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Michelle Dee adorned in another Apo Whang-Od-inspired ensemble

by Joanna Deala

MISS Universe Philippines 2023 Michelle Marquez Dee paid tribute anew to Apo Whang-Od, the legendary “mambabatok” or traditional tattooist from Kalinga.

In her latest Instagram post, the 28-year-old beauty queen donned a skin tone unitard featuring traditional Kalinga tattoo patterns, similar to that of tattoo master.

Dee made the tribute in celebration of the 107th birthday of Whang-Od, who is widely considered to be the oldest mambabatok in the country. The beauty queen’s photos were captured by celebrity photographer BJ Pascual.

“In the canvas of my skin, a discovery of passion and destiny unfolded,” she wrote in the caption.

She continued, “And an immense Happy Birthday to the timeless legend herself, Apo Whang-Od.”

The beauty queen-actress has been paying homage to the traditional tattooist since the 72nd Miss Universe pageant, where she was placed as one of the Top 10 finalists.

During the coronation night in El Salvador, Dee strutted the Miss Universe stage donning a black dress featuring striking details that apparently promoted “pagbabatok” or the traditional method of tattooing. In this technique, tattoos are inked onto the skin using only a bamboo stick with a thorn.

It was renowned fashion designer Mark Bumgarner who worked on Dee’s evening gown for a month. The dress was not only a tribute to Whang-Od, but it was also about the inclusivity of indigenous people in the country, said Bumgarner.

Dee once again flaunted another Whang-Od-inspired ensemble during her grand homecoming parade in November 2023. 

The beauty queen wore a Kalinga tattoo-designed sheer top underneath a clean, elegant white sleeveless jumpsuit and a flowy train attached to her waist. This attire was also made by Bumgarner, who took reference from Dee’s Miss Universe’s evening gown.

Whang-Od as Dee’s inspiration

Before the new queen was crowned, the Top 3 finalists of the 2023 Miss Universe competition—Nicaragua’s Sheynnis Palacios, Thailand’s Anntonia Porsild, and Australia’s Moraya Wilson—were asked the question: “If you could live one year in another woman’s shoes, who would you choose and why?”

If given the opportunity to answer this, Dee said it would be Whang-Od, whom she described as a “symbol of cultural preservation.”

“She’s an amazing symbol of ageism. She has been defying boundaries, stereotypes, and that is something that I have tried to inspire everybody around me as well, which is to own your unique story, own your traditions, love where you came from, love who you’re surrounded with,” she responded.

Through this unique story, Dee emphasized that one can make their country proud and promote what their country has to offer to the universe.

“In my case, my love for our country can really shake the whole universe as well,” she concluded.

On February 14, Whang-Od received the Presidential Medal of Merit from President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who recognized her contribution to the Philippine’s rich cultural heritage and called her a “national treasure.”



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