Tuesday, July 08, 2003

now I know what it feels like to be a judge on Star Search

After prayers and anthems (both for the PBMA and the Philippine national anthem), the judges are introduced one by one and we stand in acknowledgement. My only credential to sit on this panel is that I'm American and a friend of the chairman.

The 9 women come from various areas throughout the Philippines and are allowed to do their routine in whatever language they feel most comfortable in. Three from Luzon, three from Visayas, three from Mindanao.

There's one who did salsa ballroom dancing. Another who did modern pop dancing but used a lot of northern mountain costuming and props: costume of the tribal people of the Cordillera mountains, a clay pot with fire, and the black clay pots that are usually stacked on one's head for traditional folk dance. At first I thought she would actually do that dance known as Dugso, but she didn't.

The vast majority did several things: part acting, part singing, part dancing. They often started out with an acting bit about how they felt they were really talented then proceeded to the different things. They often picked a love song for singing and did what my friend classified as Japayuki dancing, the kind of club cage type dancing done by many Filipinas who travel to Japan to work in the night clubs there. The acting for the most part was drama with a woman who was being beaten and/or raped by their family, their boss, or their lover. Another woman's scene was about how she never received love from her mother. The acting involved a lot of screaming, agonizing pain convulsing, followed by crying.

I could barely sit through it. This was probably the most disturbing part for me. I had known that Philippine movie and television is filled with women being abused, which is why I often steered clear of it. In some ways these suffering female characters are a way of showing how strong Filipino women in enduring pain and still surviving. But to watch it brings an uneasy feeling in my stomach, which I try to squelch with the soda and spaghetti on the table. I wonder deep into the psyche this goes whether women grow up expecting to get beaten and whether men grow up to beat them. I know Filipinas can endure great pain, but do we have to be beaten to prove it? In my personal family, this never occurred, but I had heard many stories of it happening in some of my cousin's family. The other judges and the audience didn't seem phased by any of it.

I tended to give those women lower scores than the ones who picked one talent to showcase. From my American view, I would rather have a person do one thing well, than a bunch of things only ok. It was clear after the tallying which numbers were mine. They wanted someone who could do a bit of everything even if they were so-so in all of them. They wanted the all around performer.

While we waited for the final results, they took a poll from the audience for Txter's Choice, a play on Taster's Choice, essentially the audience favorite. The women came out again, sat in a row on stage. They were then asked to vote for Miss Congeniality.

After we review the tallied votes, they announce the winner of the talent competition, which was only 10% of the total. The ultimate voting would happen next week. The beauty pageant winner gets some kind of scholarship prize money. This is really what most pageants were based on, a scholarship fund.

Afterwards we eat in the cafeteria with the contestants. As I walk by them they tilt their heads up, I'm about a foot taller than most of them even when they are wearing heels. My height plays into Jun's stories of me being a model from the U.S. My height always immediately made me a non-standard Filipina, since I was taller than even the guys. I actually didn't think I would end up with a Filipino guy, because I didn't think any of them grew tall enough.

Growing up, my family and I would often watch Miss America and Miss Universe. We would cheer for Miss California, often a blue eyed blonde woman and Miss Philippines. Filipinos still recall where they were when the Philippines won Miss Universe in the 70s. It was a triumphant moment for this island of "little brown brother's" who were too short, too dark to be beauties. In the early 1900's, American newspapers drew us as wild, dark, short, naked savages.

The store shelves are lined with Eskinol this astringent that's meant to lighten ones skin. When my boyfriend took pictures of Philippine folk dancing, his family would wonder why he took pictures of this one woman because her nose was too flat. The flat nose is often remedied by pinching a young child's nose every day hoping it can be pulled into shape between their mother's fingers. Young girls are often told not to go out in the sun, less become too dark.

I had mixed emotions when Miss Hawaii won Miss America. In one sense the 5 year old girl in me rejoiced that Miss America looked like me, plus she was only 5'2". Yet a part of me felt as though it all merely emphasized Filipinas' status as the exotic beauty open for pen pal exchanges and mail-order marriages. Do a google search on Filipina and you'll see what I mean.

I want to be beautiful, but I don't want to be objectified.

Don't look at me

Everyday is so wonderful
Then suddenly
It's hard to breathe
Now and
then I get insecure
From all the pain
I'm so ashamed

I am beautiful
No matter what they say
Words can't bring me down
I am beautiful
In every single way
Yes, words can't bring me down
Oh no
So don't you bring me down today

-lyrics from "Beautiful" sung by Christina Aguilera

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