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She Slays: How Catriona Gray found purpose through her advocacies

By Catriona Gray as told to Camille Santiago Published Mar 12, 2021 5:00 am

My purpose for joining pageantry wasn’t just to become a beauty queen, it was more of the role that I was able to fill once I started in pageantry.

Before that, I was a model, but also, I was a very creative person. I had a lot of different things that I really loved doing like music, creating in general, and I also had something to say. But as a model, that wasn't really fulfilling for me, because obviously, I was “just a face.” And so when I started pageantry, and I was given the opportunity to really speak, and have my opinions and thoughts heard—that was very liberating for me.

I'm not JUST a beauty queen

I still have constantly been up against preconceived perceptions of me even after I became Miss Universe. People are constantly telling me, “Oh, you’re JUST a model. You're JUST a pretty face. You’re JUST a beauty queen, what else can you possibly offer?” I'm even up against that now with questions like “What's the relevance of being a beauty queen in the modern age?”—that’s already putting a preconceived notion of what I am and what my capacity is.

But it's not something that I take negatively, it's an opportunity to educate someone and an opportunity to prove them through what I talk about, the things that I do, the things that I get involved in.

That’s why I am very passionate about my advocacies, which have been a very consistent theme even before pageantry. I’ve always wanted to express what I believe in on my platforms. I think it's my skill as a communicator was honed during my pageantry journey, and has really found its purpose through my advocacy work.

Mom, my ultimate inspiration

Growing up, I was inspired by a lot of different people, one of which is my mom. Who I am today as a woman is very much thanks to her. I learned the value of staying true to yourself, integrity, and service. For me, an act of service is an act of love. That is why I find the role of service with my community groups such a fulfilling role, because that is me giving love to my fellow people.

Service is something that was ingrained in me through my mother, and she exemplifies it to me by her sacrifice for my family. Growing up and seeing how compassionate she was really rubbed off on me.

I've always tried to show who I am stripped off the title, stripped off all of these fluffy things.

Stop defining women

Being a beauty queen, or being a woman in general, I discovered so many issues that women of our generation are facing today. We're constantly up against people defining what the proper timeline for a woman is, especially when it comes to her education, career, and family.

We're told “You can be beautiful, but you can't be smart. You have to be one or the other.” Or we're told “You can't be that multifaceted. You can only do one thing or two things, you can't do it all.” And then when you're up also against conceptions that, “Oh, you just want to be a stay-at-home mom, sayang! Why would you just want to do that?”

We're constantly battling against other people's definitions of what we should be as women.

And then, there’s also still inequality in the terms of not having access to the same tools, the same opportunities as men. One of them being education, the other being on equal footing when it comes to career opportunities. I hope that gender wouldn't be something that would be held against the woman and seeing that, “Oh, she's not as capable of both because she's a woman,” or “She's not able to give 100% or she's not well equipped enough because she's a woman.”

Those are definitely limitations that sometimes us women aren't even aware of, because we think it's just how it is.

Education is key

I really feel that education is one of the one of the foundation cornerstones of building up equal rights, not just women's rights, but equality in general. Because when you're educated, then your mind is open and you're able to battle against ignorance, which I feel is one of the things that really holds us back as a community.

That's why I advocate so passionately for education, because I feel that it allows children to really explore their full potential. And that's the future generation that we're talking about—the future of the Philippines especially. And that would allow people to really have that representation. Because when we're all given equal footing, that's how we can all progress together, rather than just a small sector of our community progressing far ahead of another.

I believe the goal is not to have women in front of everyone else. It's really just to have everyone equal—and that's across all genders. That's not only women against men, we're not trying to fight men and fight masculinity. It's more of just having equal respect, equal opportunities, equal opportunities to really make a life for yourself that you want, and not having your life and your opportunities dictated by another person, another body, another societal stereotype, or whatever it may be. That's the future that I hope to achieve for women.

I believe the goal is not to have women in front of everyone else. It's really just to have everyone equal—and that's across all genders.

This is me: Catriona, stripped of the title

As a public figure, I just want to voice who I am. All throughout my journey that's expanded across five to six years now, I've always tried to show who I am stripped of the title, stripped of all of these fluffy things. That I'm a woman and these are what I care about. This is why I care about them. This is my upbringing. This is my family. This is what I'm passionate about, hoping that people will be able to relate to me in that sense. Because it's always been something that's a little bit difficult, being Miss Universe, not that many people feel they can relate to a beauty queen because we're always seen in a certain way, glammed up and whatever.

All I hope to do is to inspire other people that they themselves can make a change, because whenever I've traveled across the world, and I've talked to different age groups, from kids up to adults, they all have the feeling that “I wish I could help, I wish I could do something.” But there's always that hesitation, where they don't know how.

So through my platforms, I just constantly try and show people this is perhaps an avenue that you could follow, whether it be volunteerism, or lending your efforts and skills to a certain cause or just putting out your opinion on the topic. That is how we can contribute to the community in whatever small way may be achievable for us. And that's all I hope to encourage on my platforms.

You are not alone

I believe that nothing can be achieved by one person alone. It's always a community effort. It's always a joint effort. There's a special power and a special magic that comes from women lifting each other up.

It's just a beautiful thing to see—especially in an industry like mine or in any industry—when you see other women cheering each other on and boosting each other up. It’s like their victories become your victories, and their challenges become your challenges. And you really relate to each other, and you're able to come together in that sense.

And I think that's something that should be encouraged. There are moments where I've experienced that in my personal life. And it's been really, really wonderful to see and I hope that any woman no matter their career or their way of life or where they are, I hope that they could also have opportunities to see women banding together and creating change in their community.

I really want to encourage all the women today and this year—that you are not alone in what you're going through, even though a lot of the times it can feel like you're isolated in your challenge, in your barriers that you feel like you're up against the walls, but you are not alone.

And I really encourage you to reach out to the women around you, whether it be your family, or your peers or people within your community. Because I can say that more times than most, you will find that you will be received by someone who is saying, “Okay, I'm going to help you through this.”

And do the same if you see a friend that's struggling, please do reach out to them. It could be an act of friendship, or even just lending your time, lending your ear, even a resource that you may have just to help them because I feel like this year more than any we've really realized the need to come together and help each other out of it, because we won't get out of it alone.

Photo courtesy of Catriona Gray