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Kate Costigan / © Culture Trip
Kate Costigan / © Culture Trip

Why The Philippines Dominates World Beauty Pageants

Picture of Katrina Escalona
Updated: 18 December 2017

While other countries religiously support events like the Super Bowl and the World Cup, Filipinos are devoted to a different kind of competition — the beauty pageant. Despite its appeal fading nearly everywhere else, Filipinos remain devoted to the art of pageantry. And with the country’s “beauty queens” raking in international awards left and right, The Philippines is as seasoned a candidate as a nation can get.

With this year’s Miss Universe pageant right around the corner, many Filipinos are already anticipating the big night. The build up was recently made greater by Karen Ibasco’s win of the Miss Earth 2017 crown. It has been an eventful countdown to Miss Universe, with the two other major international pageants (Miss International and Miss World) having already taken place. Together, these grand events make up what is known as the “Big Four” of beauty pageants, in which the Philippines holds several titles. Throughout history, the country has garnered top crown a total of 14 times: four for Miss Earth, six for Miss International, one for Miss World, and three glorious coronations on the Miss Universe stage.

Why The Philippines Dominates World Beauty Pageants

Kate Costigan / © Culture Trip

The Philippines and International Pageants

The Philippines has, rather consistently, held an exemplary track record in the world of pageants, always making it to the top 10, at the very least. Since the commencement of the Miss Earth pageants in 2001 for example, only thrice did the country fail to make it to the top 10. And in the Miss Universe pageants, held to be the most prestigious of the Big Four, the Philippines has placed without fail since 2010. Venus Raj (2010), Shamcey Supsup (2011), Janine Tugonon (2012), and Arielle Arida (2013) in particular, made a proud nation when they were crowned runners up year after year. And to the thrill of millions of Filipinos, in 2015, the country finally took home the crown.

One of the country’s most iconic wins was Pia Wurtzbach’s Miss Universe coronation in 2015, which was made infinitely more memorable by host Steve Harvey’s major blunder (announcing the wrong winner) and the cringe-worthy crown transfer (from 1st runner up Miss Colombia, Ariadna Gutierrez) that unavoidably followed.

Being the third Filipina to carry the title–following Margie Moran (1973) and Gloria Diaz (1969)–bringing back the crown after over four decades to a nation of pageant aficionados was a huge hullabaloo. Pia’s homecoming after her Miss Universe win drew in crowds that could match those of a grand parade for the Queen of England. But then again, in Pia’s country, she too was royalty.

Why The Philippines Dominates World Beauty Pageants

Gemma Crus, Miss International 1964. The first Filipina to win an international beauty pageant | Kate Costigan / © Culture Trip

In more minor international pageants, Filipinos perform just as impressively. In November, Winwyn Marquez was crowned 2017’s Reina Hispanoamericana, not only as the first Filipina earning the title, but as the first Filipina to join the competition altogether. This year was the Philippines’ debut in the said pageant, and Winwyn made sure it was a good one. The Philippines is also currently the country with the most titles at the Miss Tourism International pageant, with three Filipinas having earned top crown: Angeli Dione Gomez (2013), the late Rizzini Alexis Gomez (2012), and Maria Esperanza Manalo (2000). And in the 2017 Miss Globe competition, Philippine bet Nelda Ibe was hailed 1st runner-up. The Philippines came in 3rd runner-up in 2016’s Miss Globe, and was the winner the year before. And in May 2017, John Raspado was declared Mr. Gay World, making him the first Filipino to win the contest since its commencement in 2009.

The Rise of the Local ‘Beau-con’

It is said that to excel in what you do, you must love what you do — the Philippines and pageantry is a shining example. The country’s love affair with beauty pageants is long, and needless to say, passionate. It dates all the way back to the 1908 Manila Carnival (organized to celebrate Philippines-US relations and to exhibit provincial achievements in commerce and agriculture), in which a contest was held in search for the Carnival Queen. This quickly became one of the carnival’s most-anticipated events, and was the budding stages of the Philippines’ relationship with the world of pageantry.

Eventually, beauty contests (locally known as “beaucons”) were springing up like mushrooms, becoming a staple at town fiestas and popular events at barangay (small district) celebrations. Today, there are all kinds of pageants in the Philippines, from Mr. Gay to Gandang Lola (Beautiful Grandma) (in fact, a Filipina lola was crowned winner at the Grandma Universe 2017 pageant held in Bulgaria in January this year). Many Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) communities have even taken the pageant culture with them abroad, organizing their own beauty contests in their foreign countries of work. More than just an interest, pageantry seems to have ingrained itself in Filipino blood.

Why The Philippines Dominates World Beauty Pageants

Kate Costigan / © Culture Trip

A Nation’s Fascination

In trying to understand why this love for beauty pageants is so great, many factors seem to play a role. For one, it is something Filipinos are good at. And in grander international competitions, this gives Filipinos all over the world a sense of national pride. For a country which has suffered centuries under colonial rule, a large population of which still carries some deep-seated feeling of being the underdog, acclaim and recognition counts for something. The world of pageantry allows the Philippines a sense of not only being capable and at par, sharing the stage with the rest of the world, but even a sense of victory — a feeling withheld from them for a great part of their history.

But what about the much smaller beaucons constantly organized by towns and barangays and even OFWs abroad? Aside from bringing the community together, for many they serve as a source of entertainment and escape from reality — which for many in the Philippines living below the poverty line, isn’t always so great. It becomes a breather from life’s complications and for a moment, they get to focus solely on a world of beauty, crowns, and dreams.

Why The Philippines Dominates World Beauty Pageants

Kate Costigan / © Culture Trip

But whatever the inherent reason for Filipinos’ love for beauty pageants, there’s one that can’t be denied — it’s a lot of fun to watch, especially when you’re on the winning team. Think of your favorite sports team and try to remember what it feels like watching them play, especially when they’re playing well. It’s exhilarating and you might even feel somehow part of the victory. That’s what Filipinos get from the world of beauty pageants.