Metallic Gray Dress by Bryan Cinco | White Buttondown top from Sfera | Fur from Junjun Ablaza | Shoes from Janylin
Once in a while, an enigma comes along and captivates us. And then she’s gone, almost as quickly as she arrived. So quick, you didn’t even have time to fall in love. Such is the tragedy of youthful beauty—painfully ephemeral as it is painfully ethereal.
But does it have to be?
These are the kinds of thoughts that cross your mind when you watch the reigning Miss International, Kylie Verzosa, walking through the halls of the National Museum of Fine Arts. It is quite a sight, really.
Kylie was born with a sprinkling of fairy dust, her childhood filled with love and attention. “The developmental stages in a child’s life are crucial,” the former preschool teacher tells me. She was dealt a good hand—not only was she genetically gifted, she was also “surrounded with good people and a good environment.”
That’s as far as Lady Luck goes—what you do with your circumstance is what counts. Just as the Sleeping Beauty was awoken from the high tower, pretty little Kylie soon ventured down from the mountains of Baguio to make something of herself. There was no prince; she roused herself from her own slumber.
“I was a normal girl figuring her way out of all her insecurities,” she recalls. And while her image had begun gracing photographs and runways, her spirit was impossible to contain—it begged to be seen, to be actualized. “I didn’t think I was taken seriously. I didn’t have a voice.” Did she have anything to say? It might not have been clear then, but she couldn’t be satisfied with being just a shell of a person. “It wasn’t enough.”
Structured top and skirt by Tony Evan | Fur by Me-an Marqueda
Joining a pageant might appear to be the natural path for a face that can launch a thousand ships, but she resisted for so long. “An educated woman wouldn’t dare join one,” she thought. It seemed frivolous and anti-feminist. If she were to take the leap, she would “go into it wanting to remove the stigma and uplift the industry.”
But as cleverly observed by Miss Universe Pia Wurtzbach, only three B’s matter to Filipino mass consumers—“Basketball, boxing, and beauty pageants.” And indeed, if Pia had never joined, she wouldn’t be enjoying as much influence as she has today. Kylie knew this, and it was beckoning her. “The pageant could be a way to be heard, and maybe to find myself.”
And so she found herself onstage for the first time, enthusiastic but with a hint of uncertainty. “What am I doing here,” she thought, as she sashayed in front of the entire nation. She didn’t go home with a crown that evening. “I was devastated.”
A hurt ego often ignites a bigger spark. Like a sponge, she took in all she could and squeezed it out for an explosive second run. It was around that time that the changes in her became apparent—the innocence has faded, replaced by a steelier spirit. She trained like an athlete, hungry for a crown (and probably a pizza).
On her second Binibining Pilipinas coronation night, the eagle-eyed beauty finally took home her prey—the Miss International Philippines crown.
The media can now put a name to the face—she was now Kylie Verzosa. “People started listening to me. I felt so alive.” She was all over the internet, on television, in magazines. And with the self-awareness and maturity she gained in those two grueling years, she now had something of substance to say.
“I want to bring to light depression, anxiety disorders, and everything related to mental health.” A very bourgeois problem at first glance, but is in fact very universal. A poverty-stricken nation doesn’t have time to worry about mental health when their bellies are growling and their roofs falling apart, but the problem is just as real. Not only does it decrease quality of life (and therefore, the country’s socio-economic advancement), seven Filipinos kill themselves everyday because of it. “Hopefully I save lives.”
Fur short sleeved vest by Me-an Marqueda | Red gown by Tony Evan | Shoes from Janylin
But smaller conquests always lead to bigger ones. Kylie had earned the opportunity to broaden her influence through the Miss International competition in Tokyo. Together with the other big pageants, it can be considered an international sport, or “the World Cup of bekis [Filipino gay men],” as she likes to put it. Smiling cheekily, she quips, “And I think the Philippines sent a good contender.”
Not only was she a good contender, she was the best one. On October 27, 2016, Kylie took home the Miss International crown.
“I put in so much sacrifice and energy into winning it.” So laser-focused was she that in everything she did, she would ask herself, “Will this help me win?” If the answer was no, she refused to engage in it, devoting all her time on studying, exercising, and improving every inch of her being. “I had to remove everything in my life that wasn’t beneficial to my goal.” The sheer discipline alone is enough to mould anyone into something special.
Only after the grand homecoming parades, the television appearances, the barrage of interviews, and the dinner with the President did she feel the culmination of her hard work. She wanted a voice, she got one that reaches far and wide. She wanted to find herself, she found a Kylie she never even knew existed.
Black fur coat by Dylan Gallaza | Black knitted turtle neck from Uniqlo | Gray skirt by Tony Evan | Shoes from Janylin
Before she even speaks of cultural and international understanding, her journey alone is able to inspire personal change. As cheesy as it sounds, she herself has become her own advocacy.
Watching her cry onstage, you could sense that they weren’t simply tears of joy. She cried because she was able to create a woman she respected, a woman who was more than the sum of her parts. “You owe it to yourself to be the best you can be—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.”
And this is only the beginning.
When beauty manages to transcend the physical, it becomes like magic, leaving a permanent mark on those fortunate enough to have witnessed it. And maybe, just maybe, our dear muse has been able to rise above the tragedy. ~
White ruffled top from Sfera | Black top by Via Valencia | Black fur coat by Yong Davalos | Black pants from Sfera | Black pumps from Janylin
Art Direction: Deiniel Cuvin & Iris Lee
Photography: Yukie Sarto
Assistant Photographer: Josef Castro
Story: Iris Lee
Styling: Raizel Dy
Assistant Stylist: Joni Vargas and Nestor Velasco
Make Up: Winn Ramos
Assitant: Shiena Obado
Hair: Raymond Isais & Ma. Leveny April Damian hairstylist for MP School of Make Up Artistry
Produced by: Iris Lee, Deiniel Cuvin, Mitch Dela Paz & Patricia Melliza
Shot on location at The National Museum of Fine Arts
Special thanks to Bánh Mì Kitchen