Crown and Country

Two years ago, I was shocked to learn that my law school bound friend was training to join the National beauty pageant. “Is she crazy? Is she bored? Is she broke? There is actually a beauty queen boot camp?” For a long time I had thought only pretty people who wanted fame and fortune would dare to participate in such a spectacle. And like with anything else that intrigued me, I picked up my camera and started to look for answers.

At first I took photos of the training sessions. Then the auditions until the coronation night itself and the succeeding pageants that followed.

What made this story appealing to me is the aspect of competition which showed a lot of the human side of beauty pageants. The staunch supporters, the predominantly gay beauty queen trainers and the unlikely contestants, each have their own motivations in being part of this surreal world.

Another thing I did not expect is learning more about my country just by getting to know some of these girls. Sadly, I found the ugly side when I learned of their modest ambitions, the monetary effort they put in to joining pageants to have a better life and how the Western world had influenced their perception of beauty.

Like boxing and basketball, beauty pageants are very much part of my countryʼs culture. Beauty pageants are a metaphor for Filipino culture because they glorify beauty, reflect filial and societal mores, and provide an aspirational platform that is manifestation of the countryʼs colonial history.

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