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BATANG MINDANAW: When beauty baffles

ILIGAN CITY (MindaNews / 28 October) —  Even after heartily cheering for our candidates with the rest of my college (College of Arts and Social Sciences) on Saturday evening (October 27), the primacy we place on pageants and the dynamics of the competition itself still baffles me. The institute’s yearly Palakasan has a wide array of events, from the conventional ball sports to cultural and literary events to DOTA 2. And yet Mr. and Ms IIT is considered the highlight every time.

I get it. It’s fun to root for our college representatives. There is a sense of pride when they strut the runway and answer the questions eloquently. The shared release of tension when they make it to the final cut is exhilarating. When they win, your college collectively loses your shit and it’s a joyous moment. But after the adrenaline has faded, do we stop to think about what value this event has in contributing to the overall spirit of Palakasan and in enriching our university experience?

Although Mr. and Ms IIT aims to be a measure of both beauty and wit, I can’t help but think the use of the latter to describe the event is just lip service to appease the disillusioned and a validation to strengthen the sentiments of the fanatic. After all, most of the event is spent on watching candidates in their makeup and sparkly costumes projecting their best smiles. With all of the spectacle designed to impress, it seems like the Q and A, at best, is just a tokenistic embellishment.

To be fair, the candidates did have an established advocacy, and the questions for the preliminary round tried to address issues that plague our community (e.g., catcalling, mental health, etc.). However, some of the questions and answers tonight left more to be desired. This is to be expected of beauty pageants, really, but as an institution that prides itself in producing quality graduates, we really need to reevaluate and recalibrate our way of doing pageants, if we should even continue doing them at all.

I practically don’t know anything about Mr. College of Engineering Technology, but I think he could have done better if only his question wasn’t so shallow. As an event that was supposed to showcase both beauty and brains, isn’t it ironic to ask a candidate a question that undermines his intellect just because he also happens to be conventionally attractive?

The question for Mr. College of Nursing, although noble in intention, was honestly confusing, at least for me and some of my friends. While it is true that men can also be victims of sexual harassment, it was polarizing to equate “fangirling” and admiring to catcalling.

The answer on students’ freedom of expression and K-12 was disappointing. If we’re going to be picky and petty, most of the candidates’ stutter and pauses were obviously a deduction in points.

Ms College of Business Administration and Accountancy’s answer on anorexia gave me goose bumps, not because it was good but because the implications are highly problematic. Anorexia in the modeling industry is not just a few isolated cases, nor is it a choice models are happy to experience. It is a systemic problem that is yet to be properly addressed in the industry because the perpetuation of unrealistic standards set on women forces models to starve themselves just to maintain a body type demanded of them.

I’m not sure if she does not know what anorexia is, or if it was just the nerves that made her answer that way, but I hope we all take this as a lesson. Eating disorders and other forms of mental illness are not things we should dismiss or normalize so easily. A lot of people have died from anorexia; it is more than just wanting to lose weight.

But in the end, we really can’t be too harsh on the candidates because they too are only a part of this bigger machinery, and the wheels are turning in the same direction every year. We have the pageant, someone wins, we argue about who should have won until it gets petty and ugly. We too, as the audience, are only part of this machinery.

The fact that I am writing this is proof that I am invested in it as much as everybody else. But what do we get from this? Aside from the momentary surge of euphoria and a pull in our overall ranking for the Palakasan, what else does all this spectacle bring to the table? Are we elevating the discourse or are we just maintaining the cycle of objectification and standardization of beauty in the guise of pairing it with the celebration of intelligence? But then again, who am I to say? After all, I did loudly chant “kamang damang” (crawl spider) and waved my balloon and cheered for Erl and Leonil earlier.

(Alexandria M. Mordeno, 19, is a 4th year Political Science student at the Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology).


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