Why you should care
Because there might be some secrets to our complicated and cash-fueled beauty economy somewhere in these images of pageant boot camp.
I got interested in shooting pageants in December 2007 when I learned that my friend was training to become a beauty queen. I was curious, because my perception of beauty pageant participants was that they were people who wanted to use it as a springboard for showbiz or for the money. To top it off, my friend didn’t look like a beauty queen. She wasn’t tall and voluptuous like the usual frontrunners from Latin America.
But apparently you can teach beauty. I was shocked to discover that my friend was using the six weeks before auditions to learn how to walk, talk and think like a beauty queen. I documented two veteran beauty queen makers who trained a batch of 7 girls to join the 2008 Binibining Pilipinas (Miss Philippines) pageant. Training included learning to ace the question-and-answer portion, knowing your color palette, figuring out “duck walks” and mastering nonstop swaying of the hips while wearing heels and a bikini. In the end, my friend, who changed her hair and learned how to walk in 5-inch heels, did look very much like a beauty queen. But she didn’t make the cut. She went to law school instead.
Afterward, I started covering local and national beauty pageants, ranging from the Pearl of the Philippines (locally known as Mutya Ng Pilipinas) in 2010 to Little Miss Bureau of Corrections in 2010. The last pageant I shot was Binibining Kaliksana San Jose Tarlac (Miss Environment of San Jose, Tarlac) in January 2013.
Having seen those half-dozen events made me realize that these pageants, despite their controversy and their complications, are part of my culture, just like basketball and boxing. The pageants may mean the Philippines are obsessed with beauty or filled with regional pride, or they may simply be an indication of poverty. I still have to find out, actually. The scenes from training camp below may begin to show the answers.