Beauty Contests and Form over Substance

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:

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…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.

18 Replies to “Beauty Contests and Form over Substance”

  1. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, they usually say. What is beautiful to you, maybe ugly to me !

    Don’t go for appearances…it can be deceiving. Good character is better than beauty. When a woman turns 40 years of age…they start to sag and wither…

    Go for other things in a woman, other than her appearance. Beauty is for winning beauty contests only !

  2. I really dont understand this piece of text. I always thought that conservative pinoys want their women to stay at home and be full time housewives, take care of and raise the kids, clean the house, prepare the meals, spread their legs wide open and for the rest to shut up (their mouth).

    I have seen ugly babies who turn out to be(come) very beautiful, very hot, sexy, gorgeous and also very smart, bright and intelligent grown up adults. So its a matter of what that individual wants to make of his/her life and in what kind of crib she/he is raised.
    I do live in a world where people (yes also males) are judged by their looks (or lack of good looks). There will be males who do like and love fat women. But fat women are not only ugly, it is also unhealthy. So its a sign they dont look after and dont care about their own health. How can I be proud of such a woman (if I was her partner?) There is really nothing wrong with vanity. And re: narccism, ah well, it probably has always been here. Get over it.

  3. it seems that certain things held dear by mainstream media in the Philippines are quaint and outdated remnants of a Damon Runyon sort of America from the 1930s: stuff such as boxing, beauty contests, zoos, etc

    where is the real genuine essential Filipino qualities like bayanihan to be found?

  4. New Rule: Stop asking beauty pageant contestants if they believe in something. It’s not their field. It’s like asking Stephen Hawking if he believes in hair scrunchies. Here’s what they know about: spray tans, fake boobs and baton twirling. Here’s what they don’t know about: everything else. If I cared about the uninformed opinions of some ditsy beauty queen, I’d join the Tea Party.

    1. >> where is the real genuine essential Filipino qualities like bayanihan to be found
      If it’s nowhere to be found (and it isn’t) then, clearly, it isn’t a “real genuine essential Filipino quality”, is it?

      Everything that Filipinos say that they are (family-oriented, Christian, community-spirited…) is belied by their actual behavior.

  5. Thanks for the comments so far.

    Robert, a little vanity would be fine. But when it grows to a point where it becomes an obsession and what one bases their life on, it makes them horrible people. Thus, vanity is the thing to get over.

    D_forsaken, I think these days that beauty contests on an international scale could be done away with, and just local ones will do.

    Maruis, that’s been the record so far.

    1. Chino,
      All I want(ed) to say is this:
      Everything you described in your text, is in my country normal and accepted for such a very long time. Take for instance, tattoos and/or (body) piercings. Its still a niche but a popular one. And pls dont ask me why they do it, bec I really dont know why. Maybe they want to be different, maybe they really like tattoos and piercings. Maybe it adds something to their lives. Personally, I dont see the use of getting a tattoo. We get older and our skin will sagg and we get fat rolls. So what once was a beautiful car (as tattoo on someone’s back) will be ruined 15 years later. So a waste of money and waste of skin.

  6. Unfortunately in a status oriented culture things like looks take a higher priority than substance. And I agree that’s a big reason for non competitiveness.

  7. This article underscores the general superficiality of society. I believe the obsession with ‘selfies’ is all about low-self esteemed people needing attention. Selfies are all about,” Look at me!”

    Women do like to show their bodies to get attention. Sometimes I think they do it for other women as much as for men. I also find it interesting that Filipino women are known as being ‘easy’ sexually speaking, yet come off as modest and ‘Catholic’. As a foreigner of Caucasian descent, women have randomly flirted with me in the Philippines; some as young as 18. Filipinas have a bad reputation for being easy and this reputation has merit.

    Women are judged on their bodies and looks, and men are judged on their wealth/ careers. If women want to stop objectifying themselves, they can. They choose to wear tight clothes/ makeup/ spread their legs for any slobbish prick who has a pulse, and otherwise prostitute themselves. Many appear to operate as if their bodies are all that matters. Women around the world are looked at as commodities. They are essentially ‘bought’ with money, and women show themselves as if they are for sale. These are my observations.

    1. Greg,
      I do agree with basically everything you wrote.
      But I do think that the culture plays a very important role in all this. As long as the culture dictates that a daughter must take care of the entire family (and sometimes also the extended family) then I understand her ‘moves’. I also think that they (daughters) do not objectify their own body; they do think that the only way to get into/onto a higher social ladder is by showing off her body bec they think westerners like to see that. I am sure they do it reluctantly.
      For me this is proven by all the articles I read about parents even ‘selling’ their own daughters while doing a live webcam sex show.
      This is the prize a country pays when being a poor 3rd world country with a massive population that doesnt want to lower the population numbers.

