POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 22 July 2010, Thursday
The Coconut of Insecurity
A pretty, talented, world-acclaimed, and wrinkle-free 18-year-old girl gets Botox injections. A public official whines that his office is “too bare”, “kulang sa yabang”, and that he wants to move to more impressive digs. Do these two disparate cases have anything in common, and how do they reflect current social norms and values?
The first case refers to singer/actress Charice Pempengco, who shot to international fame after a homemade video of her singing went viral on the Internet. Her most recent success is having been cast in the next season of the hit American TV show “Glee”. To prepare, she underwent Botox and Thermage cosmetic procedures at the hands of celebrity plastic surgeon Dr. Vicki Belo.
The second case refers to Vice-President Jejomar Binay’s latest pronouncements on the shabbiness of the office assigned him and that he’s considering the fancy Coconut Palace for his office and “official residence”, though the Constitution does not provide for the latter. Recall that one of “V-Nay’s” first acts after the elections was to oppose, in public, President Noynoy Aquino’s ban of wang-wang (siren) use by motorists – something V-Nay had been fond of to scoot quickly through traffic. Now, instead of doing some real work, he is spending his vice-presidential time and effort complaining that his office at the Philippine National Bank building in Pasay City is not large and imposing enough.
About Charice, entertainment columnist Butch Francisco wrote recently, “According to Dr. Vicki Belo, she had to fix the teenage singing sensation’s rather prominent jaw lines that became even more pronounced because she chews gum that gets all the muscles in the area all worked up. In a week or two, expect to see a lovelier Charice when her Belo procedures take effect.” Clearly this was a cosmetic procedure. However, contrary to this, other news reports claimed that the “singer’s representative” said the Botox procedure was “not for cosmetic purposes” but to ease “some jaw pain she’s been experiencing.” Ano ba talaga, kuya? This seems like PR damage control.
A backlash of dismay and disgust hit. New York Magazine’s website (NYMag.com) says Charice’s opting for Botox is contrary to Glee’s message of acceptance and body confidence, and talent and character over appearance. Showbiz blogger Perez Hilton calls it “sick”. Feminist writer and professor Bea Lapa says “This is the height of irresponsibility… Charice should not be getting Botox or Thermage at her age.”
This is not to say anything against cosmetic surgery or procedures, which in many cases are necessary and beneficial. Also, looking at the issue from another angle, why should we be concerned with what these individuals have chosen to do? Dr. Belo has the right to try to persuade celebrities of the necessity of these procedures for their success, and, if she can, have these celebrities endorse her services. Charice has every right to go for any procedure she wants. Why then is the mass media discussing something that, in effect, is none of our business?
For one, it’s a cultural thing. As a people, we perceive ourselves as one big family, as manifested in the way we use kinship terms to address strangers (ate, manong, kuya, and so on); the accomplishments of its members are celebrated by all. Under this mindset, the triumphs of achievers like Charice and boxer Manny Pacquiao are extended to represent the entire Filipino nation, even as they themselves offer their efforts “sa mga kababayan.”
In a large part, this is from where the discussion about Charice stems – the Filipino family expressing concerns for her health, the impression that the procedure is unnecessary, the indignation that Dr. Belo may be using Charice for publicity purposes. In sikolihiyang Pilipino, this is pakialam, the concern of the collective for the well-being of the kapwa.
Further, Charice’s Botoxification is an indicator of the kind of culture we now possess – a culture that sets racist, colonial-minded, and often unattainable standards of beauty for women – unattainable, that is, unless one has money to spend on the expensive whitening, smoothening, and slimming technologies touted by Belo and the other cosmetic surgery clinics that have sprouted all over the country.
Are these same standards applied to men? No. Do these standards place a higher priority on intelligence and good moral character? No. What does that tell you? That the standards our society has constructed on what gives a woman her worth and value are shallow, distorted, and counter-productive.
In V-Nay’s case, his attitude and behavior are of general interest because he is an elected public official whose role is of national scope. His attitude is under scrutiny because it affords signals and clues on how he will perform his functions and act towards others in his public capacity. So far, all he’s done is complain about petty matters.
But this insistence on grandiose trappings and privileges is not confined to V-Nay; it is representative of the mindset held by a huge number of politicians, in particular the traditional and dynastic kind. Decades of power, wealth, and privilege have instilled in these people a sense of entitlement, the arrogance conveyed by an attitude of “I don’t need to follow the rules because I’m above the rest of you.”
Wikipedia defines insecurity as “A feeling of general unease or nervousness that may be triggered by perceiving oneself to be unloved, inadequate or worthless…(it) may cause shyness, paranoia, and social withdrawal, or alternatively it may encourage compensatory behaviors such as arrogance, aggression, or bullying.” It is linked to puberty and may account for “stereotypical adolescent behavior”.
These two cases – Charice and V-Nay – may seem unrelated. The frightening realization is that they are two halves of the same coconut. They reveal that we are an insecure people, compensating for the national traumas of colonial oppression, economic instability, and political uncertainty. Insecurity can be overcome, but it takes time, patience, and the acceptance that there is a problem that requires a solution.
It’s about time we grow up. ***