A Story of a Poor Filipino Girl Who Got Absolute Power in Her Country, but Nothing Good Came of It
When Imelda Marcos was young, she looked a lot like Cinderella. This girl from the Philippines, from an ordinary family, has always had a bright appearance. When she was 18 years old, she easily won a beauty contest in her country. The future president, Ferdinand Emmanuel Marcos noticed Imelda like it usually happens in fairy tales when the prince falls in love with an ordinary girl. Except their story didn’t end with a “happily ever after,” instead it turned into a very divisive biography of a woman who is often called the iron butterfly, and she is one of the best examples of abuse of power.
We at Bright Side became really interested in this unusual woman, so we decided to tell you about her.
Imelda Trinidad Romualdez Marcos was born on July 2, 1929, her mother had been orphaned when she was a child and her father was a lawyer. She loved music and the stage since her very early childhood. So after she received an education, she decided to earn money by singing and taking part in beauty contests. She was really successful in the latter: at first, she won a title in her hometown. Then she became Miss Manila. After that, she was chosen to be the main model of the country and was given the crown and the title of Miss Philippines. Imelda appeared on the covers of magazines and she made almost every guy she met fall in love with her.
Young congressman Ferdinand Emmanuel Edralin Marcos was also charmed by the beauty queen. He was the future president of the Philippines. Imelda charmed him so much that he proposed to her just 11 days after they met each other.
Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos on their wedding day, 1954
“Her love led me to the peaks of my success,” the politician later said about his wife. His marriage looked truly happy. Ferdinand looked at Imelda through eyes that were full of life, right until the day he died in 1989. They raised 3 children and they will always be a part of the history of their country, but they are remembered as dictators.
The Iron Butterfly
After her big wedding, Imelda spent less and less time singing and working on her modeling career. She decided to dedicate all of her time to her husband’s political career. She went to meetings together with him and she communicated with anyone who could help him. The enthusiasm of the couple was fruitful, and in 1965, Ferdinand became president of the Philippines.
President Ferdinand Marcos, Imelda Marcos, and their 3 children: Imee Marcos, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., Irene Marcos, 1965
Imelda was not one of those first ladies who only showed up in the official photos. She played a big role in the life of her country: she traveled around the world on diplomatic missions, and she held several positions. She had the talent to charm people. This woman had a friendly relationship with Ronald Reagan, Mao Zedong, Leonid Brezhnev, Kim Il-sung, and even Saddam Hussain. Thanks to her arguments, Muammar el-Qaddafi agreed to help with the peace treaty between the Philippines and Islamic separatists. The charm and the diplomatic talent of Imelda made her country one of the most prominent countries at the time.
Imelda Marcos with Indira Gandhi, 1971
Also, as first lady she worked on matters of culture and healthcare, she initiated a lot of social programs. Marcos helped to build a lot of impressive and important facilities: a cardiac center, a nephrological institute, a congress center, the Coconut Palace, and many others.
Unfortunately, the spouses quickly realized all the advantages of being in power and decided to use their position. In 1972, Ferdinand got rid of the Constitution of the country and set up a dictatorship. Together, with his wife, they obtained access to the governmental budget.
Imelda didn’t limit herself and she soon turned into a real shopaholic. It seemed that she was buying everything she had dreamed of when she was a child. She chose the most expensive brands, luxury things, designer clothes, she commissioned hundreds of her own portraits. One of the most expensive paintings was The Birth of Venus by Botticelli but with her in the main role.
But more than anything else, Marcos loved shoes (they took up several rooms). Later, she explained herself, “I never bought 3,000 pairs of shoes, I only had 1,060 pairs.”
She was trying to forget her childhood in poverty. She even prohibited a book by one of the journalists from the Philippines. The journalist wanted to tell the story that young Imelda was just as poor as most of her citizens were at the moment. Carmen Pedrosa, the author of The Rise and Fall of Imelda Marcos, wrote, “She didn’t want the people to know about her origin. She created a completely different image... She wore amazing dresses when she went to places where people don’t even have bathrooms. She lived a fantastic life in a poor country.”
US president Lyndon Johnson, his wife Lady Bird Johnson, Imelda Marcos, and the president of the Philippines Ferdinand Marcos at the opening ceremony of the Metropolitan Opera in New York, 1966
There were legends about the things the first lady bought. There are customs documents that prove that during one of her trips to New York, she spent $3 million in one day. Imelda also bought a Michelangelo painting for $3.5 million. Once, she ordered a plane that was flying from Rome to turn back because she had forgotten to buy cheese, and the toilet paper she used was made by hand from the thinnest silk.
She didn’t like to hear the word “no,” and the money from the government budget was always at her disposal. Imelda was called the Iron Butterfly because she was authoritarian and she loved luxury.
The end of the reign and the return to politics
The rich life of the spouses looked even more impressive when you think about how poor the country was. The people who lived very poor lives started to realize that all the good things that the president and his wife did for the Philippines were nothing compared to how selfish they were and how much they abused their power.
In 1986, the regime of Ferdinand Marcos was overthrown. He was banished from the country and prosecuted: the former president and his wife were accused of abusing power and damaging the country’s budget to the tune of $90 billion. Imelda was able to return home only in 1991 after her husband died. There, she opened a shoe museum.
Almost right after that, Marcos decided to try to return to politics, but she didn’t get her first serious job until 2010. She became a member of the Philippine House of Representatives at the age of 80 and she still continues to work, even now.
We are sure that, in the near future, a Hollywood movie might be filmed based on the biography of this woman. Her life is a real demonstration of what a fairy tale can become when it faces a harsh reality. The biography of Imelda Marcos reminds us once again: big power is a big responsibility both for yourself and for the people who gave you the power.
What do you think about the life of Imelda Marcos? What is your opinion about this strong woman?
Preview photo credit GP/MPI/Capital Pictures/Capital Pictures/East News