There are two things that unite Filipinos: a Manny Pacquiao fight and Miss Universe. The latest…
While the sangkabekihan is now Cat-crazy, let me be the first to suggest that beauty contests, whether male or female, should be elevated to a sporting event.
The way the Miss Universe is being followed now, I think that beaucons are the ultimate sport because it tests not only the body and how human movement on stage are controlled (like how can Catriona do a slow-mo turn like that?), but also the mind. The preparations for the main event means a lot of training - perfecting the walk, and brushing up on current events, perfecting speaking skills, while the contest proper is a test of stamina, agility, alertness, strength (like Miss India carrying 100 plus pounds of props; sorry but Cat loses because her parol was on wheels), concentration/ focus, grace, discipline, and all other skills we look for in an individual athletic event. Or maybe it is only Catriona who made it seem like it because it is obvious that she prepared mighty hard this time, her performance at preliminaries was for the kill. She must after placing only second in Miss World.
We see that the mother of all pageants had evolved into a very rigid beauty olympics. Imagine 94 candidates being checked for their abs, well-formed boobs and butts, tight thighs, hair, and how they highlight these in swimwear and evening gown.
But recently, afficionados also keep an eye on the natcos (that's national costume), which is no longer a United Nations parade but a theatrical event. Gone were the days when Miss Korea won the natcos hands-down for wearing a hanbok, or Miss Russia wearing a century old dress of her great great grandma, or Charlene Gonzales as one of the two winners for her T'boli Costume, or Jennifer Pingree wearing a Pitoy Moreno. Nah. This time natcos must have gimmicks. It was Miss Myanmar who started it all by bringing a puppet show on stage. Not to be outdone, Catriona brought a Pampanga lantern which did not light, Miss Laos marched in as three rod puppets, and have you seen Miss Puerto Rico with those giant hands that I thought were moose antlers?
Don't misread me now - I join everyone rooting for Catriona - but her natcos will never be a winner. She may have intended to present all of the Philippines, but she was very literal about it, leaving very little to the imagination. One commented she was dramatizing the struggle of all Filipinos; another noted she was dragging a huge industrial fan. I believe natcos are meant to show the essence of one's country, and artistic interpretations should be creative, selective, imaginative, not to mention practical. I can think of Indonesia, China, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, El Salvador who came up with fantastic interpretations of their countries without looking silly.
Not only Catriona did over the top natcos: India burdened herself with an ancient throne, but complemented it with a swordplay of sorts. Thailand was passé with the elephant gimmick, not to mention she had to brush aside the trunk that covered her face.
Japan's samurai turned Sailormoon act was witty, but she looked too old for it. Vietnam's bahn mi outfit looked like a lot of oversized dildoes, and USA's American rose motif was too cabaret-ish therefore prosaic and outdated, if not too red and lazy; Bahamas's giant pineapple was better conceptualized. Miss Mongolia looked like a copy of Maleficent who grew only one horn.
Many observers comment that this year is tough competition with so many worthy of the Miss Universe crown. Catriona is projected by Philippine media as a favorite, but South Africa, Puerto Rico, even USA and Vietnam are also popular choices. Eyes are also on Spain's Angela Ponce, the first transgender to join the contest. We have seen the preliminaries, but the finals with interview is another story.
Going back to Cat, may she have the consistency until coronation night, and despite her attempt to show all of the Philippines, she must remember that onstage, the judges will not be looking for a Philippine woman, but one who epitomizes the ideal woman of the world, the universe, rather. For us, of course, she's already a winner.
The author is a professor at the University of Antique and St Anthony’s College. He is a freelance cultural consultant. He was formerly director for the Antique Binirayan Festival which includes the Miss Binirayan Beauty competition.