• Dear Miss Canada Siera Bearchell,

    6

    KATRINA STUART SANTIAGO

    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.

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    6 Comments

    1. Dear Miss Santiago,

      First, an aside. OUR President said that the government will not spend a single cent in HOSTING the pageant, yes. Chavit Singson and other private firms have shouldered the cost of having the Miss Universe pageant held here. As for your concern about the security measures to ensure the safety of the candidates, IT WAS NECESSARY. With insurgents threatening and attacking different parts of OUR country, an event like Miss Universe was not only a matter of national security but a matter INTERNATIONAL security and diplomacy as well. If you may have noticed, huge crowds tend to converge where the candidates were, making them targets for any terrorist group who want to attack. EVERY centavo spent on securing the candidates’ and our fellow Filipino’s safety was NEEDED as it not only ensures goodwill in diplomacy but also shows that our country takes the security and safety of our people and our visitors seriously.

      AN APOLOGY. Miss Canada did not deserve the derogatory comments thrown her way, but as she is Miss Canada and she did join a beauty pageant of her own volition, she should REMIND HERSELF that wearing a crown and a country’s sash is not all fun and fame. As with everything, there will be negative comments against her and she has to accept the good with the bad. Otherwise, she could just pass on the sash to another woman who is willing to accept both.

      As for Gloria Diaz, she has gone from national treasure to national disgrace. She called our candidate “saling-pusa” and kept harping about how Maxine had no chance and should not win the crown because we are the host country. She should be aware, being a previous winner herself, that USA had won 6 out of their 8 Miss Universe crowns on their own turf. It is not inhospitable if a candidate won in a pageant her country hosted as long as she deserved it. In addition, to just casually minimize all of Maxine and her team’s efforts is just beyond embarrassing. But did Miss Canada need to lose 8 pounds? YES.

      I agree with Miss Canada’s core message of body positivity and loving one’s self. What I don’t agree with is when people use this as a reason NOT TO GET INTO SHAPE. Is Miss Canada overweight? Yes. She clearly is not fit and being overweight opens you up to a myriad of other health complications. Normalizing it and even glorifying it as what Miss Canada and Ashley Graham did and still continue to do is DANGEROUS because young girls would look up to them and say, “Eh, so what if I’m fat? So was blah and blah and they’re up on stage” when these young girls should be thinking is “I’m overweight now. There’s no shame in it, I’m still beautiful like blah and blah, BUT I HAVE TO WORK HARD TO BE HEALTHY AND BE FREE FROM WEIGHT-RELATED DISEASES BECAUSE I LOVE MYSELF.” Catch my drift?

      Lastly, Miss Canada did not change her body ON PURPOSE to make a point. When she was crowned, she was stick thin and even looked unhealthy. She gained some weight weeks after and she looked healthy and glowing and the epitome of a beautiful, healthy, young woman. BUT she gained more and more weight and so she arrived in Manila overweight to compete in the most prestigious beauty pageant in the world. Instead of having the DISCIPLINE and DETERMINATION to get back in shape when there were several weeks or months to do so, she just threw her hands in the air and gave no f’s. Instead, she spun her laziness and neglect to a wonderful and inspirational tale of “loving your self whatever size you are” instead of being the healthy and fit woman SHE I SUPPOSED TO BE. Miss Colombia got a lot of flak after her remarks about the sweets she was gifted with were misinterpreted. She said that she wanted to eat those but she should not because she has to keep herself in shape. THAT’S DISCIPLINE. THAT’S BODY POSITIVITY. THAT’S SELF-LOVE.

      Body diversity being promoted in Miss Universe is good when you have fit and healthy young women who represent different body TYPES, not SIZES. Body types you can’t change (unless you go under the knife). It’s what you’re born with and that what you have to accept, love and celebrate. However, SIZE is something you should be attentive to, because being overweight like Miss Canada and celebrating it is promoting an unhealthy body and a distorted view of health to the impressionable young women they are supposed to inspire.

      • Miss Canada is NOT overweight. 8 guarantee you, she is within a healthy weight fo her height, and she is beautiful just as she is. She is in no way, shape or form so overweight that she is unfit! She runs marathons for Petes sake! Being largely overweight is unhealthy, yes, but she is not. You should be ashamed of yourself to even say that she is! And clearly, many, many people, including the Miss Universe judges, agree with me. Maybe you should start thinking about changing your way of thinking, instead of talking about something you clearly don’t understand. As a medical professional, I can assure you, Miss Canada is healthy and beautiful!

    2. If you look closely, those giving Miss Canada low rating are women. We do this to ourselves. We set ourselves up to our perceived expectations of men. But men, I’m sure love Miss Canada’s curves more than women. If we are apologizing for the behavior of the Filipino press and populace, then we might as well apologize for the rest of the world, because Philippines does not have the monopoly of the “body discrimination school of thought”.

    3. Though I agree that women should embrace their body shape, hair type, and skin color, I also believe that there is room for improvement and change if a woman wants to do so, whether she is influenced by the beauty standards of her era or not. We don’t live in a vacuum so we will be influence by the times just like the PC culture is influencing the world now to the detriment of freedom of speech. Offensive remarks should be forgiven if we want to rise above ourselves in this extreme PC culture that the world has become in so much so that the PC people police your words and actions all the time as if they are the ones who are always morally correct. I don’t want extremes like unhealthy body weight–obesity and malnourishment. Everyone is entitled to their opinion just like Miss Canada is entitled to beliefs. I have never liked beauty pageants that make Filipino women stop developing other pursuits in the areas of science and technology. And all this talk about answering questions well to win the crown is just laughable to me because it is not really a beauty and brains contest but a BEAUTY contest hence the standard to be slim to the point of unhealthy dieting. My main concern with beauty pageants is the way Filipinos lionize our contestants that they even fight with other nationalities on the net to defend our contestants. There are other pressing issues they need to fight for but then again, that is the kind of crazy mentality we have so we don’t even know our inventors and their inventions that can make our country rich because of patent rights.

    4. Thank you for this nice piece! I admire Miss Canada on how her performance in the recently concluded Miss Universe in Manila. That’s what we noticed there in the Philippines… so much negative comments. I like what Miss Kenya said on her video recording something like “equality among women, whatever coloure, shape you have…”

      God Bless you Katrina!