Asia

Pageant-mad Philippines celebrates Miss Universe win

Miss Philippines Catriona Gray being crowned Miss Universe Image copyright Reuters

The Philippines, a country obsessed with beauty pageants, is celebrating its fourth Miss Universe win, sparking a wave of pride and support online.

Catriona Gray beat her global contestants in an early morning final in Bangkok, Thailand on Monday.

While hugely popular, such pageants are often accused of objectifying women and promoting gender inequality.

Activists have described Miss Universe as a "display of flesh" which sets "unattainable beauty standards".

'Beauty pageants break the internet'

Howard Johnson, BBC News, Manila

Beauty pageants are a very big deal in the Philippines. Families crowd round TVs to watch. Chat groups are set up to provide a running commentary on costumes and stage blunders.

This week, hair salons in Manila have even been offering incrementally improving discounts as Miss Gray progressed through the rounds.

A Filipina friend described the country's obsession with them like this: "If Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao's fights clear busy streets of traffic, then beauty pageants break the internet."

The Philippines inherited beauty contests from former colonisers Spain and America, but it was during the reign of notorious dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his glamorous wife Imelda in the 1970s and 80s when they really took off.

In 1974, the contest was even hosted by the Philippines and the success of the show cemented the Philippines' place on the beauty world stage and inspired future generations to compete.

Feminists in the country, though, say the contests are degrading to women. Artist and activist Nikki Luna called them a "display of flesh," that set "unattainable beauty standards" for the majority of women.

Ms Gray, aged 24, was born in Cairns to an Australian father and a Filipina mother. She grew up in Australia but moved to Manila to work as a model and actress.

Her success in winning first the Miss Philippines crown and now the Miss Universe title has been enthusiastically followed by Filipinos at home and around the world.

Beauty pageants remain extremely popular across the Philippines.

Schools, villages and towns all run their own pageants and there is an immense level of pride attached to winning the final global competition.

The contests are viewed more negatively in many Western countries.

The Miss America pageant this year decided to scrap its swimwear segment and says it will no longer judge competitors on physical appearance.

More on this story