By Marivir R. Montebon
New York – The prestigious Miss Universe pageant may likely not happen in 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. If so, it will be the first time that this world-wide beauty contest will be disrupted 69 years since its inception in 1952.
“There is no word yet if the pageant will take place next year with the coronavirus still hovering,” said Miss Universe pageant reporter and expert Felix Manuel during an interview with Issues & Inspiration digital show on December 19, 2020.
Philippine candidate Rabiya Mateo, however, is ready to get into the pageantry as well as the other countries, Manuel said.
I&I is produced by OSM! Online Magazine, Synergy Production & Marketing, and Women’s Immigration & Communications Cafe, Inc.
Asked if Miss Universe has become relevant considering the advent of women’s rights, Manuel said that Miss Universe has “evolved and has shown that it cares for social issues.”
He said that each candidate has used the beauty contest as a platform for advocacy. “Miss Universe cares,” he said.
According to Manuel, the prewar era of these beauty pageants was mainly about prestigious women, but it eventually unfolded to become an institution where candidates advocated for women’s leadership, education, health concerns such as AIDS and drug addiction, and social issues like bullying and racial equality.
From being exclusively for the rich and beautiful women in the Philippines, Miss Universe, said Manuel, has become popular that even ordinary girls could join, citing one candidate who used to be a bus dispatcher.
Although a nurse by profession, Manuel is passionate about pageantry and shared interesting information about the Miss Universe during the interview. He said that had been enamored with beauty pageants since he was three years old. “I was fascinated with crowns, which I saw in my mother’s magazines and photo albums,” he recounted.
The Philippines began its tradition of beauty pageants as early as 1908 with the Miss Carnival Queen beauty contest in Manila whereas the Miss America beauty pageant began only in 1921.
The first Miss Carnival was Pura Garcia Villanueva in 1908, a prominent native of Iloilo, and an accomplished writer.
In 1952, the Miss Universe beauty pageant began with Teresita Torralba as its first Philippine contestant. Armi Kuusella of Finland won as the 1st Miss Universe and later married a Filipino, Virgilio Hilario. They stayed in the Philippines and had four children. Hilario died of heart attack in 1975 and Kuusella remarried in 1978. She lives in California and has continued great ties with Filipinos to this date.
Beauty contests in the Philippines started as a status symbol, where only beautiful women from affluent families can join, revealed Manuel. In those days, natural beauty was premium as well as the woman’s intelligence. Gowns and jewelry were flaunted, and not their bodies.
The Carnival Queen was a social event way back in the American colonial period that “showcased the economic boom of the Philippines under American rule.”
After WWll, beauty pageants continued in the Philippines and became a full-blown industry.
Manuel kept memorabilia of Miss Universe’s photos and signatures, some of which he showed during the show such as the signature greetings of Gloria Diaz, the first Filipino Miss Universe and beauty queen-turned-activist Nelia Sancho.
Among the controversial beauty queens, he said, were Imelda Romualdez in 1953 who questioned why she wasn’t crowned Miss Manila before Manila Mayor Arsenio Lacson. Lacson later gave her the title Muse of Manila. Romualdez later married Sen. Ferdinand Marcos who became President in 1965.
Pilar Pilapil, meanwhile, joined the Miss Universe in 1966, despite being allegedly underaged. A native of Cebu, she would later become a celebrated film actress, mistress to Vice President Salvador Laurel, and a woman who would speak her mind.
When asked who struck him as the most intelligent Miss Universe, Manuel was quick to say that it was Catriona Gray. “While talking to her at the back stage, I knew Catriona was the most intelligent of the Misses Philippines that I spoke with,” he said. Quick witted, Gray was also known for her spectacular lava walk.
Manuel found Melanie Marquez, Miss International, as “genuine and personable” despite her trespasses of the English language while Pia Wurtzbach has been most “courageous and persistent” for having tried out twice into the Bb. Pilipinas.
Wurtzbach won the Miss Universe crown in 2016, in an overly dramatic way as host Steve Harvey declared the wrong candidate and had to apologize and take the crown out from Colombia and declare Philippines as the real winner. “We were all in chaos backstage. We were happy but the chaos was crazy,” recalled Manuel.
The Philippines has produced four Misses Universe so far – Gloria Diaz in 1965, Margie Moran in 1973, Pia Wurtzbach in 2015, and Catriona Gray in 2018.
In the competitive and intriguing world of Miss Universe, how did these Filipino women make it? For Manuel, it is not only the mestiza or ethnic looks, brain, and attitude, but also “being in the right place at the right time.” One has to factor in the judges, the politics within and of the current times too, said Manuel.#