I wrote this article for Philippine Daily Inquirer back in 1999, Youngblood section.
I have three sisters, all of them beauty queens. (Even my brother has taken part in a number of pageants.) Our living room is full of their trophies, their bedrooms are covered with sashes. Our photo albums are filled with pictures showing them in makeup and proudly displaying their crowns and bouquets. There are piles of newspapers with their pictures.
Friends and relatives always praise my parents for having such beautiful and talented children. And then they turn their gaze on me and ask, "How about you? When will you complete the number?"
I give them a shrug for an answer. I just can't imagine myself in the spotlight, forcing a smile to hide my nervousness and trying to answer questions from the judges. If what happened to Miriam Quiambao happened to me, I don't think I would be able to stand up, manage a smile and brush off such an embarrassing fall. Even just reciting in class made me feel faint.
Most of the time, I serve as bona (a gay term for "alalay" in our province) to my sisters. I bring their costumes. I fan them backstage. I look after their belongings. Sometimes I also get into disputes with supporters of other candidates who mumble unflattering comments about my sisters (which is inevitable, since there are losers when there are winners).
I love the thrill and excitement of watching my sisters walk the ramp, flash their brilliant smiles and answer tricky questions and then waiting for the final moment when the host announces who will be crowned as queen. If it is one of my sisters, I swell with pride and I have a hard time keeping myself from running in front and shouting to the crowd, "That's my sister! that's my sister!"
In most of the photos from various competitions my sisters joined, I can be seen in the background, smiling from ear to ear. One time when I was showing a new friend of my photo with a sister in a fashion show, she casually said, "Oh, so you're also fond of pursuing movie stars for a photograph!"
But I'm used to all that. I'm contended to be my sisters' No. 1 fan.
I'm not saying I am very different from them. I don't wear thick glasses and long skirts. In fact, I could be more daring and stylish than them at times. But while my sisters busy themselves moisturizing their faces and applying lotion to their bodies at night, my face is usually buried in a book. Maybe that's where we are slightly different
Still there came a time when I asked myself when I would make a name for myself to make my parents proud. Of course, they are proud of all of us, but I think parents love nothing more than seeing their children in the spotlight and being admired and cheered.
This thought almost drove me to give beauty pageants a try. I tried wearing a swimsuit in front of a mirror, put on some makeup and faked a smile. I looked all right, but I felt stupid. No, I just didn't have the nerve. As I was talking to the girl in the mirror, I realized I wasn't feeling fine at all. I was insecure, self-protective, indecisive. I was living in a box, shutting myself away from the world. I loathed failure. I feared rejection. And this realization embarrassed me and became a challenge.
I didn't find the courage to take a leap overnight. For a long time, I nursed the desire to have a "name" for myself but I couldn't really change myself into the way people wanted me to be. I wanted to remain what I was.
Since I loved books and I loved to write, I gave campus journalism my best shot. I wanted to get out of the box and I did something about it. I faced my fears. I struggled through sweat and tears. I suffered failures and became dejected. I got involved in fights. I was humiliated. But I kept trying, knowing these were the things I had to take if I wanted to be a winner.
Eventually I became the editor of our school organ. I represented our school in different assemblies and competitions in different places. I ran for various positions and won some. That was the way I got into the "spotlight."
I was able to experience how it felt to read my name on bulletin boards and the papers, or accept congratulations and shake hands with people I never imagined I would meet or walk in the corridors saying thank you to well-wishers on campus. and it felt great!
I realized I could do and achieve things on my own without creating an image of myself for people. After all, it's my family who will be proud of me whenever I win in my own version of pageants.
I graduated from college with a journalism award given by the Philippine Information Agency and that has been the highlight of my young life. I was proud to see my parents go up the stage and share the spotlight with me, and pin on me the medal I worked so hard to earn. I didn't feel the weight of a crown on my head or the rustle of a sash on my gown as I faced the audience and heard the loud cheers of my friends and fellow campus writers. I just felt the weight of the medal on my neck and I became the proudest daughter in the world.