Monthly Archives: April 2013

‘Perfecting’ Oneself: Beauty and Madness

We all have imperfections. I am the best example of a perfectly imperfect person from head to toe. I battled insecurities from the way I look especially my nose, being overweight, acne and bruises and scars due to clumsiness. When I was in high school, it was so bad that I could not look at myself in the mirror and I feel nauseated just seeing any of my pictures. I saw myself as a very ugly person that I thought I was cursed.

Nonetheless, I eventually accepted my flaws. I learned to wear better clothes. I understood the purpose of skincare. I found joy in applying makeup. Actually, I only learned these things for roughly a year now. Regardless of that, I now laugh at my imperfections because I fully accepted them together with my good qualities. It makes me who I am. I am no longer a prisoner of my imperfections.

In less than two weeks, I’ll turn 25 years old. I feel old but at the same time, I feel blessed that I was born earlier in this world. These days, people are so obsessed with what they look like that there are some teenagers asking their parents for plastic surgery as graduation gift. When my brother graduated high school last year, one of his batch mates had undergone plastic surgery before they graduated. Now, it is understandable that such act of going through knife at a very young age is shocking to sub-urban Fairview, Quezon City, Philippines. But in South Korea, it is really very normal for girls to have cosmetic surgery after high school graduation. People there are so obsessed with ‘perfecting themselves’. As proof, kindly examine the image below:

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At first glance, they seem to be a picture of a woman who just wears different hair and clothes. However, believe it or not, they are the contestants of the upcoming Miss Korea 2013. Notice the same small face, refined but soft eyes, impeccable nose and thin lips. The ratio of the distance of the features is so noticeable. Yes, they had undergone plastic surgery according to my source although it is uncertain if all of them went through it. Their similarities are probably not an accident because that face portrays what a “perfect” woman is for the South Koreans.

Yes, I must admit how pretty they all look. If God had made me choose my physical appearance, especially my facial features, I would have really considered this look for myself. If I were born this pretty, I’d take no hesitation and join a beauty contest. But what good is a beauty contest if all contestants look so similar that they look like clones of each other? If everyone on earth looks the same, who could be called beautiful?

If there’s anything I learn in looking at that picture, I realized that “perfection” can really be boring.

Plastic surgery is an ethical issue that is so sensitive to touch. We are born with our own bodies and graced with freewill, we could do anything we want with it. How we treat, dress and accessorize shows our attitude, our feelings and our self-expression to the world. Perhaps, altering parts of our body is also part of our freewill. However, did it occur to you that you are beautiful enough?

I know none of us remember the day we were born. I’m glad I couldn’t. When I was born almost twenty-five years ago, it was a beautiful Sunday morning. Most importantly, it was Mother’s Day. However, before my mother went emotional because of meeting her firstborn a little bit late in her life, she was bothered by my aunts’ nasty comments.

Naku, Angelo…mapapagastos ka niyan. Sapad na sapad ang ilong ng anak mo!

(“Oh no, Angelo [my dad]…you are going to spend so much money [on your daughter]. Her nose is so flat!”)

Wow. Epic welcome. Like, hello…that my first day on this freaking earth! Growing up, I didn’t like my facial features so much but I have this incredible hate for my nose. It is so large and looks flat because of the bulbous tip. When get colds, it looks even more ridiculous because it looks like a tomato due to redness. It is so annoying because the nose is the most conspicuous part of your face because it sits amidst of your face. I really considered having plastic surgery before. I thought that it would be better if I made it look like my mother’s nose because she has this subtle, pointy nose. But now that I’m all grown up, I fully accept the shape of my nose. Actually, I believe that it made my face so distinguishable that people easily recalls what I look like. I now embrace it as part of my uniqueness.

Plastic surgery is becoming more and more prevalent in the world. In fact, before in my country, it is a big scandal when actors and actresses go under the knife. But nowadays, they even explicitly express their gratitude on national television their cosmetic surgeon like Dr. Vicky Belo or Dr. Manny Calayan, who are some of the famous cosmetic surgeons here. I guess in most parts of the world, plastic surgery is really becoming more and more acceptable. Also, in various parts of the world, media and society dictates what is beautiful. In Korea and other parts of Asia, it’s about softening features and putting emphasis on the ratio of the distance of the facial features. In the western world, it’s all about exaggerating on what you have. Girls there want bigger boobs, sharper butts and have those big, luscious Angelina Jolie lips. Truly, what is beautiful in the east is not necessarily what is beautiful in the west. So who is beautiful then?

