01/24/2017

Why Imelda Marcos can never be a fashion icon

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Let’s get one thing straight: Imelda Marcos is not someone to be idolized. Yes, she paved the way for artists, fashion designers, and singers to carve out successful careers by giving them a venue to stage shows and perform in the Malacañang Palace during Martial Law, or by sending them abroad to study. Yes, she had expensive, ostentatious taste as a patron and lover of the arts. She was all these things, but at the cost of not only millions of dollars of taxpayer money, and to some degree, of people’s lives and liberty.

These are all part of our consciousness as a people, a piece of our history that is still being contested to this day. Despite the horrors that transpired during the Martial Law years, Imelda Marcos is still hailed as a beacon of beauty, fashion, and art — and the people with political and cultural influence are partly to blame. Imelda and her spawn are still part of our local society, partly because celebrities and those in the higher strata passively let them, conveniently taking the Marcoses only for their glitzy parts.

This contention came up once again when actress Iza Calzado posted a photo of the costume she wore to a birthday party. As a tribute of sorts to Imelda, she wore a classic terno and her hair in a coif. Her caption read: “Decided to channel my inner Imelda Marcos for the party since I love shoes and I love wearing the terno just like Madame Imelda!” And she’s not the only one. Another notable example is Broadway actress Lea Salonga, who in a reply to a comment on Facebook, stated that the Marcoses “have always been kind to me and my family,” and that she will never disrespect them because of what they did for her and other artists’ careers. “Nobody does that anymore,” she said (the comments have since been deleted).

But here’s the thing: you can’t simply look up to Imelda’s style without considering what the Marcoses have done to the Philippines. It’s like ignoring the current president’s homicidal tendencies and vulgar mouth in favor of whatever “change” he campaigns for, or ignoring Adolf Hitler’s fascism in favor of his public speaking and leadership skills. These people are whole, with their biases and hidden agenda all rolled into one, and you can’t ever just take one side of their personality just because it’s the prettier one.

Miss Calzado took to Twitter to respond to the backlash, saying that people are too sensitive and opinionated about politics these days. But that’s the thing —  it’s when people hold back and restrain their criticism that allow for others to be oppressed. Miss Salonga has since recognized the adverse effects of martial law, but refuses to villainize them because of utang na loob.

But it’s not about just one person, it’s about being unified, nor is it about moving on from the past — it’s about doing the right thing. There were things back then that would be a dream to have now — a booming industry in fashion, art, and entertainment — but those things are not even comparable to what we lost. Fashion doesn’t hold any weight in this discussion. In this case, it is irrelevant.

Fashion can be used for something more than just clothes. It can be used as a true form of expression not just for oneself, but for political ideas and agenda as well. When it starts to get stained by blood, that’s when the line must be drawn. All this glitz and glamour of Imelda — $3 million shopping sprees, properties all over the world, $10,340 for bedsheets, and $2,000 for chewing gum — was nothing but an obscenely extravagant mask that veiled their embezzlement and atrocities. And lest we forget, Imelda literally covered up at least 169 people in quick-drying cement for the construction of the $25 million Manila Film Center.

Think of it this way: under martial law, there were 3,257 killed, 35,000 tortured, and 70,000 imprisoned. Imelda could spend $7 million in just 90 days.

People, especially those who are in a position of influence, ought to know better and see the bigger picture. It’s true: fashion, art, and entertainment enrich our culture and define our generations. But when you really think about it, these things hold no weight compared to something fundamental like human rights. She didn’t need to murder these people herself: instead, she became a symbol of avarice, malice, and bloodshed; she was instrumental in its oppression of an entire country.

Imelda Marcos is not an idol.

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