Did You Know that the First Filipina to Bag a Major International Beauty Title Refused to Wear Swimsuit?


It’s pageant season once again, and in a few ticks, Filipinos will flock around their television sets or hold an online watch party – for a more millennial mode of viewing – to witness how the country’s bet will once again make known to the world how beautiful, intelligent, and empowered the women of the Philippines are.

There’s always something about pageantry that draws Filipinos. While other countries religiously support their national athletes or research representatives sent to compete with other countries, the Filipinos, on the other hand, are more devoted to channeling their energies into a different kind of competition: beauty pageants. In fact, the Philippines has become known throughout history to have held several titles, including Miss Earth, Miss International, Miss World, and Miss Universe.

With its exemplary track record in international pageants, many of the Philippines’ representatives have become iconic because of either their lasting words or momentous victory. Probably one of the most iconic wins was that of Pia Wurtzbach in the Miss Universe 2015 coronation. It can be remembered that Steve Harvey made a cringe-worthy crown transfer after wrongly announcing the winner – Miss Colombia Ariadna Gutierrez instead of Wurtzbach.

But did you know that there is something more iconic than this? In 1964, Miss Philippines International Gemma Cruz refused to wear swimsuits like the rest of the candidates, stating that as a conservative Catholic country, Filipinas are not accustomed to seeing women wearing swimsuits in public. Instead of joining her fellow candidates in their swimwear, she wore a “Maria Clara” national dress instead.

And if you think this was an insolent act, you better think twice, as this totally made a lasting impression on the audience, as well as on the judges. In fact, the daughter of journalist Carmen Guerrero Nakpil, bagged the Miss International title in August of 1964 in Long Beach—the first Asian to do so.

But what truly made her an icon was when she donated her entire prize money of $10,000 winnings – which was already quite a number at that time – from the pageant to the Philippine Orphanage for indigent and out-of-school youth in Marikina, Manila Boys and Girls Town. Such a generous act prompted the Philippine Congress to exempt Gemma from future income tax. She also received an “Outstanding Manileña” and a “Golden Heart” Presidential Award from former president Diosdado Macapagal.

While it remains debatable if the love for beauty pageants among many Filipinos is innate, one thing is for sure: there’s more to a Filipina than how she appears. As the adage goes: don’t judge a book by its cover. For a country that suffered so much throughout history – and even until these economic crises are faced at present – the world of pageantry offers a sense of capability that Filipinos can at par, compete with delegates from all over the world, and even best them all. It is indeed a breath of fresh air to see Filipinas battle heads on with first-world countries and prove to the world, or the universe rather, that there is still hope for this country.

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