The problem I see in plastic surgery is once you ‘perfect’ a part of your body, you will go on and ‘perfect’ the other parts. Over and over you can see imperfection on yourself and try to alter those flaws. In the end, you will never be contented on what you have and if you are not contented in life, chances are you will never be truly happy.

I will not judge you if you still chose to undergo cosmetic surgery. It is your body and life anyway. But one piece of unsolicited advice that I could share with you is this: Do not let media, society or other people make you believe that you are not beautiful. After all, the perception of beauty always changes overtime. For example, see those paintings made during the Renaissance period. Do you see girls who have this sought-after hourglass figure in any of the paintings? No. Well, during that time, curvier women are thought to be more beautiful. Just look at the famous “Birth of Venus” by Sandro Botticelli. In our modern day standards, that woman posing as Venus would probably be called as ‘fat’ by some people. Also, someday, when the world forgets about Angelina Jolie, women who tried copying her lips would probably look ludicrous. Like fashion, the perceptions of what is beautiful come and go. The bottom line is, accept yourself. In the first place, if you do not love yourself it reflects to the world. If you do not love yourself, chances are the world will not love you back. Do not focus much on what you don’t have. After all, the truth remains that you can never be perfect no matter how much surgeries you have. Feel blessed because you’re unique. Focus more on what is eternal like kindness rather that which comes and goes.

You are beautiful. Do not just believe in that. Know that.

‘Rebuild My Church’

Habemus Papam!

First and foremost, I would like to extend my gratitude to our former Pope Benedict XVI. I understand that it was not easy stepping down especially if you are at the pinnacle of the Roman Catholic Church. This greatly needs humility in action. With this act I felt that he is genuinely doing this for the great love for our Church. I believe that he must be an illustration of what a great leader must be. I am saddened that there are many politicians, members of the Bench or even clergymen like our Pope is who are already incapable of doing their task properly due to poor health, old age or even questionable reputation who would do practically anything in order for them NOT to relinquish their positions. My friends, this is a challenge for all of us. We had learned from Spider man that “With every great power comes with great responsibility” and the responsibility of every leader is to serve others with the best of our competency. Remember that what really measures our worth as human beings are not the titles and positions that we had held in our lifetime but with our service of others. Pope Benedict XVI could have just spend the rest of his papacy inactively because after all, the Church could move without him doing much because many could substitute works for him. However, he understood that this is the trying times of the Catholic Church. He humbly offered his seat in the Vatican to another worthy person in the College of Cardinals. Therefore, we thank you, Holy Father. We are thankful not just for your humility in stepping down as our Pontiff but with your almost 8 years of service with us. Even if you acquired this position at a relatively old age, you defended the conservative doctrines of the Church as well as being brave in opening the sensitive matters on the sexual abuse of some of the priests and did actions towards this problem. Again, thank you, Holy Father.

Anyway, the last day of my final examinations was Monday of the week before Pope Francis was elected. I was so freaking tired. I had about three to four hours’ worth of sleep and if you know me well, you will know that I need 8 hours of sleep usually. I thought the sleepless nights would be over by Monday but it went on because of the conclave. Yes, that smoke from the Vatican comes out at about 3AM in our time. I really do not know why I was so engrossed by it. Okay, I actually know why I am engrossed by it—our local cardinal, Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, is ALWAYS on the list of the papabile or the list of possible popes of the international media. I adore Cardinal Tagle with all my heart. He has this weekly show on the cable news channel ANC entitled, “The Word Exposed”. In there he discusses and comments on that Sunday’s first and second reading and the gospel. Sometimes, he answers the questions of his followers in Facebook or he discusses various topics on Catechism which enlightens and nourishes my Christian faith. Imagine having an Asian pope again after several centuries and the best part is it could be a Filipino. However, I think I was only disappointed for three minutes seeing another person other than Cardinal Tagle as Pope. It only took a few moments for me to really fall in love with our new pope, Pope Francis. Looking back, I thought that I was so foolish. I was praying so hard that the Philippine delegate might win that in a way, I looked at the conclave as an international beauty pageant. Then again, I am now exultant because with Pope Francis’ election as the new pope, I believe that all of us have won.

