What happens when a Filipino wins an international beauty pageant?

Catriona Gray of the Philippines (C) is congratulated by contestants after winning the Miss Universe 2018 on December 17, 2018 in Bangkok. Photo: AFP
Catriona Gray of the Philippines (C) is congratulated by contestants after winning the Miss Universe 2018 on December 17, 2018 in Bangkok. Photo: AFP

Today, Australian-Filipino Catriona Gray walked across a stage in Bangkok wearing the Miss Universe 2018 crown, becoming the fourth candidate from the Philippines to win the most acclaimed such pageant on earth.

In the West, beauty pageants are increasingly seen as sexist and regressive, but in the Philippines, winning one remains a source of pride for many Filipino women and their supporters.

In an interview with Coconuts Manila, pop culture expert and University of the Philippines professor Jose Wendell Capili explained that the enduring appeal of such contests lies in their ability to open doors for its winners.

Capili learned this while doing the research for his book Mabuhay to Beauty! Profiles of Beauties and Essays on Pageants, in which he interviewed numerous pageant contestants from the late 1990s to early 2000s. 

He said: “A lot of people who come from middle [class], poor backgrounds, and even people who come from upper classes use the pageants to advance professionally.”

With previous Miss Universe winners, at least, Capili’s reference to professional advancement rings very true.

The first Miss Universe, Gloria Diaz, was a business student from a well-off family when she won the pageant in 1969.

Diaz used her win to transition to an acting career and starred in the critically acclaimed film Ang Pinakamagandang Hayop sa Balat ng Lupa (“The Most Beautiful Animal in the World”). She acts on television and movies to this day.

The second Filipina to triumph in the pageant was Margarita “Margie” Moran, who won in 1973. Moran, who worked as a model before joining Miss Universe, came from an upper-middle-class family, being the granddaughter of former President Manuel Roxas.

In Moran’s case, she chose to work in private companies and for the government after winning.

A former dancer, she served as the president of the country’s premier ballet company, Ballet Philippines, from 2008 to 2018.

In January 2018, President Rodrigo Duterte appointed her to the Board of Trustees of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), a government agency which promotes local arts and culture. Shortly after her appointment to the Board, she was chosen as the CCP’s chairperson.

Pia Wurtzbach was just one of the many celebrities working for television network ABS-CBN before she became a household name when she won the Miss Universe in 2015.

She said that after the separation of her parents, she worked as a model and actress to provide for her family. Using the name Pia Romero, she appeared on a slew of TV shows including the short-lived teen show called K2BU. 

Her career peaked when she won the Miss Universe pageant, which became extra memorable thanks to host Steve Harvey mistakenly naming Miss Colombia Andrea Tovar as the winner.

Wurtzbach continued her showbiz career after winning the pageant but is also busy working as a spokesperson for UNAIDS as its Goodwill Ambassador for Asia and the Pacific.

Capili said the victories of Megan Young (Miss World 2013) and Kylie Versoza (Miss International 2016) also helped their respective showbiz careers.

He said: “You can see the impact of the victories on Megan Young, Pia Wurtzbach, and Kylie Versoza. There were opportunities given to them that you wouldn’t usually get with a college degree.”

Gray was a commercial model and landed in the top 5 of Miss World 2017 before winning Miss Universe today.

Catriona Gray of the Philippines reacts as she is crowned the new Miss Universe 2018. Photo: AFP
Catriona Gray of the Philippines reacts as she is crowned the new Miss Universe 2018. Photo: AFP

While she hasn’t shared specifics about what she wants to do after her win, Gray said in a press conference earlier today that her goal is to spread awareness about HIV and AIDS and to promote education kids in impoverished areas.

Spoken like a true beauty queen.

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