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How Competing in Beauty Pageants Helped Me Navigate My Asian Identity


I was 6 years old when I had my first glimpse of the world of pageantry. My parents let me stay up a little after bedtime to watch the Miss Universe 2006 pageant on TV.

I was glued to the screen, in awe of all the beautiful women who grace the international stage with such aplomb. They carried with them an innate sense of confidence that radiated with every step.

But above all, I saw a Filipina who looked like me. She had the same flowing black hair, deep-set brown eyes, and tanned skin. Her name was Lia Andrea Ramos, Miss Universe Philippines 2006. She later became a female empowerment and charity manager for the Miss Universe Philippines organization.

Growing up in the mid-2000s, there was a lack of Asian representation in mainstream media and what little representation we played on harmful stereotypes and excluded South and Southeast Asian voices.

Even though I grew up in a diverse city like Toronto, I didn’t see myself as beautiful because I couldn’t find myself on a magazine cover, TV show, or commercial.

Watching Miss Universe changed my idea of ​​beauty. Little did I know that those extra two hours after bedtime would change my young wife’s trajectory.

I entered my first national pageant in 2019, competing for the title of Miss Galaxy Canada.

When you dive into the world of pageantry, all aspects of your identity and character are exposed. As a result, my “Asianism” became a part of me that I learned to fully embrace. I grew to love my unique features such as my golden, tanned skin and wide, rounded nose.

“I was 6 years old when I had my first glimpse of the world of pageantry”, writes the author.

Photo courtesy of Ann Marie Elpa

While preparing for my pageant, I met other contestants and girls from the Canadian pageantry scene who were also of Filipino descent. We had conversations about navigating our identity, breaking beauty standards within the Asian community, and how pageantry helped us explore parts of ourselves we never knew existed. .

The pageantry is an outlet for our voices to be heard and to make room in a world that perceives us as silent and small.

In a time of turmoil and uncertainty, when Asian women are being harassed, assaulted and killed, pageants give us a platform to speak out against racially motivated attacks and challenge racial bias.

Having these important conversations with other beauty queens and learning about Toronto’s Asian community taught me that being born a Filipina is an honor. I am proud to be part of a rich culture that has remained resilient in the face of colonialism and violence, emerging victorious and establishing itself in various industries, including pageantry.

For a country like the Philippines, pageantry has been a way to establish our presence on the world stage and express pride in our rich cultural heritage. We currently have four Miss Universe crowns.

Although I didn’t enter my first contest, I came away with a ton of fun memories, increased confidence levels, and an active group chat filled with friends I made over my weekend. . A close friend of mine ended up winning the contest and doing amazing things with her title, volunteering with the Starkey Hearing Foundation.

Months later, I signed up to compete for the Miss Canada United World title and am currently training for the pageant in June.

I continued to use my title to advocate for mental health, using my personal experiences dealing with mental illness to break the stigma in the Asian community. I then wrote an op-ed for CBC, co-hosted a podcast on navigating Asian identity, and volunteered with amazing organizations like the BeaYOUtiful Foundation, which offers workshops on self-esteem and confidence for 8 year old girls. -14 across Canada, and the International Bipolar Foundation, blogging and sharing resources.

How Competing in Beauty Pageants Helped Me Navigate My Asian Identity
“I am proud to be part of a rich culture that has remained resilient in the face of colonialism and violence, emerging victorious and establishing itself in various industries, including pageantry,” the author says.

Photo courtesy of Ann Marie Elpa

For critics who say pageantry is demeaning to women, I would say those who enter pageants want to make changes and be heard. We are bold, confident and passionate about advancing the role of women in society. At the same time, we need these critiques in our historical reenactment systems to deconstruct and challenge ideas of beauty and gender.

I share my story as a testament to the impact Asian representation has on young women and girls. Just as I was once a 6 year old who fell in love with pageantry, I hope to spark the same hope and inspiration in the eyes of another little girl.

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