Pope Francis is a man of many firsts being the first pope from South America, the continent with the largest population of Roman Catholics. He is the first Jesuit pope which is why some people thought he chose the name “Francis” because of the founder of the religious order, Society of Jesus. Of course he is the first person who picked Francis for his name because he was inspired by St. Francis of Assisi’s genuine love for the poor.

I believe that he is the perfect man for the job. I am deeply touched and inspired by his humility. When I first saw him, I wasn’t sure that he was the pope. He was wearing plain white vestments without the signature red velvet cape or the mozzetta. The other priests beside him seem to be more regal in the black and red vestments. He also quietly waved to the people and smiled. This is also a little strange because both Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI outstretched their arms when they first faced the public. But the more I research about Pope Francis, the more inspired I become with his humility. When he was cardinal, he refused living in a mansion-like place that is reserved for him as cardinal. He instead rented a small room and even cooked his own meals and rode on Argentine public transportation. In Vatican, too, he refused the room where the popes in the past stayed, remarking that it was “too big”. He chose a much smaller room.

Nonetheless, what really touched me is the fact that he again removed the bulletproof glass in the Popemobile. Of course, I could completely understand why Pope John Paul II established that bulletproof glass in the Popemobile. After all, some insane guy shot him four times. Pope Benedict XVI was also not spared as an insane woman tackled him down one Christmas Eve and attempted to do it again a year after. However, it is truly remarkable seeing that desire of Pope Francis to go very up close and personal to the people. He even goes down at times to bless the children and the sick. I know that this make him like the security “nightmare”. However, I guess that deep inside, Pope Francis care little or not at all for his own life. I feel that as a person, he wanted to embody true goodness, kindness and love which Jesus taught us. He also shows us this deep faith that God will protect us if we obey and do his will even at the riskiest places. Thus, Pope Francis is really a person who always leaves me smiling in my heart.

I could genuinely say that he is the pope that we need at these trying times. Like St. Francis of Assisi, he is humble, warm and welcoming. He truly loves and cares for the poor. We are a world filled of ‘poor’ people but in varying ways of suffering. In Japan, the United States, Canada and European countries, where everything is provided, people are killing themselves because of pressure, stress and extreme loneliness. In emerging economies like the Philippines, Vietnam and China, there are many people who do not get what they deserve. Employers who are driven so much by profit underpay their employees. Of course, there are people from failed states which are mainly in Africa where the people are so poor, they have hardly have food to eat, clothes to wear, and homes to speak of. Additionally, their lives, as well as the lives of their offspring, seem to be doomed by civil wars which they ancestors started. There are countries in the Middle East whose life is a great struggle each day. People kill each other or commit suicide bombing because of religion. But why would the God who is taught with goodness, mercy and love in the conflicting religions want to start wars in His name? We must not forget that He is the very same God who appeared before Abraham, a key figure in Christianity, Judaism and Islam. In essence, we are all poor in varying degrees but contain some richness deep inside of us that we could share to one another. Some people who have everything materially are so poor in spirit. But on the other hand, there are also some people who hardly possess anything but are so filled with cheer. Pope Francis, a very simple man, is who we need. You can see clearly in this man that he is a true embodiment of God’s virtue. He is very welcoming, warm and kind—a perfect father-figure for our church. These are the trying times of Catholicism. The number of believers is not increasing in years. States keep on legislating laws which are against the teachings of the church like abortion, same-sex marriage and divorce. Also, the borderline between ethical and acceptable is now ambiguous. It seems like the world is very much against the rectitude taught by the church without understanding the reasons behind the prohibition such as the sanctity of life, marriage and relationships as well as having intelligent choices for ourselves. This is very immature for everyone is acting like a teenage child who thinks everything that his parents impose upon him is revolting, absurd or simply uncool. We need a father-like figure like Pope Francis who knows how to listen and understand with so much compassion but at the same time, he is firm against the unscrupulousness against the teachings of the church just like the time where Argentina legalized same-sex marriage.

Francis, go and rebuild my Church,” Jesus told St. Francis of Assisi this before and perhaps, this is also what he is telling Pope Francis now that he is our pope. I have high hopes in him. But in the meantime, I say a little prayer for him just like he first requested to all of us when he first appeared to the public. I know he could do great things for the church but he’ll definitely do better with us praying and supporting him as well as living through the righteous teachings of the church.

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True power is service. The Pope must serve all people, especially the poor, the weak, the vulnerable.” —Pope Francis, via Twitter (username: @Pontifex)