Being surprised in a virtual meetup is next to impossible, let alone be mesmerized. Yet, gazing across the monitor, I can only gasp in awe as I stare at such beauty who looks like a doll who came to life. That is how magnetic Bella Ysmael‘s appeal is. Donning in just a simple white shirt, it’s extraordinary that she can be as dazzling as her pageant looks.
No wonder, she almost snatched the crown of Miss Universe Philippines but just fell short. What’s more astonishing than her to-die-for looks is when she starts opening her mouth. Bella Ysmael speaks in a surprisingly low, laconic register and as she speaks her mind, her charisma draws you to her which compels you to listen.
Bella Ysmael aims for a bigger purpose and it deserves a crowning moment
Miss Universe Philippines 2020 was in hot water when it was hurled with so many controversies. Teas were served and speculations were left unanswered. What seems to be a strong batch of winners were overshadowed by a torrent of unfounded accusations. Yet amid all that, the radiance of a star can’t be thwarted. That is what Bella has shown us so far.
In spite of missing the chance to represent the country, she has not turned into a sour grape. As per her, she’s using that as fuel to do better. That in itself is a declaration and a promise of a comeback is alluring as it sounds. Just like Pia and Catriona, the result might just fire her even more. Like a raging bull, a determined woman can’t be stopped and conquered easily.
On Handling Pressure
Being associated with previous Miss Universe Margie Moran comes with insurmountable pressure but according to her, it’s a privilege. She must have found herself in a strange predicament whether to succumb to the pressure of following her aunt’s footsteps. It was more of a motivation, she served as an inspiration. It was also an honor that she is proud of.
“Tita Margie was very supportive, she never pressured me to do anything. She was so helpful because she has given me a lot of advice. All in all, she was more of a guiding aunt than a Miss Universe. In terms of pressure, it’s good because it pushes you to do better.”
Bella Ysmael, on being a harbinger of hope
Holding a national pageant during a pandemic has its challenges. The goal was to hold a major event without putting public health at risk. Mission accomplished, but pulling it off presented major, unforeseen challenges and many sleepless nights especially to the candidates.
“The experience was life-changing. I say that not only because a pageant can change your life, but the way I had to apply myself into the pageant, not just competing. But having to apply who you are, on your journey to the crown, that for me is life-changing. It’s a challenge already to be in a competition where there are high stakes and everybody was so worthy of winning.
You have to think of ways to stand out and how you can make the most out of it. You have to apply yourself and your character in everything you do. The journey has helped me to understand myself better. Having to be a harbinger of hope to every Filipinos and for our families, it takes a lot of courage. It also takes a lot of self-understanding. It takes a lot of self-love and self-acceptance.”
Hearing her talk about the entire journey showed her soft side. Her vulnerability was palpable as she talks about her self-realization and how she needs to be an image of strength to be a harbinger of hope, especially in these dreaded times. Such an inspiring queen that we all need.
On being the first runner-up
Beauty Pageant is like a gladiator sport, there can only be one winner. Bella was gracious enough to accept the result and she knows that it was a temporary setback.
“To be honest, it wasn’t easy to accept in the beginning because I worked so hard and I was almost there. After the finals, I stayed off from social media for 3 days. That was an important thing for me to do because I wanted to accept it first within myself before I accept the greetings of the people who have been supporting me. It was a difficult experience. I wasn’t mad, but I was sad. I was happy though, for Rabiya, she deserved to win.”
“In my personal bubble, it took me a while before I completely made peace with it. I realized that I was there not only to win the crown. I was there for a bigger purpose and that purpose is to have a greater voice and that I will be able to touch their lives, whether it be in mental health, now in arts and culture, or even if they can just relate to me because I want people to see that I’m someone they can relate to.”
Accepting defeat is not easy, it takes unbelievable effort to swallow such a bitter pill. As they say, you can always turn the tables and create an opportunity out of it. Just like what Oprah said, think like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail as failure is just another stepping stone to greatness. As she prepares for lies ahead, we might be surprised as to what she does next. Again, only time will tell.
Bella Ysmael answers why we should support women.
“Like every other thing we celebrate, we celebrate achievements. We celebrate reaching goals. We celebrate women because we celebrate women’s rights. Women have been fighting for years just to have the same equal rights as men do. Say for example, in the past, the rights to vote, rights to go to school, rights to be able to reach a certain career level.
Women throughout history have fought so hard and even have sacrificed their lives so the women of today can live the lives that we do. Not only that we celebrate it, but also we commemorate it, and that we continue to fight and raise our voices as women. In a perfect world, we will be equal, no gender, no race. That is why we should support and celebrate women because of what they have achieved, especially for our rights.”
