In the eyes of the beholder

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It is a Sunday and I am rushing to make the early morning mass at the Carmelite Monastery. As I was doing my morning ablutions I happened to catch a glimpse of something in the mirror that made me gasp. Is that another line in my forehead there? When did that happen? It just can’t appear overnight because I have always religiously followed a stringent cleansing routine.

I dab on all kinds of expensive creams, oils, and lotions, some of which have been sent by friends abroad, like Tita Bosano and Cristina Ortiz. I also adore local skin care by Skinbar, with soaps and care products lovingly handmade by my daughter, Joy and my granddaughter, Martina.

Is that age slowly creeping up on me? That, ironically, is the usual response you get for anything that happens to your body. A few creaks on the neck, a recurring pain in the back, spasms in your fingers, or even a slowing down in your gait — that, they say, is age encroaching on you. I can get rid of those lines, short of getting a (God forbid!) Botox treatment, right? Because that treatment is sure to cost me an arm and a leg!

Don’t you wish you were in some country that is known for cosmetic miracles? I was told that in South Korea, for example, most women starting from their teens, follow a 7 and up to 10 (or even beyond), regimen to get that peaches-and-cream complexion. Double eyelid operations or nose jobs are popular birthday gifts from parents. Even breast augmentation procedures are just ordinary occurrences.

The guys are not far behind with their own array of men’s skincare products either. Billions are spent every year on this business. Beauty has now become not only a big enterprise but also a hugely profitable investment machinery.

But why is being beautiful or being handsome a mantra for most men and, especially, women? I understand it’s possibly because of acceptance, recognition admiration and even status. To be crowned Miss Universe, for instance, is a high accolade to be given a woman. So much so that the selection of the perfect “miss” can be full of ugly, and even devious, machinations.

Do you remember when Pia Wurtzback was declared winner in the Miss Universe contest of 2015? Up to now, the first runner-up in the person of Miss Colombia, who was mistakenly announced at that pageant as the winner, still believes that she should have won as Miss Universe because, she allegedly claims, that Pia was never an outstanding presence at that pageant. What poppycock! In fact, she and some of the Latina contestants were accused by one Asian beauty of being rude and having looked down on them during the pageant.

And then, the recent selection of Rabiya Mateo as Miss Universe Philippines also caused a lot of buzz. Why is that so? Like in the case of Pia, I guess nobody thought that Rabiya would win, because she was not a particular crowd favorite although she did quite well in both swimsuit and evening gown competitions. The judges must have seen a different aura in her quiet bearing and timeless beauty, plus the fact that she wowed them with her witty and intelligent answers during the Q&A portion.

Indeed, beauty pageants have come a long way from what started as just a bathing suit competition. Now it’s not just a pretty face or a killer body but what is inside one’s brain and how committed the contestant is to her advocacy

Let me also bring to your attention the trend people refer to as “colorizing”. You know that you are a Filipino and that Filipinos belong to the Malay race, people who have generally dark, as in brown, skin. We call that “morena” or “kayumanggi”. If you see a lighter skinned kababayan, that comes about mainly because of inter-racial marriages.

Now tell me why there is an unabated demand for skin whitening products like glutathione? Why do some Filipinos want to change their skin color from brown to white, to the extent that they risk their life and limb through unauthorized injections or consumption of that substance?

Does being white give them a euphoric sense of acceptance, of being superior, or more importantly, the feeling of being beautiful? Some women even take it to the extreme, like going night swimming to avoid exposing their skin to the rays of the sun for fear of becoming dark. Can you imagine yourself going around the beach with an umbrella? Aren’t you there to enjoy sun and surf?

Meanwhile, there are people who desperately want to be tan, because they like more color on their skin. I think I have to agree with Honore Saint Balzac when he said, “Books are sold, clothes and cosmetics are peddled continually upon this desire to appear what we are not.”

More on the Filipino concept of beauty. My niece complained that the first comment she got from a friend who has not seen her since high school was that she had put on a lot of weight.

Does it really matter if one is fat or thin? It is only natural that one’s weight changes as one matures from being an adolescent. Does one have to spend endless hours and deal with sometimes excruciating pain and sore muscles in a fitness salon to attain the perfect figure? What, exactly, is the acceptable weight for a Filipino?

My personal concept of a true beauty is someone who radiates the feeling of wholesomeness and well-being; someone who spells “sunshine” whenever she is around. Add to that the regal bearing of a queen and you have a Gemma Cruz or an Aurora Pijuan; in recent times that would be Megan Young and, maybe, even if she has never been crowned as anything, I want to include Andi Eigenmann in my list for proudly and boldly embracing the uncomplicated life of an islander in spite of her colorful Metro upbringing. She absolutely blooms and glows when she speaks about her life and I find that beautiful.

To me, defining beauty is almost an impossibility. Just to make my point, what exactly does one mean when he says, “I find you beautiful”? Does he mean I adore your beautiful face? Or, does he mean I appreciate your compassionate nature? Or is it because you are a kindred spirit, so attuned to each other’s needs and desires?

Now, go figure it out. And good luck! – NWI