky I wasn’t staying at that hotel. After so many strange calls, I recognized his phone number and was able to block it. At an event at the Manila Yacht Club he took all of the delegates in my group to his yacht and had some girls take sultry photos. Again, I was disgusted. Later in the pageant we had another sponsor event at the Manila Yacht Club and he was telling girls he could take them to Boracay, as long as we didn’t tell any one. A group of us left to sit out side as we did not feel comfortable. He followed us outside and was upset we were not dancing with him. The team mangers laughed and told us to be nice. Eventually we were allowed to go and sit on the bus because we refused to go back to his yacht. Six girls and myself left because we felt unsafe at that event. I asked many times why more girls weren’t given the option to leave but, was never given an answer. That night a few of us were given the opportunity to bring our concerns to Miss Lorraine, the woman in charge of the pageant. I went through almost two weeks of sexual harassment before I anything was done about it. I was told he would not be around any more, but I had advised Lorraine of several other issues that were not resolved. Miss Peachy, another employee of the pageant, spoke with me at an event about…
The allegations, of course, were denied.
Then there is current US President Donald Trump, ex-president of the Miss Universe Organization—which held Miss USA and Miss Teen USA under its belt. Rolling Stone remembers Trump bragging about peeping at the girls and taking complete advantage of his position to do so. “I’m allowed to go in because I’m the owner of the pageant,” he said. “I’m inspecting it… ‘Is everyone okay?’” And then he had the audacity to continue with: “You know, they’re standing there with no clothes. And you see these incredible-looking women.”
These two instances don’t hold a candle to the long history of pageants. There are likely countless other instances, most never discussed.
And then there’s us
We, as watchers, have our role, too. We pick apart these contestants thinking our opinions won’t matter. We tell our friends that “Catriona Gray doesn’t even look Filipino” or that “A transgender woman shouldn’t be on that stage.” But hey, if they pass the technicalities of something as nitpicky as Miss Universe, then why are we throwing stones?
Yes, yes; it’s still good
These things said, competitions like Miss Universe still do some good. Even the most feminist person—who calls beauty pageants a way to codify beauty into a specific set of standards—will cheer for their country’s bet. Even the women who lose have the potential for a career after the stage lights turn off. The children that these women meet have smiles on their faces and the world moves on.
I’m not saying the dark side of Miss Universe overpowers the good; I’m saying that sometimes we need to see the whole picture instead of a few hours of choreographed walks and overtly-designed gowns. And I’m saying thank you to Miss Universe 2018, Catriona Gray, for bringing together a society that’s been particularly divided this year.
Art Alexandra Lara