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The Beauty Essay

(First of Two Parts)

I nearly ran over Gloria Diaz many years ago when I was learning to drive. If it had not been for my driving instructor's nervous bark, I could have run over the former Miss U and I could have died! You see, Gloria Diaz was an icon of my childhood, a figure that dominated the many awakenings of my teenage years. I could not, in fact, recall a time when I did not know who she is, or, for that matter, who Margarita Moran is.

I grew up in a time when beauty queens were household names, of top celebrity status, and as faces that induced purchase and buoyed brand recall, were feted accordingly, etherealized by a beholden press. It was a heady time, albeit strange, a time when delegates sent to compete overseas actually placed, winning seemingly left and right, bringing home either the coveted crown or a vaunted runner-up spot. It was a time when we, egged on perhaps by beauty victories too many, actually believed we are a good looking people, a time when this peculiar sense of pride was taught in school, heralded in the media in an almost insisting tone - and maybe correctly so, considering the Filipino's shifty self-loathe[i].

It was a curious time marked, on one hand, by optimism, and on the other, by a certain wariness, the uneasiness when one suspects that something is amiss. Marcos was on the last leg of his second term, a new Philippine constitution was being drafted, and the body tasked to draw up the new charter was not too keen on a presidential third term, and one noted, with a festering disquiet, the growing unrest on the street and in the countryside, the mounting dissidence in the academe, counting among its ranks some of the era's best and brightest.

All these would take a back seat each time a local girl won in a pageant abroad. Thoughtfully packaged to entertain and amuse, the attendant TV appearances and magazine spreads, welcomed deviations as they were, lulled the growing discontent. And then, the unthinkable[ii] happened: only about two months before the Declaration of 1081, Gemma Cruz, a winner of a children's story writing contest before winning an international beauty crown in Long Beach, California, came forward to denounce beauty contests, calling them irrelevant, going as far as noisily picketing the coronation night of the contest she entered years ago. "In the face of the socio-economic crisis, threats to our civil liberties, our pursuit of happiness and democratic processes, I have no other choice but to deplore beauty contests as the height of irrelevance." a statement she released to the press said shortly before the Makibaka (Malayang Kilusan ng Bagong Kababaihan) picket at the Araneta Coliseum.