It’s a shame
Beauty contests have become an integral part of our culture, whether they be beauty pageants or beauty polls, and it’s a pity that we can’t seem to make up our minds about them. We gather around our TV sets during Miss Universe and Binibining Pilipinas and treat the winners like royalty. At the same time we can’t seem to decide if beauty pageants are worth our time: No pageant season goes by without a pseudointellectual pointing out publicly that the resources and attention squandered on beauty contests are better off allotted to women’s education or women’s health. For every person who celebrates a woman’s beauty, there’s a critic who disparages it for frivolity and superficiality.
It’s a shame that it’s 2016 and we can’t seem to find a middle ground between worship and condemnation. Jessy Mendiola, for instance, recently topped the FHM polls for Sexiest Woman. (A contest, by the way that she hadn’t exactly volunteered to participate in. It’s like life itself—a beauty contest that nobody signed up for.) Upon winning the award, she made the exuberant if slightly thoughtless remark: “Talo ko pa si Pia Wurtzbach, di ba?” She went on to say, “Kung siya confidently beautiful with a heart, tayo sexy, so confidently sexy with a heart.”
Her girlish enthusiasm drew some truly disproportionate flak, as though people were just waiting for an excuse to pounce on a woman who was not only beautiful but who reveled in her beauty. People flew to Wurtzbach’s defense (completely unnecessarily as she didn’t seem offended in the least), and the general feeling was of condemning someone who was getting too big for her britches. It’s a shame, people said, that she got so full of herself when all she did was win a poll.
Inevitably there was also disagreement about whether or not Mendiola deserved the award in the first place. Of all the superficial things that filled our Facebook feeds this week, surely criticisms of the size of Mendiola’s thighs were among the most inane and the most annoying. Her thighs and the rest of her have become public property, or so one would think from the way social media was lit with both condemnation and with #bodypositivity posts. And as with any discussion of a “sexy” woman, there always creeps along a judgment of her morals, as though we haven’t yet grown out of the idea that it’s our job to judge what people do with their clothes or with their sex lives.
It’s a shame that whether necklines plunge deeper or creep higher, or hems get shorter or longer, the Filipino attitude to women’s beauty remains the same: We constantly bombard women with the idea that their physical appearance is their most important attribute, the yardstick by which their worth is measured, but we are quick to cut them down when they show signs of caring too much about how they look. As a society we set unrealistic standards, but then laugh at those who seem to try too hard to achieve them. We tell women to be confident one moment, then shame them into being “humble” the next.
The fuss over Mendiola’s remark died down quickly enough, with Wurtzbach herself gently schooling her followers into place and with Mendiola grateful for the defense. Still, the whole debacle says a lot about us and our attitude to confident women. It isn’t a shame that a girl shows herself to be happy and girlishly enthusiastic at being praised for her beauty or her sex appeal, rather than be modest and self-deprecating. The fact that it’s 2016 and a woman can’t show herself to be confident about her physique without being called vain, loose or lascivious? The fact that we can’t praise a woman without disparaging another? The fact that we keep pitting women against each other in a competition that none of us signed up for? That’s the real shame.
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