imelda  marcos

I’m going to say something that is maybe a bit controversial and certainly not very nice. Are you ready?

There are times when we do not give a shit about anyone else, and those times are “most of the time.”

As the song says, sometimes girls, and men, and women, and people, really, just want to have fun. Here. Let’s all appreciate together how nobody watches this and is like “I want to be the lady preparing the eggs.” [youtube=]

I think that’s more commonly accepted than we generally let on. In reality, every one of us is balancing out our days so we can do whatever will afford us the most amount of fun we think we can have (assuming that the fun would probably go down if you like the money your job gives you). That sentiment is probably why you are sitting at your computer write now, reading what is going to be a SUPER FUN article, and not de-worming orphans in Somalia for free.

However, while it’s generally accepted that human beings are generally selfish creatures who are out for a good time not all of them are seen as villains. Not all of them fit the same category as say, Imelda Marcos, the First Lady of the Philippines – who famously spent a fortune on shoes while the people of her country starved.

At what point point do people stop being just, well, people, who are not supposed to be angels, and start being incompetent monsters? As always, we should begin at the beginning. Imelda Marcos was born in 1929. Her father was a lawyer, her mother was supposedly the illegitimate child of a friar. This feels very reminiscent of a lot of stories about demimondaines in pre-Revolutionary France (specifically Madame du Barry), so I feel like that is an extremely appropriate beginning.

Also, I think being the illegitimate child of any member of any religious order gives you superpowers of seduction, but that’s just me speculating. But seriously, get knocked up by a priest, and let me know how your kid turns out. I think we can test it as a theory if we work together.

Imelda Marcos was extremely beautiful, and, accordingly, became a beauty queen at 18. She was named the “Rose of Tacloban” and, later, “Miss Leyte.” When she lost the Miss Manila pageant she protested, and was named the Muse of Manila, which makes me wonder why more Miss America contestants do not kick up more of a huff. She also studied music, and appeared on the cover of several magazines. In 1953, she met a young congressman named  Ferdinand E. Marcos.They were married 11 days later.

Imelda threw herself into the role of wife of a Congressman with a passion. She was extremely social, and attempted to cajole every politician who might assist her husband. Wikipedia notes that she was “she was baptismal and wedding sponsor to all.” Even in those early days, she was fastidious about her appearance, and slept upright, so as not to disrupt her hairdo. Which, as you can see, was impressive. imelda marcos And then, in 1965, the Marcos’s political savvy paid off and he was made President of the Philippines, with Imelda as first lady. The first four years went well, and Marcos was reelected in 1969. It was only in 1972 that things started to get weird. Marcos instituted military rule over the Philippines, and destroyed the constitution. The press was heavily censored, and the government became comprised primarily of Marcos’s appointees. Imelda was given a few governmental roles including: Governor of Metropolitan Manila, Minister of Human Settlement, and Ambassador Plenipotentiary and Extraordinary (which just means a diplomat with full powers to represent their county and conduct business abroad).

In order to conduct her “diplomatic business” Imelda started flying around the world, with her sizeable entourage, always on private jets. You know, I can get behind private jets a lot of the time. I remember people being shocked that the heads of banks flew to hearings in private jets during the bail-outs and I always thought, “well, if you run a large bank, you will probably have to fly to Duluth, or, say, China, to meet with the head of a failing business on very short notice, so that actually seems like a reasonable reason to have a private jet.” I can get behind Imelda using a private jet, even though there was no longer free press in her country which was under military rule (and the people were not doing great, because they were very poor and starving).

I’m not sure I can get behind using private jets for $5 million dollar shopping trips, though, which Imelda seemingly took in New York, London and (weirdly?) Copenhagen in 1983. I expected the third place to be Anyplace-but-Copenhagen, but I guess Imelda could have really needed architectural clothes that would allow her to brave a snowstorm… in the Philippines.

She also just started buying up buildings in New York. Like the  $51-million Crown Building, the Woolworth Building, and the  $60-million Herald Centre. The only building she didn’t buy – and it was offered – was the Empire State Building. It cost $750 Million dollars, which she thought was ostentatious.

Pause and consider the fact that this is a woman who almost bought the Empire State building.

She did not think it was ostentatious to take her jet to a private beach, where she retrieved sand which she used for her new beach resort. She claimed she did these things out of a sense of duty to be “some kind of light, a star to give [the poor] guidelines.”

Let’s take a moment to think about other First ladies who are cirticized for doing this. Let’s have a musical moment!


And then let’s remember that Evita did not send a private jet to retrieve the prettiest kind of sand for her beach while her people were dying. And, of course, certainly most memorably, there were her thousands of pairs of shoes, which were housed in a massive closet, and which she left behind when fleeing the country. It’s odd that this became the ultimate symbol of her excesses, and not the time she thought about buying the Empire State Building.

Whenever I hear about the shoes, though, it reminds me of an anecdote in Furious Love about when Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton – who were famous for spending money as though it was going out of style – went to visit Benin in West Africa.

They were housed at the Presidential compound, and were greeted personally by President Soglo, the general who had helped win the countries independence a decade earlier. Biographers Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger write:

The palace could barely hold a candle, however, to the luxurious hotels the Burtons were used to. When “Mon General” showed them his wife’s clothes closet with great fanfare, Elizabeth was touched to see “a perfectly ordinary rack of shoes.” When Elizabeth was invited to step onto a mat that automatically switched on a couple of lights, she feigned delight. 

I think this is supposed to be a “The Burtons are polite” story, but anecdotes like these do make me think of the tremendous pressure that heads of developing countries (like the Philippines) must feel to keep up with the luxuries of world powers. Perhaps Imelda Marcos simply didn’t want her shoe closet to seem pitiable and ridiculous if Elizabeth Taylor were to step foot in it.

