Beauty pageant: Too close for comfort

As various Nueva Ecija colleges and universities celebrated their founding anniversaries this February -- don't ask me why they all seem to have been founded in that particular month -- an indispensable part of the merrymaking was the search for the school muse and whatever you call the male counterpart of that.

My school, in an attempt to be true to its history, moved its founding anniversary to July three years ago, and has been celebrating it with all the special effects that nature could provide at the onset of the monsoon season -- winds, rain, lighting and thunder.

But, the selection of the school muse -- no male counterpart, as the admin finds that too gay, referring to the audience, of course, and not necessarily to the contestants -- continues to be held in February.

Because two of the contestants in the pageant this year were my students, I had to force myself to sit through the event if only to give them moral support.

True to the Filipino practice, the time for the start of the show indicated in the program referred to a time zone west of ours. So, the 6:00 PM indicated in the program (South Korea time) actually meant  7:00 PM (Philippine time).

How does one find a vacant seat in a darkened gymnasium? One bumps into one. That's the reason I found myself seated on a row just a few feet away from the stage.

Fatal mistake, I discovered as the program started, because from that vantage point, one gets a close view of things that the more fortunate ones seated at the back couldn't see -- warts, moles, skin discoloration in normally hidden places, plus more.

For the past few years, beauty contestants have been made to don two piece swimsuits -- bikinis are still not legit in my school -- to prevent the use of the favorite instant body sculpting technique easily hidden by one-piece swim wear -- wrapping the torso with meters and meters of packaging tape to control the flab. No kidding!

Looking up at the contestants parading in two piece swimsuits and sheer gowns, it's hard to miss a thing no matter how inconsequential.

For instance, one contestant had scratches on her back. That couldn't have been self inflicted, I thought, as the red marks were beyond her reach. Who's the culprit that gave her those and for what reason, I wondered.

One contestant wore a gown with a front slit so high that her panties showed as she walked. Thank God she wore flesh colored undies. Black ones would have made her look so... well... unshaved.

Another contestant inserted a pair of round padding inside her bodice. You can ask any male high school kid who has had access to his elder brother's/father's/uncle's FHM that women's breasts are not shaped like half a Sunkist, so perfectly round and looking as hard. They tend to sag a  bit towards the bottom because of gravity. The sag, of course, is proportional to the owner's age and extent of osteoporosis -- the older the owner and the worse the spinal curvature, the lower the sag. Ask anyone who has witnessed a beauty pageant for senior citizens.

Another smiling contestant emerged from the backstage who stood out even without trying. She supplied all by herself whatever her competitors lacked in fat and boobs that she would have emerged as Miss Bear Band or Breastfeeding Queen had Nestle been invited as pageant sponsor.

As the event painfully dragged on, the more I felt like taking off my shoes, socks, watch, big-buckled belt and eyeglasses one by one and hurling them at the contestants just a spit away.

More so when the question-and-answer portion came, where each contestant was shown a photo  in all probability downloaded from the Internet, and asked for her reaction.

Many of the contestants started to answer in fractured English, then shifted to fluent Tagalog with an unmistakable palengke twang when the going got tough. The show that started off as a glamorous pageant suddenly took on the air of an "Eat Bulaga" beauty contest for overseas domestic helpers.

Photo: a child with a congenital condition -- no arms, no legs.  Contestant's reaction: We should take care of sick children. (Me: Pray tell me, what sickness would cause a child to lose ALL his/her limbs?!)

Photo: the Empire State Building at the center, with thick smoke billowing across, unmistakably from the burning World Trade Center that's out of frame to the right.  Contestant's reaction: We should fight air pollution and help save Mother Earth. (Me: You listening, Al Qaeda? Destroy if you must, but in an environmentally friendly way, please!)

I had to leave the gym right after the names of the five finalists were announced, feeling sad that my two students were left out of the list of finalists; relieved, because I would be spared from having to give each of them five points in I don't know what part of the midterm grade; cheated, because  the Breastfeeding Queen bumped my students from the Top Five; hungry because all I had for the past four hours was a teeny weeny sandwich of mayo mixed with the flesh of some unidentifiable creature and a bottle of mineral water; nauseous, with a throbbing headache, because of what I heard coming out of the pretty red lips of the contestants; and sleepy because it was past 11:00 PM and I still had to travel 21 kilometers to reach home.

Unsolicited advice: why not just stick to the original name of the activity -- beauty contest -- and spare both the contestants and the audience from the embarrassing discovery that many of the former have no brains?

[February 28, 2009]