Friday, October 14, 2016

[Friday Seminar Recap] The Role of Beauty Contests in the Filipino Community in Israel

The Role of Beauty Contests in the Filipino Community in Israel

Speaker: Deby BABIS (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Time: 1:00 – 2:30 pm, 30 Sept 2016 (Friday)
Venue: Room 11, Humanities Building, New Asia College, CUHK

On Sept 30, our department invited Deby Babis, a sociologist and anthropologist specializing in voluntary organizations and ethnic communities, to give a talk on the role of beauty contests in the Filipino community in Israel. Babis first gave the audience some background information about Israel and the Filipino workers working in the country. The population of Israel was approximately 8,500,000, among which Jews constituted the largest population group and Arabs formed the second largest. Filipino migrant workers were usually employed by the Jews, and stayed in the country with a work visa. The Filipinos, forming a large migrant workers group, had already become a part of Israel’s scenery. The prevalence of Filipinos working as live-in caregivers in Israel had even made the term Filipinit acquired the meaning of live-in caregiver in Israel’s context. The Filipinos in Israel received a minimum salary of USD 1000 for their work as live-in caregivers. They had a day off per week, in which they would engage in different kinds of activities.

Deby Babis
Babis used various methods in conducting the research, including observations, interviews, and digital ethnography. She mentioned that there were different categories of beauty contest organized for women, men, girls and boys within the Filipino community in Israel. These events were usually sponsored by organizations like caregiver agencies and money transfer companies. Facebook was used as a promotion channel to call for participants for the events. The candidates, after registering for the contest, would have photo shoots, followed by two to five weeks’ rehearsals for the contest. The coronation ceremony did not mark an end to the beauty contestthe recap on the event and the photos taken at the competition would be widely shared on Facebook, and the money raised in the competition could become a source of support for other projects in both Israel and the Philippines.

The audience
As Babis describes, beauty contests organized in the Filipino community in Israel could have three levels of significance: individual level, communal level, and transnational level. On personal level, the Filipino migrant workers could feel themselves as someone more than just a caregiver by participating in the beauty contests. They could express and develop other aspect of their lives, reinforcing their self-confidence and self-value. The contests also enabled them to expand their social network and gain popularity within the community. On communal level, beauty contests helped to foster social gatherings for the Filipino migrant workers on day-off. They could also collect funds for mutual help, and obtain partial recognition as a community. On transnational level, the beauty contests, as a Filipino tradition and a fundraising occasion, could help the Filipino migrant workers to preserve and develop their ties with home country.

Babis concluded that although beauty contest had negative connotations in the western context, it had acquired rich socio-cultural meanings in the Filipino community in Israel.

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