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Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Padilla: Of Chickens and Queens

WHILE the Philippines is agog with the 89 candidates of the Miss Universe pageant, one million people, mostly women filled the streets of America to protest Donald Trump’s first day in office as president of the most powerful country in the world. From where I am, both events provided stark contrast to the women’s situation in the millennial age.

The Miss Universe pageant, no matter how hard the organizers deny it, promotes stereotyping women. How so?

For example, during the fashion show of ternos made of “abeliloko” (cotton weave popular in Vigan), the six couturiers who were members of the Ilocos Sur Designers’ Guild, designed the gowns without knowing which candidate will wear them on the runway. So they pegged the gowns in 34-24-36 measurements.

The idea that all the Miss Universe candidates have the same body measurements is not new. According to a UK-based team that called itself Superdrug Online Doctor, despite the changes in body types like the fuller hips in the 1950s and the gym-sculpted bodies in the 1980s, or “just as when the average American woman got heavier, Miss Universe has only gotten thinner.”

The team tracked the evolution of Miss Universe winner’s body types by using all publicly available pictures, height, and weight measurements since the contest started in 1952. Then they compared them with the average height and weight of women in the United States aged 20 to 29 (based on Center for Disease Control data). It showed that the average age of a Miss Universe winner is 20.4 years old and the contestants can be anywhere from 18 years old to 27 years old.

Why United States or American women? Obviously because the “universal” contest actually started in America.

Aside from age and weight, the body mass index (BMI) of the Miss Universe was also scrutinized. In the study, United States of America (USA) and France were the only titleholders whose BMIs were near the average woman during their reign. And that was a long, long, long time ago - 1953 and 1956. In 1990s the BMI of the average American woman moved from normal to overweight. Yet at the same time the BMI of the Miss Universe dipped into the underweight range.

On the other hand, in USA and in other parts of the world, women marched in hundreds of thousands and turned the Washington National Mall into a sea of pink as they opposed Donald Trump occupying the White House.

Instead of jubilation for the inauguration of USA’s 45th president, the streets echoed with “love trumps hate.” And the protest came from all sectors including showbiz personalities. The brightest of these stars though was the singer Madonna whose “fiery, profanity-laden speech shocked some and inspired others.”

My favorite, though, was Sir Ian McKellen who came to the Women’s March in London with a placard that only had an image of Sir Patrick Stewart, in the role of Star Trek’s Captain Picard, face-palming. McKellen who was also Gandalf who was also Magneto who will soon be Cogsworth has been labeled as having the “most amazing sign at any women’s march in the world.” Captain Picard face palming has become a millennial icon for countless memes that convey complete disbelief with the ridiculousness of someone or something. Like Donald Trump.

The Women’s March across the world brought together the sectors that repudiated Donald Trump and his vision of an America that marginalizes. This included women’s rights, Trump’s relations with Russia, government surveillance, and concern about billionaire leaders and migrant rights. A few of my American friends expressed that they lost America when Trump won.

So while some women were sashaying in diaphanous gowns or in tight and revealing swimsuits in the Philippines, thousands of women were protesting in the streets to defy misogyny.

I asked a photographer, who texts me as “dad,” what he thought of the Miss Universe candidates. Since he photographed the Miss World candidates too, he likened the Miss Universe candidates to “Texas chicken” and the Miss World to “Kabir chicken.”

He actually lost me in the metaphor but figured it meant thoroughbred and mongrel. But, the chicken that I do recognize is the kind that can quickly feed the hungry regardless of size, race, color, or creed. That kind of chicken universality is confidently beautiful in my mind.
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