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When men ‘try to look beautiful’

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Looking Back

When men ‘try to look beautiful’

Millennials used to the wide variety of cable television fare find it hard to imagine what a “martial law baby” like myself had to go through when I was their age. During martial law we had only a handful of television channels that were monitored closely and tightly censored. Reruns of vintage Sampaguita films like “Dance-O-Rama” formed part of our growing-up years. We were traumatized when the popular Japanese cartoon “Voltes V” was taken off the air for supposedly espousing violence but other equally violent American cartoons were allowed. Worse, all programming stopped whenever Imelda Marcos left for or arrived from abroad; all channels aired the same live news feed from the airport.

As a boy, I knew no other president but Ferdinand Marcos. I grew up thinking he was part of Malacañang furniture.

TV programming during martial law came to mind this week when I came across Vice Ganda’s late-night TV show where he gamely flirted with three handsome hunks, who were encouraged to flash their flesh and abs or demonstrate exercise routines. The routines included common push-ups, which took on a different vibe when the camera focused on the pelvic thrusts.

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I found the show exploitative, and mentioned it to a few friends who explained that this was a normal comedy bar routine. Was it me being prudish, or maybe the comedy bar routine did not translate the same way on TV? A friend then commented that I should let it go because it was a way to balance things out—that it is not only women who are exploited on TV and film but men as well.

Vice Ganda’s TV segment reminded me of the suggestion in the 1920s to have a male beauty contest. The Philippines Free Press took this suggestion tongue-in-cheek and ran a photograph of the first proposed candidate—Arsenio Luz, director of the Manila Carnival. It was said that when Aurora Aragon Quezon gave birth to Manuel L. Quezon Jr., the press waited in the hotel corridor hoping for an interview with the mother or a photograph of her with her newborn son. Mrs. Quezon rightly refused to subject her baby to the flash of cameras and the resulting glare of publicity. Fortunately, there were many hangers-on with her, and in a light moment with the press, Luz told the Free Press photographer that he was better off taking a snapshot of Manila Fiscal Baby Guevarra, who then said, “Why not get instead a photograph of Luz and submit him as a candidate for the Free Press beauty contest?”

This bit of banter resulted in Luz appearing on the pages of the Free Press with the caption: “The genial Director General of the Philippine Carnival and organizer of the First National Beauty Pageant is the first candidate in the proposed Free Press Beauty Contest for Men.”

The reactions to this proposal were mixed. Gabina Carpio of Bacolor, Pampanga, wrote in to express her apprehension: “It will tend to make our men effeminate. It is not beauty or effeminacy that should make us proud of our men, but virile qualities of mind and body.” Antonio Franco, of Manila, agreed, saying: “I do not know what kind of civilization we will have when men do nothing but try to look beautiful and women seek none except handsome men. A beauty contest for men? Terrible, horrible! In this age of hard go-getting, stern competition, and keen struggle for existence, one cannot play the role of the he-man and at the same time be nose-powdered, pampered, mollycoddled Adonis.”

Of course, a dissenter from the University of the Philippines, Delfino Santiago, made his voice heard in the conversation: “Certainly there must also be a beauty contest for men. If America is proud of her Valentinos (a reference to the film star Rudolph Valentino—ARO), undoubtedly we are also proud of our handsome men. Bring them into the light, and give our young ladies an opportunity to submit pictures of their guapos.” Hipolito Castillo of Silay chimed in, saying: “Beauty is not confined only to those of the fair sex, therefore it would be unjust and unfair if we were to deny our brothers the joy of being honored by public recognition as a handsome man.”

From those remarks, it seems that most were for equality between men and women only. There was a reference to the “fair sex,” but not yet of the “third sex.” One opinion that stood out for sheer political incorrectness was from Josefina Sotto of the Ladies Club of Gasan, Marinduque, who wrote in to say: “When our countrymen set foot in America and Europe, they are seldom, if ever, taken as Filipinos. Usually they are thought of as Chinese or Japanese. This because the real, typical Filipino is practically unknown in those countries. They think Filipinos are like the Negritos and other Philippine mountain people they often see in books and magazines and on postcards. I do not deny that Negritos are Filipinos but I will never, nor will you, admit they are typical Filipinos. So in order to wipe this erroneous impression from the minds of foreigners, I advocate a beauty contest for men, so that with proper publicity the Filipinos may never again be mercilessly mistaken for Chinese or Japanese or taken as savages.”

We have come a long way since that prewar proposal to establish a beauty contest for men. Looking back helps us understand how we have come to acknowledge, if not accept, lesbian, gay, bi and transgender sexual preferences in addition to the traditional male and female.

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TAGS: Arsenio Luz, beauty pageants, Ferdinand Marcos, Imelda Marcos, Manuel L. Quezon Jr., martial law, vice ganda
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