      I said it often times here: living in a poor 3rd world country doesnt justify to behave and think like a poor 3rd world person.

  8. Robert,

    I agree the culture plays a major role. Girls and women in the Philippines are expected to ‘serve’ their families. I have seen it with my own wife, and the way her family expects her to do everything. Her siblings sit on their lazy asses, and her parents don’t care. But they demand that she give them money and pay for things or else she is degraded. There is an expectation and Filipinas feel the burden of the whole family, who are demanding, lazy and useless.

    The families don’t care if their daughters prostitute them selves. They have little respect or love for their daughters. The lazy Filipino culture is to blame for this.

    Yes, if the Philippines doesn’t get serious about birth control, there will continue to be millions of girls and women, desperate to do anything for money.

    1. Greg,
      I can only come up with one solution to solve this once and for all.
      The Filipinos have to abandon the collectivistic cultural mentality in favour of individualism. Now, I know a lot of people here will disagree with me. But if they will hear me out and listen then they should and must agree with me.

      Individualism has nothing to do with selfishness. Individualism will prosper every country. But it needs some courage.
      When prospect future parents will first look at the future for their prospect future kids, before they start procreating and will weigh all variables with high standards (not mediocre ones) then will see that procreation will only lead to more prosperity. In most cases the future parents can better decide NOT to procreate, for the sake of the future kids. Who wants to live in poverty? Who wants to live in a country infested with natural disasters (typhoons and such)?

      Make sure that kids will have a bright future and put your kids on the first place. Encourage and stimulate their real talents (being a domestic house keeper is not a talent).

      In short: it requires a lot of responsibility by the prospect future parents. As long as that circle is not broken, the Philippines will never become a great country. It also requires shifting priorities.

      1. Robert,

        Yes, individualism has to be promoted, along with personal responsibility. I get sick of my wife’s family demanding money from her when her male relatives and others sit around and do nothing. If they get money they blow it on smart phones and other stupid crap, even when the electric bill has not been paid. Then, they demand that she pay for the electric bill and other house expenses. There is no personal responsibility there. It’s rediculous. People are happy to mooch off the worker in the family. Then, the worker sacrifices herself for the family and she ends up poor. You are correct; the lazy collectivist crap has to end. Try to get people to listen to this advice, though. The lazy, collectivist crap is so engrained into their culture. People in the Philippines need to grow up and stop acting like dependent children.

        1. Hi Greg,
          I fully agree with you.

          I just wonder what will happen if and when your wife will stop sending/giving all the money??!! (Will she be ‘blacklisted’ by her family? Persona non grata?). And I also wonder what will happen when all OFWs will stop remitting money back home and start looking for a better life in their host countries? I mean all those OFWs are – in my mind – still ‘refugees’.

  9. Robert,

    Fortunately, my wife rarely sends money home. She realizes that we have our own expenses and debts, and cannot support her whole family. That does not, however, stop them from asking and being disrespectful.

    It would be almost funny if OFW stopped sending money home; the country would collapse into an even bigger hole than it’s already in. The country cannot produce jobs and people are happy relying on the GDP of foreign countries. It’s pathetic.

    1. Hi Greg,
      in my country the line of poverty is € 1,030. (for a single person household) while the minimum wage is about € 1,200 (also for a single person household). Those figures may look high/much for someone from/in the Philippines. But with both amounts, its no party time.
      The ‘funny’ thing is that no one in that category is even considering of moving abroad (as ODW so to speak).
      Why not?
      – what they (‘ODW’) can offer, is available in the host country
      – language barrier (not every Dutch person speaks proper French, English, German and/or Spanish)
      – cultural barriers
      – is it worth the while – financially (including all the razzamataz (paperwork))?

      In short, those OFWs must be really desperate to go to a ‘strange’ country and to work for ‘strange’ people. And from what I hear, a lot do get used and abused.
      I am convinced that if the PH population wasnt so big, there would be a job/employment for everybody, including for adult women/wives.
      Those Dutch people who do work in a foreign country, is mostly related to high-end jobs or very particular skilled work (off shore oil rigs for instance).

  10. Thanks for the discussion you raised, Greg. Yes, I was thinking about that too, the moochers on foreigners. When Benign0 wrote about the Philippines relying too much on “foreign investments,” I’m sure he also had in mind the culture of dependence as its main problem. It’s a problem that ranges from the individual and familial level as in your case to the national level.

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