It might be April now, but we believe that women should be celebrated every single day. Bella Ysmael remains an epitome of an empowered woman. Just like any other woman, appreciating them should not be a question. Every single one of them has inspiring stories to tell. How they are beating the odds, challenging the status quo, and paving the way for the next generation of women to skyrocket right through the glass ceiling. For them to have equal space and opportunity just like any other gender.
Opinion on the #MeToo Movement
There’s a substantive and interesting conversation on the exploitation of women. A lot of women are sharing their stories through social media on their haunting experiences of domestic abuse or even molestation. Women are standing up and have been exposing persistent sexual harassment. The goal is to start a movement. For them to be heard and to stop systemic sexism everywhere. There’s a long road ahead, but the job is simple, to keep moving the needle and expanding the influence.
“I’m proud of the me-too movement, even if I did not start it. We should be working to help each other out. The way it works is I tell my story and I’m encouraging you to tell yours. Not only is it beautiful because people are helping each other out, but because it’s an avenue to vent their emotions. Even if they don’t share their experiences publicly, it gives them a sigh of relief that I’m not alone. This is not something that I need to keep, this is something that I can stop.”
“Women are doing what they can to avoid these situations. It’s not only limited to women, it’s also applicable to men. Men also experience that and also members of the LGBTQ+ community. The problem is we can’t control other people. What I would do is to encourage men to speak up and be advocates for women as well. We should normalize the fact that it is wrong and should not be tolerated.”
Bella Ysmael on social media validation.
Let’s admit that social media can cause so much anxiety. Some people equate their self-worth to the number of followers they have or to the number of likes they receive. There’s a habitual need to compare and contrast our achievements with those of our friends. These things risk us being envious and feeling inadequate.
“It’s an issue even for me. There was a point that instead of it making me feel better before social media is my escape because it’s fun. At one point, it became toxic because I would compare myself to other people. The first thing that we need to do is to realize that social media is a platform for us to show the world the things that we choose to show them.”
“If you’re seeing somebody share a beautiful photo of them in Paris, and you don’t have the means to go there right now, you have to remember that the reason you’re seeing it is that they’re choosing to. They’re not necessarily showing you the bad side of what they’re going thru.
What I like though is social media is becoming a platform to voice out true stories. Sharing each other the negative side, sharing the things that we’re ashamed to share, and be proud of it instead. The reason why people will appreciate you is not because of what other people see but how you see yourself. How you present yourself, the quality of the person you are.”
On handling criticisms
“At first, it was overwhelming as I was not used to people minding what I do or what I post and it can cause insecurity sometimes. When there’s too much criticism, you can’t help but be insecure. Over time, you’ll be able to sort out what criticisms will be helpful for you. Whenever somebody tells you, well, I think you need to lose weight. Before you get hurt before you allow your emotions to overcome you.”
“You should ask yourself 2 questions, first is, is it true? Do I really need to lose weight? If it’s true, then the 2nd question is, will this be helpful to me? People will always have their opinions and you can’t stop them from voicing that out. Sometimes it can hurt, but you have the power to filter it. To choose what affects you and to choose what will help you.”
So much bile now comes from social media and some people are harsher than the rest. Even friends can be unapologetically snide. But Bella is right, we can choose what to accept. We have to be receptive to feedback. If it’s coming from a good place and if it can help us grow, then by all means let’s all take it to our hearts. Criticisms can be subjective and if it doesn’t kill us, it can only make us stronger. That in itself is so liberating and it can make us invincible.
Bella Ysmael on being a powerful woman.
Bella might not have won the Miss Universe Philippines crown, but she’s winning our hearts. Instead of pursuing a traditional route of being a celebrity, her goal might be is to advocate soon for her own personal sense of social justice. To grow her audience and to start up some conversation that can make a difference in the lives of many.
Her sound mind only speaks volumes to how big her heart is. Whether she chooses to compete again or tread a different path, she’s already a woman in the spotlight who can be dissected constantly and voraciously by our rabid pageant fans. In her decision to share her story, she has shown some vulnerability. But that didn’t make her less of a person, instead, it has drawn her to us even more.
Imagine a mistress of the universe beaming her wants and desires like lasers. Soon the Universe will conspire, whether it’s for her to win it all or for her to live a bigger purpose. Only time will tell if she deserves a crowning moment. Bella Ysmael is already an incredible woman anyway whose radiance shines brightly. As for now, let’s all wallow in the elegance of her substance.
Words by Arthur Tolentino
Photography by Seven Barreto
Art Direction and Set Design| Erwin Botin of Botin Studios
Makeup by Guilly Valenzuela
Hair by Jeff Valenzuela
Stylist | Paris Roxas
Studio| Studio 7 Manila
Special thanks to Claude Villaheromosa
Arthur Tolentino is a creative who has diverse interests from creative writing to hairstyling and pageant coaching. Being passionate that he is, he loves pop culture and loves to talk about anything and everything under the sun.