beauty pageants

Less inclusivity? More transparency? Netizens sound off on recent changes in beauty pageants

Rappler Entertainment Team

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Less inclusivity? More transparency? Netizens sound off on recent changes in beauty pageants
How about starting with not letting problematic politicians judge pageants?

Beauty pageants are a regular spectacle in the Philippines, with almost every barangay – and even overseas Filipino communities – hosting contests for women, men, children, the LGBTQ+, and senior citizens. 

Most Filipinos, whether they consider themselves avid pageant fans or not, tend to judge candidates quite stringently – only deeming candidates eligible enough to represent the country in international tilts if they pass a strict list of requirements.

It’s no surprise, then, that hot discussions would flood local social media whenever a beauty pageant announces changes in their rules and format. 

Too much inclusivity?

Out of all the international pageants, it’s the Miss Universe competition that has undergone the most rule changes  in recent years. 

In 2012, the Miss Universe organization changed its rule only allowing “naturally born females” in the competition to also allow transgender candidates to participate. As of writing, they remain to be the only major international pageant that accepts trans women candidates. 

Spain’s Angela Ponce made history in 2018 as the first transgender delegate to compete in the international edition of the pageant. Following in her footsteps is the Netherlands’ Rikkie Valerie Kollé, who will compete in Miss Universe 2023.

In the Philippines, no trans women have competed yet. But Miss Universe Philippines national director Shamcey Supsup-Lee has previously told local media that the pageant would allow transgender women in the competition “as long as they have legal documents to prove they are now female and they have already undergone gender reassignment surgery.”

Meanwhile, starting 2023, the Miss Universe has also opened the pageant to mothers and wives. Previously, only single women who “must not have ever been married, not had a marriage annulled, nor given birth to, or parented a child” were allowed to participate in the competition. 

“Now, women are able to have families, they’re able to have a job, they’re able to be a spokesperson. We should not be the ones to say, ‘You can’t do this,” Paula Shugart, president of the Miss Universe organization, said about their decision. 

During the Miss Universe Philippines 2023 pageant, three mothers participated in the competition. And while none of them won the crown, it was still seen as a remarkable feat in the local pageant industry. Currently, Guatemala’s Michelle Cohn and Colombia’s Camilla Avela are the mothers who will be competing in the Miss Universe pageant set for November. 

Then, in September 2023, the Miss Universe organization again announced another change that would be effective starting the pageant’s 2024 edition: the removal of the age limit. In its more than 70-year history, only candidates aged between 18 to 28 had been allowed to participate in the competition. 

Miss Universe 2022 R’Bonney Gabriel, who won the pageant at 28 years old, is one of the oldest queens to hold the title. The reigning queen shared that “a woman’s ability to compete at Miss Universe, or anything in life, shouldn’t be defined by her age.” 

Prior to Miss Universe removing their age restrictions, Miss Supranational was the pageant with the highest age limit, with delegates up to the age of 32.

According to Miss Universe, these new guidelines are in line with the organization’s goal of women empowerment, as they aim to be more diverse and inclusive within the pageant industry. 

With these series of changes, some netizens lamented that the pageant was losing its previous “prestige.”

“Nasobrahan sa inclusivity, kung ano na lang sinasabak,” one comment read.

(They’re trying to be too inclusive; they’re just letting anyone in.) 

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Among these changes in rules, though, it’s the pageant’s choice of letting transgenders participate in the competition that draws the most negative remarks. Several netizens claim that the new rule is “unfair” to female-born candidates.  

Meanwhile, some are also against allowing mothers and wives in the competition, saying that there is already a pageant dedicated to them already. As for the age limit, some fans also took the rule at face-value, quipping that pageants would now see senior citizens competing for the crown.

In fact, even other Filipina beauty queens such as Miss Universe 1969 Gloria Diaz and Reina Hispanoamericana 2017 Winwyn Marquez have previously aired their disagreement with these rule changes.  Diaz said that moms and wives should stick to a separate competition, while Marquez said that the Miss Universe pageant should be for “natural-born women” instead.

Others are keen on emphasizing the semantics – since it is a “Miss” Universe pageant, they claim that mothers, wives, trans women, and older women should not be allowed in the competition.

Nonetheless, many other netizens do agree that it’s about time that pageants remove these discriminatory rules. 

“Women will still be women and their advocacies should not get affected even after marriage or if they bear children,” one netizen wrote. 

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Aside from the changes in requirement process, pageant fans were also sent into a frenzy when the newly-launched Miss Philippines competition upended the traditional pageant format. 

For its inaugural competition, the Miss Philippines pageant has decided to remove the swimsuit competition and opt for a “red carpet moment” instead for their formal wear segment. Candidates in the pageant will also have “Ted Talk-type speeches” wherein they are expected to put an emphasis on how they can promote the Philippines to the world. 

On social media, several commended the move, saying that the swimsuit segment “objectifies women” and that removing it is a good decision. “There are many other clothing types to show a woman’s beauty,” the netizen continued. 

Others, meanwhile, are looking forward to how the candidates would “measure up” now that they have to be aware of current affairs and globally-relevant issues. 

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More changes?

While these recent changes in rules and format are supposed to signify a more progressive atmosphere in the pageant industry, some netizens pointed out that it’s better to abolish pageants entirely if we want to slam these discriminatory restrictions. Several comments even brought up whether pageants were still even relevant today. 

“They don’t have the audiences they used to have,” one comment read. “it’s also overplayed with all kinds of titles and pageants. Seems like there’s a pageant contest every three months, it gets old.” 

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Since banning pageants altogether might be impossible for a pageant-obsessed country like the Philippines, some fans chose to give suggestions instead on how to improve the scene. 

One suggestion is being more transparent when it comes to judging the candidates – the breakdown of votes should be available to the delegates and public. 

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In 2022, viewers were left confused when there was a minutes-long lull before Cebu’s Nicole Borromeo was announced the Binibining Pilipinas International 2022 titleholder. In 2023, Miss Universe Philippines also came under fire for a “technical glitch” that revoked the pageant’s Top 10 and brought back the entire Top 18. 

Such cases sparked doubt among pageant fans on the authenticity of the results, even despite organizers releasing statements to address the issues. For pageant fans, being more transparent with how the delegates are being assessed would make it easier to follow which candidates are faring well in the competition. 

Another suggestion is not having politicians, especially problematic ones, to judge the competition. During the Miss World Philippines 2021 competition, pageant fans and viewers took to social media to express their frustration when then Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque and Senator Bong Revilla were part of the panel. 

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In terms of other changes they’d like to see, pageant fans noted the removal of the height requirement, no use of makeup, and the inclusion of special prize winners, such as Best in National Costume, to the semifinals.

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How about you? Any changes in pageantry you’d like to see? –

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