From small villages to the biggest cities, beauty pageants are huge across the Philippines.
Filipinos know the names of their beauty queens like Brazilians know their football heroes.
Jofelle Tesorio and Ariel Carlos from Manila and Palawan, report on the country’s obsession with beauty.
It’s the middle of a gruelling practice for girls who are competing in a local beauty pageant. They sashay back and forth in high heels to perfect their walk without tripping.
Their trainer, Thom Avila, explains the rigours of his beauty boot camp.
“During training, when the girls wake up, we start the day with jogging. After jogging, we have breakfast, followed by walking exercises,” he says, “After that we teach them how to put on make-up and that is followed by question and answer exercises.”
Most of his students come from impoverished backgrounds.
One of them is 20-year-old Janicel Lubina who represented the Philippines in the Miss International pageant in Japan last December.
Janicel was close to winning the Miss Philippines-Universe title, where the winner, Filipina, Pia Wurtzbach, became Miss Universe last year.
In 2013, Janciel was the runner up in Miss World-Philippines.
She is often called the Filipino Cinderella.
“When I was in 3rd year high school, my father had a stroke. I went farming and worked as a housemaid because my mother was also a housemaid,” says Janciel, “I’m proud of where I came from. I think I have inspired a lot of girls who also came from a poor background.”
Janicel was spotted when she was 16 by a local talent scout in a farming village in Palawan.
Joining the beauty contest world, says Janciel, was her way of escaping poverty and helping her family.
“It helps a lot,” she says, “I have started to have a house built for my family. My priority also is to establish our education. I am sending my two brothers to school.”
The Philippines is a nation crazy for beauty pageants.
It started in 1969 when 19-year-old Gloria Diaz became the first Filipina Miss Universe.
The Philippines has won three Miss Universe titles, four Miss International, one Miss World two Miss Earth, and dozens of smaller international beauty contests.
The Filipinos’ love for beauty pageants intensified after Pia Wurtzbach was crowned Miss Universe, after 42 years.
During Pia’s homecoming in Manila, traffic was completely halted and life momentarily stopped.
Psychology professor Vincent Quevada explains why Filipinos are addicted to beauty pageants, even when the interest is already dwindling in other countries.
“I think the reason why we love beauty pageants is that Filipinos are rooting for someone to epitomize their wants to become somebody someday. Most likely it’s because of poverty,” he says, “Filipinos love to see Cinderella-like stories. Maybe a part of it is because we are a developing country so we desire to be someone, someday.”
But the path to beauty queen was not easy for Janicel Lubina.
It took her more than three years in beauty boot camp and several attempts in beauty contests.
She spent months of rigorous training – six days a week, 12 hours a day – including make up and catwalk training, and what they call ‘personality development’.
Some girls fainted during the first day of training, she says, and others quit after a few days.
Here at this local beauty pageant for Miss Puerto Princesa City in Palawan, candidates are being introduced.
One of them, 24-year-old Sheerah Dalisay, looks up to Janicel.
But unlike Janicel, Sheerah is from the middle class, a college graduate and an English teacher.
“Janicel Lubina is a very, very strong person because despite all the negative comments thrown to her by the public because she’s very poor and she admitted that,” says Dalisay, “Most of the people, during her pageantry, they were very much doubtful about her qualities and capabilities but Janicel is very strong to face all these negative comments and made it a challenge on herself to improve on it.”
Another candidate, 24-year-old Mia Bianca Dantes, thinks she has a chance at the crown.
A registered nurse, Bianca is studying for her masters’ degree.
“I really wanted to join first to pursue my dreams,” says Dantes, “to boost my confidence and of course to empower, educate and inspire the new generations of today, to help them show their talents and what they can, whoever they are.”
Back at the bootcamp, talent scout Thom Favila says he is grooming another candidate who could win him the Miss Universe title. She is a dusky young woman from a remote island who stands almost 6 feet tall.
After all, Thom says, Filipinos like beautiful underdogs.