Malditas: Our sports heroines don’t need lipstick anymore

From Hidilyn Diaz to these women gloriously bound for FIFA World Cup, the role models for young Filipinas today have certainly broken barriers

Malditas: This Filipino football team is headed to FIFA World Cup (Photo from Philippine Football Federation)

Hidilyn Diaz was all grit (and sexy armpits).

Okay, full disclosure: When I was a young girl, my sports heroine was Dorothy Hamill, American figure skater, 1976 Olympic gold medalist, and “America’s sweetheart.” Thank colonial mentality that I couldn’t even tell you who the outstanding Filipino athletes of the time were. All I knew was that Hamill, who was already appearing on TV shows, endorsing a ton of products, and had the cutest smile and a trademark bob hairdo that I desperately wanted, was my idea of a champion on every front—never mind that I live in a tropical country and nobody ice skated here. (If you told me then that one Filipino, Michael Christian Martinez, would indeed win an Asian Figure Skating Trophy in 2015, I would have thought you were snorting something.)

That was also the year of Nadia Comaneci, but while the Romanian Olympic gymnast was always serious and unsmiling, Hamill was different, because she was pretty, charming, and always coiffed and made up; her bob swung wonderfully whenever she launched into her signature move, the “Hamill camel”—obviously a technical challenge, but all I noticed was the shimmering skirt.

In retrospect, in my innocent political incorrectness, I was letting gender biases decide who I admired. It was a big “no” to the steroid-pumped German swimmers with those scary shoulders, while on the other extreme, the almost comedic-looking synchronized swimmers who moved like wind-up dolls (the sport became an Olympic event in 1994) just couldn’t be taken seriously just yet. In a family where my mother insisted there were “girl” clothes, “girl” careers, and “girl” ways to do things, there were also naturally “girl” sports.

The unforgettable Florence Griffith-Joyner

In 1988, those boundaries were pushed a little bit by the flamboyant Florence Griffith-Joyner, who won three track-and-field gold medals in the Olympics, running like the wind with long hair, full makeup, long fake nails, and a colorful track suit that featured only one full leg. Girls the world over realized you could be as fast and funky as Flo-Jo. (Sadly, she would die only 10 years later of an epileptic seizure.)

At the Southeast Asian Games (SEAG), heads turned when Lydia de Vega would enter the athlete’s cafeteria, all endless legs and eyeshadow

Through the years, many Filipinas have certainly made us proud when they became Olympians. Not to minimize their accomplishments, which were certainly dazzling and the product of much hard work, but let’s face it—our imaginations caught fire when they wore lipstick, too. My brother Bert, who made it to the Southeast Asian Games (SEAG) with the Philippine football team, recounted how heads turned when Lydia de Vega, once Asia’s fastest woman, would enter the athlete’s cafeteria, all endless legs and eyeshadow. Bea Lucero, taekwondo medalist for the then demonstration sport in the 1992 Olympics, and Akiko Thomson, the country’s most awarded SEAG swimmer, certainly had many career trajectories waiting for them after retirement because they also happened to be drop-dead gorgeous.

(I can’t help but remember watching a press conference for the movie Avengers: End Game, where actress Scarlett Johanssen was aghast when she would be asked not about plot, script, or character development—but about what it felt like to wear a skin-tight catsuit, and what underwear worked best. “What? I get the fashion question?!” she shrieked.)

Then, the 2020 pandemic Olympics. Every Filipino—and I mean, every single one—either cheered, cried, or was in utter disbelief when Hidilyn Diaz snatched the Philippines’ first competitive gold medal ever. And she snatched it in a traditionally, er, “unladylike” sport, weightlifting, flaunting mind-boggling muscle power to foist above her head a weight that could literally break an average man’s back: 127 kg.

To be sure, she had attracted attention even before then. She was outspoken about her training woes and lack of support. She worked her buns off, combining yoga and other disciplines. She was already giving back by establishing training centers in the Philippine south; one of the most memorable videos I saw was of a young Muslim girl in jogging pants and a hijab, letting out a little cry as she foisted a barbell above her head.

But the gold medal drove people nuts. Suddenly, weightlifting seemed like something any girl could get into, and her parents would have zero reason to stop her. Even gender distinctions relaxed; as my gay male friend remarked, “Hidilyn has really sexy armpits!”

1976 figure skating Olympic gold medalist Dorothy Hamill

I was delighted. Years after Dorothy Hamill was the prototype of the champion athlete—white, western, and winsome—Diaz was all grit, grunts, sweat, and later, unabashed tears as she broke a sh-tload of stereotypes. The best part for me? She did put on lipstick, too—some very nice shades of red, in fact—but that was no longer a main reason she was flooded with endorsement deals, from food to, gasp, Belo treatments.

(I also checked on Hamill, now 65, for research for this article, and while she’s still a lovely lady, she has also opened up about her battles against breast cancer and depression.)

And then—just as Rafael Nadal was winning the Australian Open against an opponent 10 years his junior—more good news.

‘For now, every young kid back home in the Philippines can be inspired to get to the World Cup’

For some hardcore sports fans, the FIFA World Cup is an even bigger deal than the Olympics, because soccer is one of the most popular sports in the world. After years of being just a dream for local footballers—and I admit, I thought wistfully of my brother Bert, and how he and his teammates slaved to push the sport locally long before any of the AzKals were even born—a Filipino team is finally going to the World Cup. And it’s a women’s team.


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A post shared by Pilipinas WNT ⚽ (@pilipinaswnt)

Malditas after their victory, with goalie Olivia McDaniel doing BTS’ ‘Boy with Luv’—she who blocked the penalty kicks of the rival team.

Last January 31, the Philippine national women’s football team, known locally as the Malditas, defeated Chinese Taipei on penalties, 4-3, in the quarterfinals of the 2022 AFC Asian Women’s Cup in Pune, India. They are assured of a slot in the FIFA Women’s World Cup to be jointly hosted by Australia and New Zealand in July and August next year.

“It’s an unbelievable achievement by the group and a moment in history for the country,” coach Alen Stajcicć was quoted in Businessworld Online. “For now, every young kid back home in the Philippines can be inspired to get to the World Cup themselves.”

Incidentally, there’s a move to change the moniker “Malditas” to something more, er, appropriate. I say, what the hell for?!!

So for posterity, let’s salute them: team captain Tahnai Annis, goal keeper Inna Kristianne Palacios, Olivia McDaniels, Tara-Allison Shelton, Hali Long, Kristen Bugay, Sofia Harrison, Malea Cesar, Kathleen Rodriguez, Jessica Anne Miclat, Anicka Castañeda, Sara Isobel Castañeda, Chandler McDaniels, Kiara Fontanilla, Dominique Randle, Isabella Flanigan, Katrina Guillo, Sara Bolden, Eva Madarang, Quinly Quezada, Carleigh Frilles, Keanne Micah Alamo, and Morgan Brown.

And girls, please, wear all the lipstick you want—or not. Good job, and your country is proud of you.

About author


She is a writer, editor, breast cancer and depression survivor, environmental advocate, dog mother to three asPins, Iyengar yoga instructor and BTS Army Tita. She edits part-time for a broadsheet, but is headed towards a full-time vocation as an online English writing coach and grammar nazi.

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