Saturday ∗ 11 Feb 2017

Dear Miss Canada Siera Bearchell,

First, an aside. I steered clear of writing about Miss Universe, any more than I already had long before the pageant even started its activities in this country.

I stood and still stand squarely against holding the pageant here, especially at a time when we face the crises of poverty and need, of climate change and intermittent floods, when the dead are being collected off our streets, when the promise of change has yet to even be felt in fundamental, important ways.

There is little reason to believe that our government did not spend a single cent on this pageant as they had promised. When so many government agencies and offices were in charge of ensuring the safety and comfort of international guests, it is ridiculous that they even expect us to believe that public funds were not spent on Miss Universe in Manila.

It might seem like water under the bridge at this point, but one waits for government to release information on how much of our local resources and funds were spent on the pageant, as we demand transparency from our government about how exactly an impoverished nation like ours could afford a pageant such as this one. End of aside.

Beyond the pageant,
An apology. Because I know that it is in order, as a woman who knows no other country but this one, and who has suffered various forms of oppression that have to do with one’s looks – from one’s weight to skin color, the messy hair to body marks.

I apologize that in the short time you were in this country, you had to experience the shit women in this country are put through all their lives.

I apologize that even a former Miss Universe from this country – a woman who should know better – had said she was including you in her Top 5 candidates to win, but only “If <she> could lose 8 pounds, I love her face. She’s beautiful.”

And as if she realized how wrong what she said was, she lessened the number of pounds you needed to lose to five – instead of taking back the statement itself.

After all, one can imagine that given the current discourse on women’s bodies, on body image, on sending a more positive message to generations of girls about refusing to be defined by the impossible expectations on women to be a size zero, to be thin, thinner, thinnest, that someone like Gloria Diaz would know better than to espouse the idea that Miss Universe is solely about a particular size.

And what better proof of that than the fact that you were already here, competing at the pageant, vying for the crown?

Local media
The press also didn’t know how to deal with someone who they did not expect would be part of the pageant, a measure in itself of a lack of sophistication, a lack of time to do research, a lack of sense about what a great development it was that you were here at all, for a pageant that heretofore has limited itself to a specific body type.

Some context: while I grew up with diverse images of women on television, with different body types and skin colors, cutting across different social classes with varying articulations, there is little of that diversity in current local pop culture. The younger generation of Filipinas grow into womanhood with photoshopped billboards, with beauty clinics selling everything from bigger boobs to smaller waistlines, with a whitening industry that tells them the skin they are in is not the right color, is not enough, is not the color of success.

The outcome is the present, where female celebrities generally look the same, shaped and molded as they are by industries that live off fakery and image creation.

That you would get this question from a member of the press – “How does it feel to be so much larger than the other delegates?” – is proof of how even they are complicit in this enterprise of judging women based on their looks.

Sure, this was a pageant, and yes that is still the point of Miss Universe. Yet the press could’ve seen your difference to have been a good thing; they could’ve gone beyond the superficial and asked questions that would tell us all how smart the contestants are. They could’ve changed the conversation.

But there was none of that from the local coverage of Miss Universe, and as no one else will know to do it, let me be the one to tell you how sorry I am that you were even asked that question at all.

Beyond bodies
Probably one of the more powerful messages you’ve written on your Instagram throughout your time in Manila, was that one where you said that you did not change your body to prove a point. Instead you spoke of how just like our lives, our bodies are ever-changing, and this is an acceptance of that, and that’s okay.

The power of this message is beyond measure, because ultimately these societal, institutional expectations of women is about control. It’s about forcing women to fit a mold, and then judging women for failing to do so. It’s about failing to consider women beyond how they look.

And now it is about someone like you, a Miss Canada on a global stage, standing up against that, by deciding that she will not go against her own body, that she will not concede to control.

You might not have won that crown, but there is no prize that will equal the power that you have now to remind all women across the world that how they look is not all that they are, in pageants and in real life, both.

Published in The Manila Times, February 2 2017.

Posted in: ibang bayan, kapitalista, kawomenan, kultura, media, pangyayari, social media

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