No world leader, I’m sure, wants to be seen as kind of sad and sweet and adorable as a result of their shoe rack.

Moreover, this was the 80’s. It was a time when women on the world stage were supposed to be extremely fashionable. You could even argue that Princess Diana became as a famous – and beloved – as she was simply because she had such great taste in clothes. I mean, major news outlets still chronicle the story of her life in terms of her evolving taste in clothes.

So, yes, clothes do matter in regards to female world leaders. Imelda Marcos was not stupid or naive to think so. And it’s possible that having 40 billion shoes could really help you out (God knows how many Princess Diana had) – providing your people are are not starving.

This is the thing, and pay attention to this, because you seem like the kind of person who might lead a military coup one day: you literally cannot do anything fun if your people are starving, or they will kill you.

This isn’t about being a selfless person, this isn’t de-worming orphans in Somalia, this is just politely declining to meet Madame Guillotine.

Best case scenario there will be a revolution and you will have to flee. I understand that a lot of women in power – from Marie Antoinette to Imelda Marcos – really haven’t wanted to follow this advice. And I get that, because being a world leader seems appealing because it should allow you to have a TON of fun, and buy ALL the shoes.

Also, they probably don’t remember their people are starving if they don’t see them every day. This is evidenced by the fact that we, normal people, often forget that people are starving and go out and get drinks and play angry birds and continue on our merry way.

However. If you are a leader, and your people are starving, the only way you come out okay is if you adopt conditions that give the impression that you are one of them. Think of Washington sleeping in the tents with his men, or Queen Lilibet and Bertie expressing relief that the palace and been bombed during the Blitz so that they would no longer feel ashamed meeting with the people of the East End.

Really, when your people are starving, all you are supposed to do is be that lady in the dumb beginning of the Girls Just Wanna Have Fun video who is preparing the eggs. For people to eat. Imelda Marcos just never picked up on that.

Neither did her husband, really. That is perhaps why the people rebelled, and, in 1986 overthrew the government in The People Power Revolution. The revolution which took all of four days.

Basically, The protesters blocked, the Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, or EDSA in Manila. Marcos quickly resigned, and the people flooded into the palace, where they found Marcos’s 1,200 pairs of shoes.

Since they were not Elizabeth Taylor, they were not impressed by this, and the scene and photographs provided one of the most memorable visuals of the coup.

The Marcos family, pretty clearly if you watch this video, did not get quite how bad that looked, or why (there is a bizarre moment where Ferdinand Marcos compares Imelda’s show collection to “showing on television nighties, bras, panties and the like”).

After they stepped down, Imelda Marcos – and I defy you not to think of Evita when you hear this – stood on the balcony and tearfully sang the couple’s song “because of you.” She actually has a very nice voice. Here, you can watch her in this wedding video (I did not anticipate so much musical entertainment when I began this piece)

[youtube=] The lyrics went:

The lyrics go:


Because of you I attained happiness

I offer you my love

If it is true that you shall enslave me

All of this is because of you

Which seem stunningly off topic. Just not related to the revolution at all. Certainly there was no declaration of remorse on the part of the Marcos’s for their seemingly personal excesses which stood in stark contrast to the state of their people. Loyalists stood by the palace as the new President was sworn in chanting “Marcos, Marcos, Still Marcos!”

The only time the Marcoses excesses ever seem alluded to was when the revolutionary leader, and new president, Ninoy Aquino, remarked “ours must have been the cheapest revolution ever.” He may just have been being accurate, but still, it sure makes him sound thrifty, unlike his predecessor. But the story doesn’t end there!

The BBC reports:

While the revolution brought some name changes in the top echelons of power, that power remained concentrated among a small rich elite – something that is still the case today. [Current President] Cory Aquino’s administration also brought few improvements to the lives of the poor, and failed to lessen the yawning gap between them and the moneyed few. “This was a political revolution, not a social revolution,” said Mr Rood.

And perhaps most surprisingly, the revolution also failed to get rid of the Marcoses.

Ferdinand died in Hawaii shortly after he was ousted from office, but his flamboyant 81-year-old widow Imelda is back in the Philippines, with a seat in Congress. Several of his children also hold government posts – his son Bongbong is an influential senator and could well run for the presidency in the next elections in 2016.

I think this is…bizarre, and really not the way I thought this story was going to end. Not to be weird about this, but I sort of expected the people to try to kill her, and her to be living out her life in exile. I mean, pleasurable exile. I picture all exiled monarchs sharing pasta dishes at Serafina on the Upper West side, I sort of believe that is where exile happens (I see a lot of well dressed, solemn looking people speaking in foreign languages there, that’s the only reason).


Every single person in this picture is a deposed monarch.

Also, they have a kid name “Bongbong” who is an influential senator so… God, do you think maybe the BBC just makes things up? No, because then they’d be making up stuff about drone strikes. Maybe just this article. Maybe this is the one they made up.

But assuming it is true: I guess people got over the shoes. Imelda expected them to, once saying, “They went into my closets looking for skeletons, but thank God, all they found were shoes, beautiful shoes.”

That’s interesting, because that really did not work out so well with Marie Antoinette.

But that was also a different age, and perhaps an age where rulers were supposed to be more self sacrificing. By the 80’s maybe people, even indisputably oppressed people, realized that everyone, rulers included, just want to have fun.

Pictures via Wikipedia, Facebook

Additional Reading:

Imelda Marcos: Steel Butterfly, Biography

People Power At 25, BBC

Imelda Marcos, New York Times