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MANILA, Philippines – The stage is set as the Philippines hosts for the 3rd time the month-long Miss Universe competition with more than 80 candidates coming from all over the world.
Alongside preparations to produce a flawless event are criticisms and opposition to beauty pageants often seen as a way of exploiting and commodifying women.
Gabriela Women’s Partylist, in a statement released on January 11, said that the Philippines’ hosting the Miss Universe pageant is “yet another attempt to package the country as a lurid tourist destination for cheap, easily exploitable women.”
While Miss Universe 1973 Margarita “Margie” Moran agrees that beauty has become an industry and has become very commercialized, every person has a choice.
“We all have our choices and you just define yourself. I feel that a woman can make her own choice with what she wants to do with her life,” she told Rappler.
“Beauty is a big industry and everybody looks up to those who are part of the beauty industry. Being part of it, I don’t think it’s something wrong, especially if you’ll make use of it positively.”
After all, Moran added, physical beauty only matters the first time a person is introduced. Intelligence and how you carry yourself, tested through the question-and-answer portions and other pre-pageant gatherings, stick longer.
“Being beautiful is just really what they see in you in the moment, what’s lasting is the conversation,” she said.
Lessons from Miss U: wielding influence
A beauty queen’s life does not stop once she’s crowned or when she passes the crown to another woman. There are, however, many ways a woman can spend her life after the glitz and glamor of staying in New York and fulfilling the responsibilities that come with the title.
For the Philippines’ second Miss Universe, her post-title life was a reflection of what she calls a “stupid answer.”
During the 1973 Miss Universe pageant, Moran was asked what she would do with a million dollars. The then 19-year-old said she would buy a house and lot because “it was an expensive thing that she couldn’t afford.”
More than 4 decades later, Moran is now a trustee of Habitat for Humanity, a non-governmental organization that builds homes for the country’s underprivileged families.
“You know, looking back, my gosh, [that answer] was just a thought,” she told Rappler. “Now, with Habitat for Humanity, I’m building houses and I’m able to raise money to build houses for other people.”
Aside from providing shelter for poor Filipinos, the 63-year-old Moran also became a peace advocate. She frequently visited conflict-laden areas as a member of the Mindanao Commission on Women.
Moran considers her work for peace in Mindanao as a “very strong advocacy.” She also met and negotiated with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), even meeting MILF founding chairman Hashim Salamat.
“People did not know Mindanao and they always thought that the war was the best option those times,” Moran recalled. “In those days, there were conflicts and we decided to campaign among women and helped them influence their husbands to take the course of peace rather than war.”
Realizing that being a former Miss Universe title-holder really has its perks, including wielding influence, Moran decided to use it by advocating for peace.
“What made it interesting for me is, because of who I am and what I’ve made of myself, I can influence people,” Moran said. “I can easily talk to people and convince them [about] certain policies.”
It is no denying that the Philippines is among the top nations interested in beauty pageants.
Aside from international competitions which draw the attention of most Filipinos, regardless if they are held very early in the morning, the enthusiasm is not lost.
According to Moran, beauty pageants are rarely only about a person. They also offer a distraction from the hardships of life in the Philippines.
“I think it’s not just about being beautiful, it’s a way of making people happy,” she explained. “Beauty brings beautiful things and thoughts to people so it’s like a diversion from everyday life. Even in beauty contests in small towns, it’s in a parcel of another show that a village can present.”
“Well, we need distractions and we have to have positive things in life,” Moran added. “This is something that is positive and we can’t live through negative energy all the time.” – Rappler.com