Miss Philippines wins Miss Universe, while first transgender contestant does not make the top 20
Grab some balut, hop in a jeepney and pull out your barrel man, because Miss Philippines just won the 2018 Miss Universe pageant! Catriona Gray, 24, became the fourth Filipina woman to receive the prestigious crown, defeating Miss South Africa and Miss Venezuela in the final round. It's a huge victory for the poverty-stricken country, which often makes the news for its devastating war on drugs. (And not for its beautiful beaches, mountains and rice terraces.)
In the final round, Gray wore a glittering red dress inspired by the volcano near her home, and described her experience working with children in the slums of Manila. She admitted "the life there is very poor and very sad," but she learned how to look for a silver lining. Gray said if she should teach people to be more grateful, "we could have an amazing world where negativity could not grow and foster, and children would have a smile on their face."
Some people criticize beauty pageants for objectifying women and reinforcing impossible beauty standards. However, the ceremonies can also have a positive impact, drawing attention to important issues. This year's trailblazing pageant made history by featuring the transgender candidate.
"I'm competing because it's what I've wanted to do since I was a little girl," Angela Ponce, aka Miss Spain, told Time ahead of the competition. "I'm showing that trans women can be whatever they want to be: a teacher, a mother, a doctor, a politician and even Miss Universe."
Although Ponce was considered the surprise front-runner, she did not place within the top 20. However, Miss Universe honored the first-ever transgender contestant with an emotional tribute. During the live competition in Bangkok, Thailand, she appeared in a special segment that received massive applause from the audience.
My hope is for tomorrow to be able to live in a world of equality for everyone, simply for us all to understand that we are human and we must make all our lives easier together," stated Ponce. "If I can give that to the world, I don't need to win Miss Universe, I only need to be here." On social media, people praised Miss Universe for celebrating praising diversity, and bringing attention to LGBTQ issues.
But not all the coverage was positive. Miss USA, Sarah Rose Summers, sparked an online backlash after appearing to mock non-English speaking contestants. In a live Instagram video, the 24-year-old said that Miss Vietnam, H'Hen Nie, is "So cute and she pretends to know so much English and then you ask her a question after having a whole conversation with her and she [nods and smiles]."
Later on in the clip, Summers expressed sympathy for Miss Cambodia, Rern Sinat. "[She doesn't speak any English and not a single other person speaks her language," asserted Summers "Can you imagine? Francesca [Miss Australia] said that would be so isolating and I said yes and just confusing all the time. Poor Cambodia."
After getting called out for sounding "xenophobic" and "condescending," the Nebraska beauty issued an apology: "In a moment where I intended to admire the courage of a few of my sisters, I said something that I now realize can be perceived as not respectful, and I apologize," said Summers.
Hopefully Miss USA's faux pas will not overshadow Miss Spain's historic inclusion, or Miss Philippines' stunning victory. After the coronation, Gray told reporters, "When I was 13 years old, my mother told me, ‘I had a dream that you were in Miss Universe, and you won in a red dress.’" Sometimes dreams come true.