MANILA, PHILIPPINES — When Vogue Philippines launched last August 2022 with a cover story that spanned the country’s islands in a love letter to Philippine fashion, beauty, art, and culture, it was clear that this wasn’t a one-time exploration. Rather, it felt like a promise that this was just the start of the publication’s journey of celebrating heritage and tradition while breaking boundaries with the cultural gems Filipinos have always had.
Recently, it continued to do exactly that by doing something that no Vogue publication has done before — choosing a 106-year-old cover girl to be the face of its latest issue.
And while that in itself is groundbreaking as the oldest Vogue cover star ever, it’s far from the most interesting part about this feature. This isn’t just any model, after all. It’s someone who has become a household name throughout the country: Apo Whang-Od.
Vogue Philippines dubs this issue as The Beauty Issue. While something as subjective as the concept of beauty sparks so many possibilities, it can be hard to choose a centerpiece that perfectly captures what beauty is, what beauty can be, and what beauty can represent. This cover story does exactly that by shining a spotlight on the simple yet culturally specific beauty of living legend Apo Whang-Od, her work as a mambabatok, and the indigenous culture and history that they represent.
Over the past decade, the world has taken notice of Apo Whang-Od’s work. From Filipinos in the country to foreigners from across the world, there is no shortage of people willing to travel the long and winding paths leading to the remote village of Buscalan in Kalinga. So, it’s no surprise that the once-dying art of stick and thorn tattooing is now a badge of honor and culture that people everywhere now have on their bucket lists. With that, of course, is the growing appreciation for the unique and culturally significant notions of beauty that traditional tattooing has brought back into the spotlight.
As the main feature penned by Audrey Carpio highlights, this ancient art form is sacred and has roots in the way Kalinga heritage saw, approached, and remembered acts of bravery, pieces of tradition, and marks of beauty. And now at 106, Apo Whang-Od, who was the first and only female mambabatok of at the time she started tattooing, has spent almost a century keeping this art form alive.
This effort won’t go without leaving a legacy, of course. Vogue Philippines’ issue didn’t just shine a spotlight at the roots and history of the tradition and Apo Whang-Od’s life as a tattooist, it also looks forward. It touches not only on how the fame of Apo Whang-Od’s works and traditional tattooing has changed the landscape of Buscalan. Rather, it also features the new generation of mambabatok and how they’re learning not just to carry on the tradition, but redefine it as well.
At a time where Filipinos are more conscious than ever about what it means to decolonize notions of beauty and honor the precolonial roots and heritage interwoven to the very concept of Filipino beauty, Vogue Philippines’ choice to feature not just Apo Whang-Od, but also the history that precedes her and future that she’s shaping, is definitely a fitting one.
The monumental cover has inspired a magnitude of praise around the world: