The recent Miss Universe beauty pageant and other events about “beautiful people” have again brought up the Filipino malady of valuing form over substance. Many of us people born without the looks are being made to cheer for people who were lucky to be born with good looks, similar to how the peasants and peons of older days would be made to bow before their hereditary lord. It continues to demonstrate why we, as a collective of people, are unable to create a more modern and stable society.
Let me insert something from my readings again. In the pamphlet Do’s and Don’ts with Filipino Workers, Tomas Andres has this interesting advice for foreign employers of Filipino women:
…don’t get carried away by the…. mild flirtation of a Filipino woman; these are on part of her bag of attractive assets and her smooth interpersonal relations.
He just made two points with this statement.
-Filipino women are prone to “mild flirtation”
-Yet such women don’t mean to seduce men this way because it’s part of “smooth interpersonal relations”
There is an incongruence in the actions of these certain women: if they’re not seducing anyone, why are they acting sexily?
Some may claim the Andres pamphlet is sexist or is only propagating a certain misconception about Filipino women. However, that so-called misconception exists likely because there is some truth to it. Indeed, he wouldn’t write about it if it weren’t already part of our culture. Indeed it applies to more than just Filipino women, but our women nonetheless are bought into the successfully commercialized and broadcast culture of vanity and narcissism that leads them to make pointless and futile pursuits for beauty.
Intellectual bankruptcy leads to anti-intellectual vanity. Women in the Philippines’ sexist and primitivist society are taught to project a sexual image as if it’s an absolute necessity, even in a situation that does not require it. While it can partly be attributed to how western media sells sexiness, Filipino culture has long emphasized judging by appearance.
Malcolm Gladwell in the book Blink talked about the “Warren Harding error.” Harding is described in the book as the worst president of the United States ever (I’ll not hold my breath about Donald Trump), and he was voted into public office because he “looked the part.” So this is a case that happened in the U.S. But Filipinos have been doing this all the time. They vote not just based on appearance but on name recall as well, mainly because it involves little and careless thinking. Human reactions to “beauty” are something that are usually not given much thought. This also applies to when Trump and Rodrigo Duterte were elected: they were “beautiful” choices for those who found the other side uglier. It’s not really beauty this time, but more of “dating” or image. Hence, politicians have learned to exploit and influence people based on this (as the current vice president-elect is thought to be doing). People’s “blink” moments, when untrained, can lead them to make wrong decisions and be fooled by a contrived “dating.”
While I see nothing wrong with maintaining appearance for health and confidence purposes (as needed for the workplace), there are still Filipinos who seem compelled to be “sexy.” They sometimes go to extreme measures for vanity’s sake, such as “borrowing” an employer’s sexy clothes (without permission) for a photo romp on Facebook. There are also these countless selfies of duckfaces and other asinine poses that people do for projection, though they seem to fit more in a zoo pen. Perhaps it represents our primitivist society’s tendency to glorify sex and pleasure (is that why some do selfies in bed?), without realizing it will lead to a kid.
I would say what makes Filipinos so frantic about appearances is a sort of paranoia. Filipinos seem to believe that everyone is out to put one over them; that everything is a contest. This creates a vicious insecurity in them that makes then try to project fake images of beauty, or even “greatness.”
For example, look at what an old-school parent says when they want their child to be well-dressed. The words are usually, “dapat maganda ang suot mo para walang masabi ang iba tungkol sa iyo (you should be well-dressed so nobody will say anything about you). Kundi, nakakahiya ka (if not, you are shameful).” This reveals the insecurity: why be afraid of attacks from others? Maybe it’s because they themselves attack and gossip about other people, and thus behave hypocritically. Appearances are often put up as a cover-up for faults.
In my previous article criticizing humanism, I brought up the non-relationship of beauty and character. While we find some people sporting good character as beautiful, there is also the saying “beauty is only skin deep.” One can be beautiful outside while being a total jerk inside. Hence the analogy of whitewashed tombs. Filipinos are easily taken by appearances and judge others based on it. They need to be further educated that they should start beautifying their inside before their outside. It doesn’t work the other way round; making yourself beautiful outside doesn’t make you beautiful inside. Teaching this should be more widespread on mass media and on other means to reach a wider audience.
Our society’s fascination with beauty contests is another expression of its dog-eat-dog and worship the bosses nature. Perhaps the same way we make sipsip (to flatter) to “beautiful people” is the same way sycophants suck up to people hoping to mooch on them. It is another example of the user-used scenario in human social affairs. One obvious thing is that beauty pageants are advertisements for beauty products and services. It’s more about sales than beauty, confidence or building bridges at all (unless it’s about bridges to a market).
Of course, here’s the bottom line our commercialized standards of beauty try to tell us: you have no right to feel good, feel confident, be satisfied or be happy if you are not beautiful. And if you are one of the not beautiful, or “ugly ones,” people are encouraged to belittle or bully you. It’s mixed with human nature and our own repressive local culture. These are attitudes that we need to beat.
The Filipino fixation on appearances needs to be undone. While there are some difficulties to it, it isn’t impossible. Gladwell in Blink hints that we can train our unconscious impulses. This is because our unsconscious side draws a good part from our conscious beliefs and experiences. We need to overcome that unconscious impulse to judge by looks and learn to step back, resist and put some more thought to things. Our changed views can later seep into habit, so that our “blink” moments become more honed and accurate. This can help overcome the “mind-blindness” or “temporary autism,” as Gladwell calls it, that leads to our mistakes in decision-making. We can resist being taken by beauty and appearances. Doing this, among other things, we can drop the culturally-influenced association between beauty and character. Perhaps we should stop demanding that inside and outside of a person be the same. It’s the inside that matters.