I had been invited to judge in a beauty contest in a high school near my rented place. How the school discovered that I even exist goes like this: my gay hairdressing neighbor asked for my profile, which he promptly submitted to the school. The reviewers must have been intrigued how I conduct art criticism, so with that credential I sat as one of the three judges. Hopefully, nobody gets reminded of the reason why Zeus sent the three goddesses to Prince Paris for that crucial judgment that caused the Trojan War.
I had been told to be around by 3:30 so I skipped seeing Louie in his sister’s kiosk and appeared as expected. I had no inkling that I would be staying there for eight hours. Eight hours! The moment my eyes fell on the program, I surmised that all of its 28 portions—starting from the regional costume to the school uniform to talent to question and answer—would take loooooong, but not as long as an average human’s sleep. I imagined going on a roundtrip to Hong Kong to shop there for, say, four hours. I could have left and arrived in Manila and still, the pageant’s in full swing.
It disturbed me to be seeing a replication of the thousand dance intermissions to the tune of remixed rap and pop songs. I had to pinch myself to know that I’m still alive instead of being a character in Sartre’s No Exit, punished by watching an application of Nietzsche’s theory of eternal recurrence. A number of contestants even used the same medleys. Apparently, they have banked on their physical looks and apparels and overlooked the need to impress the audience with what’s not readily seen. I suspected that the pageant staple “You’re One in a Million” would be played—it was played, twice.
As for the peculiar, I had a field day observing. In the sportswear competition, one of the male contestants drew laughter from the crowd when he strutted his stuff in ill-fitting trunks and, without so much as a heave, poured bottled mineral water all over himself. The talent competition was a greater blast, what with the eventual winner creating a minor scene while performing her “Twilight Zone” number. It was enough that hers was a grand production, but when she had herself thrown in the air, the innocuous-looking school clock was accidentally pushed off its place, sending it crashing onto the floor. Even as the female contestant continued to wiggle under a tribal song, one of the teachers was seen sweeping the slivers of glass off the stage.
Her fellow candidate was a different scene-stealer altogether. I was roused from stupor when someone from the crowd commented that she looked like a “bakla.” Aww, that’s cruel: being mistaken for a gay is probably the worst insult a girl has to endure. As she began her performance, I noticed that the tetra pack box she had left a few feet away from her began to shake. Was it a fowl? Realizing that it was indeed a bird, I feared that she would later resort to what the old school of Miss Barangay used to show as talent: a PETA-revolting bravura biting of the chicken’s head off its body. Fortunately for the dear life of the dove, it was just allowed to fly freely as a symbol of national liberty right after the contestant’s interpretative dance of “Isang Bansa.” It further relieved me when she suddenly dunked her fingers inside her bosom, not to stir a public exposure but only to throw confetti with the colors of the Philippine flag.
In what seemed a million years, the Q&A portion arrived so I got the chance to test the wit of the finalists through the following questions:
1. How do beauty pageants contribute to the cultural transformation of society?/Paano nakatutulong ang mga patimpalak-pagandahan sa pagbabagong-pangkultura ng lipunan?
2. Should beauty pageants be seen as a product of conservative or modern society?/Dapat bang makita ang mga patimpalak-pagandahan bilang produkto ng konserbatibo o modernong lipunan?
3. Do beauty pageants negatively affect the concept of inner beauty?/Negatibo bang naaapektuhan ng mga patimpalak-pagandahan ang konsepto ng panloob na kagandahan?
4. How do beauty pageants help in appreciating one’s self-value?/Paano nakatutulong ang mga patimpalak-pagandahan sa pagpapahalaga sa sarili?
Of the contestants who answered my questions, only two contestants made good-enough answers. One said that beauty pageants are an avenue to show one’s talents which lie hidden under the cloak of physical beauty. The other said that beauty pageants enhance one’s self-confidence when the approving audience cheers them into winning the title. The rest bungled their chance during the portion.
Eight hours later, my personal bets went on to be crowned, but I still grieved over the stolen time of my life. To the organizers, my message is “Chinese gold!” to quote a nervous beauconera whose motto in life is “Time is gold.”