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Big, Bakla, and Beautiful: Transformations on a Manila Pageant Stage

by Emmanuel David & Christian Joy P. Cruz

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This article explores the cultural politics of beauty among fat bakla* subjects in the urban Philippines. Drawing on firsthand observations, we provide a descriptive account of a beauty pageant for plus-size queer and gender nonconforming contestants. We argue that these subjects, by putting their bodies and subordinate statuses on display, have constructed a fat bakla counterpublic. In the first section, we provide an ethnographic description of the pageant setting. In the following sections, we examine the themes that emerged from candidate performances, particularly those that reveal the intertwined nature of gender, class, sexuality, race, and fat bodies. Finally, we examine how participants used the pageant as a platform for advocacy, constructing a counterpublic for a wide range of identities and embodiments.

*Editor’s Note: Bakla is a Filipino/Tagalog term that translates to “gay.”

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