Bella Ysmael - In the Philippines, Pageants Have Always Been One of the Most Awaited Events (Miss Universe Philippines 2020 1st Runner Up)

Bella Ysmael

Miss Universe Philippines 2020 1st Runner Up, Ballerina and Psychology graduate from De La Salle University-Manila 

1. Tell us about your background and journey 

Before joining Miss Universe Philippines, I was working in business development for a startup incubator company called Startup Village. It was my first job after graduating from college. 

It was here where I learned the ropes of dealing with clients and business people, different personalities, and minds. It was a great learning experience that taught me how to grow. 

I’ve always been a ballet dancer, I started at age 4. Though I never danced professionally, it has always been a great passion of mine that I utilize as a way of expressing who I am and sometimes even understanding who I am. I identify as a ballerina because ballet for me has been more than just something I did. 

Ballet has been an essential part of my life, as a talent, a friend, and a teacher. It has been with me through tough times, I always had the chance to escape to the studio and dance when I was down. 

It has also been a teacher, it has taught me discipline and important life lessons that now help me to make the decisions I make now as a woman of the Philippines, as a child of the universe. 

2. What is your greatest strength and how did it help you to become one of the Runner Ups? 

In the months that we went through a pageant in a pandemic, I have realized my greatest strength has been the people around me. They have been the solid support system that has pushed me beyond my comfort zones and helped me to grow beyond my expectations. 

I realize that you need that kind of environment around you, even outside of a pageant, because no one can really do things on their own. At the end of the day, we need someone to be there for us when we experience hardship, to support us when we take risks, and to motivate us to keep going when we feel we just can’t get up in the morning. 

A support system is crucial to success, and I am lucky to have been blessed with such strength. 

3. What is your opinion of body image created by the media and how hard is it to put up with it? 

Body image is no stranger to me growing up as a ballerina. The more traditional environment of ballet has been harsh on how a ballerina should look like, how tall she should be, even how heavy she should be. I’m happy to report that ballet in my experience was never like that. 

My ballet family always promoted body positivity and embracing who you are and what you look like, working on what you have, and not striving for what is unrealistic for you. This is another value I have gained from my personal experience as a ballerina. 

I learn to understand my body and know what it can and cannot do, and accepting it for what it is. The media has had a history of creating “unrealistic expectations” which has had its effect on me too. 

Depending on how they advertise, it underlyingly teaches you that what you have is not enough. Growing up, not only was it difficult to try and alter my body according to what I was influenced to think it should be, but I did not even realize how wrong it was to try and alter my body according to someone else’s opinions. 

It took a lot for me to realize that and to eliminate the habit. In fact, it’s still a work in progress. But knowing that alone though, that my body is unique in its own way and I don’t need to alter it based on society’s opinions, is already a step towards treating my body and myself right. 

4. How important is social media validation in your profession? 

The experience of going through a pageant during a pandemic has completely changed my expectations of what my experience would be like. All of a sudden, our social media presence was one of the only ways we could be judged and watched. 

It was such a struggle because being on social media before the pandemic was already taxing at times, but even more so during a pageant when all eyes are on you. On top of that, there is the pandemic and the stress that comes with it. 

It was a lot to deal with, and sometimes we would get backlash for not being very active on social media. Validation of the media matters, however not to a point where it is mentally and emotionally taxing. 

We cannot be proper spokespeople for Filipinos, and examples to young girls and boys who look up to us, if we do not prioritize taking care of ourselves first. 

5. How can one take care of their mental health in this high-pressure glamorous field? 

It starts with recognizing that people will always have their opinions, you just need to know whose opinion really matters. I once read in a book that there is a process when encountering people’s opinions. 

First, you think about whether what their saying is true. If it is, think about whether it will help you grow. If not, let it go. 

It sounds simple but the task of ignoring negative comments is harder than it seems. If one out of ten positive comments is negative, it’s most likely to stick to you and bother you all day. 

You can’t have that one tiny useless comment ruin your whole day of positivity. It’s important to know how to filter, how to take in what is useful and let go of what is just there to hurt your feelings and not get you anywhere. 

6. Do beauty pageants help or hurt how society views women? 

Even though pageants have had a history of being a source of objectification of women, it has developed into a platform that women have taken and made their own, to empower themselves and amplify their voices and the voices of their communities. 

In the Philippines, pageants have always been one of the most awaited events. There’s nothing like Pinoy Pride that makes Filipinos drop everything they're doing and support their fellow Filipino. 

Filipino beauty queens have always been respected, and continue to be respected more than just beautiful representatives of the country, but as spokespeople of the Philippines, as storytellers, and as harbingers of hope. Being a beauty queen is something to be proud of. 

7. What are some of your upcoming projects? 

After winning 1st runner up, I have been busy with guestings and interviews with different networks and reporters here in the country, but with the previous calamities that have greatly affected our country, I have been able to dedicate time to repacking relief goods and promoting fundraisers for the victims. 

I’m lucky to be able to be a part of an organization that works hard to help other Filipinos because not all of us have such access to help. I consider myself lucky to be a part of this and to be able to do my part as a queen and as a citizen. 

8. Which is your favorite book and why? 

It’s difficult to choose just one because generally, I enjoy self-help and psychology-related books that help one improve themselves. 

However, I have particularly enjoyed You Are A Badass by Jen Sincero. The lessons I have gained from reading that book have helped me in countless areas in my life, in decisions I’ve had to make, and in difficult situations I’ve had to conquer. 

I’ve learned how to treat myself and I’ve learned how to view the world from a different perspective, this book helped me with that. Also, I was delighted by her writing style. I felt as though I was talking to a friend who was giving me advice. 

9. What message would you like to give the world about beauty pageants and the girls who want to be a part of it? 

To the world of beauty pageants, thank you for empowering us women to our greatest capabilities. Thank you for bringing out the warriors in us, for giving us the chance to speak and represent those of which our hearts are a passion. 

Thank you for teaching us that as women we are capable to conquer unrealistic expectations and to change society’s views towards us. With the help of more women, we can all achieve solidarity in working to empower more women around the world. 

To those who are aspiring to be a queen one day, just keep going. Every step you are taking now will be a great part of the story you will tell once you stand on that stage. Cherish every memory and experience, both good and bad, as this will help shape you into the woman the world needs, and the woman that you need to be. 

Be proud of your story, your beginnings, and your entirety, as this will be your strength that will allow you to shine the brightest. Never doubt yourself, believe that you are the phenomenal woman you were born to be. 

Instagram ID - @bellaysmael

Miss Universe Philippines 2020 1st Runner Up

Ballerina and Psychology graduate from De La Salle University-Manila 

Interviewed By - Aditi Ashok

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