Miss Filipina Int’l Matea Mahal Smith breaks mold of Filipino beauty ideals
LOS ANGELES – Over the past century, fair-skinned beauty queens in the Philippines set the standard for what a beautiful Filipina was supposed to look like.
Beauty pageants historically leaned towards Eurocentric beauty ideals, which scholars have traced to three centuries of Philippine colonization by the Spanish, and later, the Americans.
Newly crowned Miss Filipina International Matea Mahal Smith, the first winner of Filipino and African American descent in the LA-based pageant’s decade-long history, hopes to join the new crop of international beauty queens who are breaking the mold of such beauty standards.
“There’s no one distinct look,” said Smith, a 21-year-old university student from Coral Springs, Florida, who won the Miss Filipina International title in a spectacular show at the posh Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills earlier this month. “I want all the underrepresented girls in the Philippines and the world to see what they can be.”
Smith, who also won the best in swimsuit competition, told INQUIRER.net she was looking forward to “holding the (MFI) title with grace and poise” and “representing and reflecting the rich diversity of the Philippines” at the Miss Universe Philippines pageant in Manila.
In partnership with Jonas Gaffud’s Empire Philippines, Smith and two other MFI winners are eligible to compete in Miss Universe Philippines next year while two MFI winners can vie for The Miss Philippines crown.
During the question-and-answer segment on stage, she said the “greatest piece of wisdom I have received from my mom is to stay true to who you are.”
“My mom has taught me to embrace my cultural heritage, my uniqueness and to be a proud Afro-Filipina,” Smith said.
“We’re very proud of her,” said Smith’s mother Mari Pantoja-Smith, who is from Pililla, Rizal. “I knew that Matea would do her best because she is an athlete who always gives it her all.”
Smith exceled in track-and-field, becoming the Broward County 200-meter champion when she was 12. She was later diagnosed with hip dysplasia that required surgeries.
She believes that no matter what life throws her way, obstacles are a temporary challenge, not an end, in her journey.
A student of Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Florida, Smith hopes to make a positive difference in people’s lives as a trauma surgeon.
Diversity and inclusivity
“Matea’s victory is more than just an individual achievement. It is a representation of the changing perceptions of beauty,” said Gil Gabriel Gonzales, CEO of The Mestizo LA. “It’s a symbolic step forward in the broader discussion about inclusivity and diversity.” The Mestizo LA, an innovative clothing brand that celebrates diversity through fashion, was one of the event sponsors.
“Matea has shattered glass ceilings and opened doors for future generations to follow their dreams,” stated Maya’s Hope, a New York-based nonprofit that helps orphaned, impoverished and special-needs children worldwide.
“With her Filipino and Jamaican roots, she embodies the beauty of two worlds, carrying forward the legacies of her parents in a way that’s uniquely her own.” Smith was an ambassador for Maya’s Hope in 2022.
New crop of pageant mold-breakers
Among the beauty queens who proudly represent the morena (brown-skinned woman) is reigning Miss Universe Philippines Michelle Dee. She placed the MFI sash on Smith during the Aug. 5 coronation night at Beverly Hilton’s International Ballroom, home to annual glittering events, including the Golden Globes.
The new crop of Filipino beauty queens who have broken the mold of Eurocentric beauty ideals also includes Dee’s cousin Reina Hispanoamericana Teresita “Winwyn” Marquez (2017), Miss World Philippines Tracy Maureen Perez (2021) and Binibining Pilipinas Universe Venus Raj (2010).
Raj, who finished fourth runner-up in the 2010 Miss Universe pageant, has revealed she was bullied as a child because of her skin color.
Los Angeles-based Filipino American actress and content creator Asia Jackson has challenged what she described as “whitewashed” beauty standards that are seen “on billboards, light-skinned and mestiza Asian celebrities, skincare products — that tell you to whiten your skin.”
She has launched a social media campaign encouraging appreciation of one’s natural skin color, self-love and redefining Philippine beauty ideals.
A new era of beauty pageants
Many beauty pageants that once perpetuated conventional standards of attractiveness have started to embrace diverse definitions of beauty.
There also has been more focus on showcasing talent, intelligence, advocacies, women’s empowerment and leadership.
Geoffrey Jimenez, owner of Miss Filipina International, and Empire Philippines’ Jonas Gaffud were both honored for their vision to empower Filipinas during the Miss Filipina International coronation night.
Jimenez was cited for creating a “platform to amplify young Filipina voices and a home for future transformational leaders in our community.”
Gaffud, head of Empire Philippines, which holds the Miss Universe Philippines and The Miss Philippines pageants, was honored for offering young women “the courage to dream, the strength to persevere and the knowledge that they are capable of changing the world.”