What happens when a Filipino wins an international beauty pageant?
Today, Australian-Filipino Catriona Gray walked on stage in Bangkok with the Miss Universe 2018 crown, becoming the fourth candidate from the Philippines to win the most acclaimed pageant on earth.
In the west, beauty pageants are seen as sexist and regressive but in the Philippines, winning one is a source of pride for Filipino women and their supporters.
In an interview with Coconuts Manila, pageant expert and University of the Philippines professor Jose Wendell Capili explained that the enduring appeal of such contests lies in their ability to open doors for its winners.
Capili learned this when he was doing his research for the book Mabuhay to Beauty! Profiles of Beauties and Essays on Pageants, where he had to interview many pageant contestants from the early 1990s to early 2000s.
He said: “A lot of people who come from middle [class], poor backgrounds, and even people who come from upper classes use the pageants to advance professionally.”
In many ways, what Capili said is true.
The first Miss Universe, Gloria Diaz, was a business student from a well-off family when she joined and won the pageant in 1969.
Diaz used her win to transition to an acting career and starred in the critically acclaimed film Ang Pinakamagandang Hayop sa Balat ng Lupa (“The Most Beautiful Animal in the World”). She acts on television and movies to this day.
The second Filipina to triumph in the pageant was Margarita “Margie” Moran, who won in 1973. Moran, who worked as a model before joining Miss Universe, came from an upper-middle-class family, being the granddaughter of former President Manuel Roxas.
In Moran’s case, she chose to work in private companies and for the government after winning.
A former dancer, she served as the president of the country’s premier ballet company, Ballet Philippines, from 2008 to 2018.
In January 2018, President Rodrigo Duterte appointed her to the Board of Trustees of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), a government agency which promotes local arts and culture. Shortly after her appointment to the Board, she was chosen as the CCP’s chairperson.
Pia Wurtzbach was just one of the many celebrities working for television network ABS-CBN before she became a household name when she won the Miss Universe in 2015.
She said that after the separation of her parents, she worked as a model and actress to provide for her family. Using the name Pia Romero, she appeared on a slew of TV shows including the short-lived teen show called K2BU.
Her career peaked when she won the Miss Universe pageant, which became memorable because host Steve Harvey mistakenly named Miss Columbia Andrea Tovar as the winner.
Wurtzbach continued her showbiz career after winning the pageant but is also busy working as a spokesperson for UNAIDS as its Goodwill Ambassador for Asia and the Pacific.
Capili said the victories of Megan Young (Miss World 2013) and Kylie Versoza (Miss International 2016) also helped their respective showbiz careers.
He said: “You can see the impact of the victories on Megan Young, Pia Wurtzbach, and Kylie Versoza. There were opportunities given to them that you wouldn’t usually get with a college degree.”
Gray was a commercial model and landed in the top 5 of Miss World 2017 before winning Miss Universe today.
While she hasn’t shared specifics about what she wants to do after her win, Gray said in a press conference earlier today that her goal is to spread awareness about HIV and AIDS and to promote education kids in impoverished areas.
Spoken like a true beauty queen.
This article, What happens when a Filipino wins an international beauty pageant?, originally appeared on Coconuts, Asia’s leading alternative media company. For more Coconuts stories, you can download our app, sign up for our newsletters, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.