Miss Universe 2007 was held in Mexico - a third time for this country. The winner was an Asian in the person of Riyo Mori of Japan. That year the Miss Photogenic was Miss Philippines, Anna Teresa Licaros. This win is actually a record for this country. This is the third straight year for the Philippines to get this award via public voting. It is their sixth Miss Photogenic award thus making them the winningest country in this category.
It is interesting to note that Licaros was supposed to be the most intelligent and most poised among all the candidates. This is actually agreed by all the followers of this pageant. Surprisingly, Licaros was also the main target of racism from jealous fans all over the world. Despite all these nasty comments, Licaros was able to prove herself. True enough, with her intelligence, he took all the negative comments on her advantage. She was able carved her name as one of the most intelligent and most glamorous candidates ever to grace any international pageant.
Let's take a look at her. I am going to show you an article she wrote for Philippine Daily Inquirer in 2007.
MANILA, Philippines – My most distinct memory from the Miss Universe pageant this year was that of Miss France holding a cheeseburger served us at Hard Rock Café Mexico. Holding half a burger with her delicate fingers, she looked at me and said: “Ye know, Tu-ress, ze first thing I learn to zay in eve-ree langu-egh is ze word, hamburguer.”
I looked at her, nodded and bit into my burger. I was so hungry after all that walking up and down the Basque de Chapultepec in four-inch heels. It’s not easy being a beauty queen. Try fitting a mirror, lipstick, lip gloss, face powder and extra eyelash glue into a tote and carrying it around with poise while you negotiate palatial staircases in your heels and miniskirt. Every day was a marathon for us at Miss U.
Meanwhile, Miss France continued her train of thought: “Like here in Mexico… zey call it hamburguesa. What about you, Tu-ress? What do zey call it in ze Philippines?” I was taken aback. I’m a pretty articulate person with above average capacity for witty retorts, but in this pageant, all sorts of questions were hurled at me from nowhere! It was like the question and answer portion, only worse: they were mostly everyday stuff about me and my country that I never really thought about before joining the pageant. I tried to buy some time by sipping my Coke light, sin hielo, lest I find myself running to the loo every five minutes. I struggled for the Filipino word for hamburger: Ham-barger?
Oops, too late. Someone mentioned another topic and the conversation shifted. Ham-barger it was. I reeled at the thought of how this might affect how the Philippines is perceived by the next person that Miss France meets to whom she repeats this conversation. That was my everyday reality as Miss Philippines in the Miss Universe pageant. I ceased to be just Theresa or Tu-ress to Rachel/Miss France. I became the Philippines.
Early on, I became aware of what representing my country really means. Having to wear the banner “Philippines” across my breast every single day kept me on my toes, careful of how I’ve been projecting myself and of everything I say or do. To some extent it was scary, but also a source of pride. Every smile I flashed, each pose I struck was done with the thought that it should be my best because this wasn’t just about me anymore.
For the most part, the other contestants were fantastic. Contrary to popular belief that women who join beauty pageants are airheads or bimbos, most are college graduates with full time jobs in their own countries. They are opinionated and know what they want.
When I came back from Mexico, I was always asked if acts of sabotage really took place during the pageant. (Reportedly the most controversial in years, the 2007 Miss Universe pageant saw Miss USA being booed by some Mexicans unhappy over a pending immigration bill in the US, Miss Sweden pulling out after complaints in her country described the contest as degrading to women, and Miss Mexico being asked to change costumes because the original was deemed in poor taste.—Ed.) I’m happy to report that I didn’t experience any such incident firsthand. The closest thing to intrigue that I encountered was a remark from a fellow candidate that was perhaps meant to psych me out. During one rehearsal, I was called onstage to do the evening gown pattern, after which I had to look at the camera and pose. Suddenly, everyone was clapping and cheering. I must have done something right, I thought.
Indeed, when I got off stage, Miss Tanzania approached me, saying “Girl, that was an amazing face!” Most everyone thought so, except for Miss Bolivia who told me flat out: “You look dead onstage. Your eyes are just blank. Maybe you should, like, move your eyebrows or something.” Just friendly advice, she said, because she wanted me to do well. That was odd, I told her; another candidate had just told me the exact opposite. Miss Bolivia simply rolled her eyes and said I should trust her instead. Well, I thought afterwards, when you do something significant, you’ll get both good and bad reactions.
As an insider, I also learned that the Miss Universe organizers and production team wanted to veer away from the traditional pageant look and feel. They discouraged stiff and exaggerated posturing and encouraged sexy, relaxed, fluid and model-like movements. A Miss Universe, said our catwalk teacher, Lu Sierra, must know how to smile. She hated it when the contestants sported sexy I’m-gonna-eat-you-alive looks. The pageant organizers had a “look” in mind and I was personally sold to the subtle but sexy models’ stance that they advocated.
There were so many things to learn and it wasn’t always smooth sailing. There were really days when I just wanted to put a paper bag over my head and not wear any makeup. I had to keep telling myself that I was in Mexico to do a job and that the job requires me to put on makeup at five in the morning. So I’d just shake off whatever negative feelings I felt, play some dance music and sing along while putting on my pageant face. That was how I got through the doldrums.
Apparently, I did that so well that some contestants would ask me to close my eyes so they could check out my eye makeup. They said they liked the way I blended the colors. One photographer even took a photo of my right eye. Just my right eye! He said it looked so beautiful that he wanted a shot of it. My thanks go to Jay Lozada, Allen Rosales, Lia Ramos and Jenny Tan for selflessly sharing their makeup tips with me.
That kind of team work, or collaboration, also defined my Miss Universe experience. There were so many teachers who shared their knowledge with me, as well as family and friends who flew all the way to Mexico to become my cheering squad and support group. I got a lot of joshing when I gave my guest list: 25 people strong. Not bad for a pacific islander who lives roughly 12 time zones away. It was the kind of support that others could only envy. My roomie, Miss Thailand, wanted to “borrow” a brother because she didn’t have any family around during the pageant. I gladly obliged, telling the bunso in our family to go wild when Thailand gets called. I think he did go wild —for all the girls—so that was substantial compliance.
The reality of representing one’s country can be daunting, but it also enhanced me as a person. While it might have been a source of insecurity to pose beside Barbie lookalikes, it boosted my confidence nonetheless. I looked at them and felt that I deserved to be there. Cheesy, I know, but when I stood there in high heels beside the most beautiful women in the universe, something changed. I was no longer a passive participant to whom things happen; instead, I chose to embrace the experience and learn from it. That made all the difference for me.
More than just another beauty pageant, this year’s Miss U put things into perspective for me. In a nutshell, my 30 days in Mexico with 76 other women from all over the world was a crash course in culture, diplomacy, confidence, and worst of all, geography. I’ll always remember— with amusement tinged with shame—how I had managed to put so many countries in the wrong continent and historical era and unwittingly displayed such ignorance by asking the delegate about it. So, I asked Miss Egypt, “You’re from Cairo. How are the pyramids?” She smiled and giggled: “They’re in Giza.” Getting my witty retort mode back, I countered: “Well, maybe if you’d take me around the Middle East one of these days, it won’t be so confusing.” As she wiped her fingers on a tissue, Miss France interjected: “Isn’t Egypt in Africa?”
Licaros is a junior at the UP College of Law. She plans to visit Egypt and see the pyramids next summer, and find out how they say “hamburger” in Arabic.
Miss France 2007 Rachel Legrain-Trapani