Post-pageant reflections: BP-USA 2015’s queen and court

Written by Binibining Pilipinas USA
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Fil Am Pageant

By Prosy Abarquez Delacruz, J.D.

“Being a woman is hard work. Not without joy and even ecstasy, but still relentless, unending work. Becoming an old female may require only being born with certain genitalia, inheriting long living genes and the fortune not to be run over by an out-of-control truck, but to become and remain a woman command the existence and employment of genius. The woman who survives intact and happy must be at once tender and tough. She must have convinced herself, or be in the unending process of convincing herself, that she, her values and her choices are important. She must resist considering herself a lesser version of her male counterpart. She will need to prize her tenderness and be able to display it at appropriate times in order to prevent toughness from gaining total authority and to avoid becoming a mirror image of those men who value power above life, and control over love.”  – Maya Angelou, 1993.

Is there an upside to beauty pageants when some women believe that pageants are commercializing women’s bodies? While others view pageants as self-serving for the organizers, coaches approach them as women development academies, witnessing young girls bloom into women.

It was Hydee Ursolino-Abrahan who introduced me to Miss Universe’s runner-ups and I came to know of their educational backgrounds: Janine Tugonon (first runner-up) with a degree in pharmacy; Shamcey Supsup (third runner-up) with a degree in architecture; Venus Raj (fourth runner-up) currently pursuing her master’s in social work; and Ariella Arida (third runner-up) with a degree in chemistry. Briefly, I also saw their personalities, but I did not get a full-blown interview to really get to know them.

Still, I remained open to the idea that there might be an upside to pageants and whether smart minds go hand in hand with these chosen beauties. At Mildred Deang’s suggestion, the interview space of Juanne Elisha Aquino was shared with members of her court:  Megan Culp, Heather Casignia, Angelica Alberto and Eriel Uy.

I asked them to take turns to be like Oprah, a talk show host, fielding questions to one another.  The result was a frank and open dialogue about who they are, their high points and vulnerable moments that this writer came to appreciate their personalities, their smarts and mostly the beautiful women they came to be with one another.

When asked a song which resonated with their lives, they sang verses of: “Flashlight” by Jessie J, “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten, “Grown Woman” by Beyonce, “Pretty Hurts” by Beyonce and “Listen” by Beyonce. It is quite obvious that Beyonce has been a powerhouse inspiration for these young women, as Eriel described Beyonce’s identity and accomplishments and Heather emphasized self-appreciation and how bullying affected her in middle school.

Becoming sisters, not competitors

Eriel Uy (BP-USA third runner-up) as Oprah, to Angelica Alberto (BP-USA second runner-up): “What was the best part of this [pageant] experience?”

AA: “It was getting to know the girls, [I ] consider my sisters, to keep important relations, [that is] what I loved most about it.”

EU: “What do you think you struggled with?”

AA: “It was the question and answer, putting together my thoughts, as [they] were knowledgeable, around me.”

She was asked if she would be the nice girl kicked out of the reality show or the mean girl who would win the competition, to which Angelica responded, “I would have been kicked out a long time ago, but [I] also recognized that my action would depend on the situation, that if there were steps to take, I would take those.”

EU: “What was your most favorite moment?”

AA: “Right before we were called to the stage, where we all held hands together, prayed together, [I] felt everyone’s energy, the culmination, 20 women  [who were] super close, supportive of each other, stressing together.”

Uniquely Bb. Pilipinas-USA 2015

Heather Casignia (BP-USA first runner-up) to Megan Culp (BP-USA Tourism): “What makes Bb. Pilipinas-USA different?

MC: “You are companions, not competitors, behind the scenes, this particular year has been different.”

HC: “What was your main struggle?”

MC: “Always forgetting something, internally freaking out, struggled to compose myself, as I forget everything. We were given a kit, what to wear, sashes, buttons, I always left out something.”

Belief in oneself

Megan Culp to Heather Casignia: “What kind of life lessons [have you applied] into your everyday life?”

HC: Trusting people. Other pageants teach you to build walls. But here, [BP-USA 2015] taught me that friendship and loyalty are the most important in life. This is one summer out of many years of my life, [I learned] to believe in myself, praying in my head, crossing my hands behind me, to not expect things, but to continue to believe in myself.

Megan Culp to Juanne Elisha Aquino (BP-USA 2015 Queen): “Out of all the possible lessons, what specifically changed in yourself?”

JA: “Having girlfriends I can trust. Guys are informative- you talk to them and that’s it. But trusting girls, you (gestures to the court members) know my entire life, [yet] there was no drama.”

Eriel Uy to Juanne Aquino: “What is the one thing you want to experience as the titleholder?”

JA: “Aside from acting, I want to be an advocate for the homeless, I once volunteered in a mission and people segregate them from the volunteers, for fear of how they look, how they smell. In my family, we celebrate birthdays , from ages 1 to 10 at an orphanage. I see these gifts for me and they don’t even have flip flops.”

Heather Casignia to Juanne Aquino: “What are the top three qualities that stand out about you?”

JA: “I am not a public speaker. But for as long as I tell the truth, never lie, I can speak from my gut, believing in myself, that I can appreciate other’s beauty, to appreciate my own beauty.”

Megan Culp to Juanne Aquino: “We heard pageant stereotypes – what else does a pageant look for in a woman?”

JA: “Women are put down, they have no voice. They have nice faces, pretty, but does she have something in her brains? That makes us go, we can accomplish this.”

Lessons from the pageant

MC: “Community is most important, face is not important, caring is a big trait, selfless – thinking of others, besides yourself, lending a hand to see your heart.“

HC: “Having confidence and humility, it is not about the face alone, it is putting yourself out there. It is not about you, it is helping others in promoting a platform.”

EU: “It is finding the potential in a girl, that she works hard, that she wants to improve herself, that she takes time to be self-actualized—get to bring out the best qualities of yourself.”

AA: “Seeing others, learning to build each other up, [we] could help one another be more confident, learning to appreciate, learning your self-worth.”

Get me to the light/When I am feeling insecure/Not vanity/Being well-rounded/Show inner beauty/Being Young and Brave/Do all the big things/Be okay with decisions for myself/Shining a light/Pretty Hurts/Acknowledge your value/Blend with the Crowd

These were some of the lyrics of the songs they sang, but also reflections about life which resonated with what they went through.

Do you now appreciate the inner beauties of these pageant queens? That they are more than pretty faces of young women, prizing their tenderness and vulnerabilities, but distinctly knowing who they are, their strengths and weaknesses. They are “not a mirror image of those men who value power above life, and control over love,” but true women, echoing Maya Angelou’s definition. I gained a healthier respect for beauty queens and how they sustain who they truly are .



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