Defying Odds, Defying Gravity—Pia Wurtzbach Empowers Women To Find Strength
Pia Wurtzbach may have ended her Miss Universe reign back in 2016, but she’s not done conquering the world just yet. Metro, in collaboration with Cream Silk, takes her to Dubai as she shows how she has overcome challenges going from challenged to champion, from stress to strength
It was a sweltering 41-degree day in Abu Dhabi, and Pia Wurtzbach couldn’t help it that she was adding to the already-scorching hot Middle Eastern summer. “This is [supposedly] one of their hottest summers so far in history—and I feel it,” she laughs. “As soon as you open the door, it punches you right in the face.”
Dressed in a swimsuit, her beautiful golden tanned skin glows, as she shows us the view from her suite. Pia is radiant; her eyes bright, clear and happy, an indication that she is in a good place in her life.
And why shouldn’t she be, right? A quick scroll through her Instagram feed shows this former Miss Universe smiling in every frame, fit and fabulous as any beauty queen can be.
Pia spent weeks in Abu Dhabi with her beau, Beautiful Destinations founder and CEO, Jeremy Jauncey. The handsome couple has been sharing photos on social media of their life together—traveling, working out, and simply goofing off, just like any other average couple. Except they’re not exactly average.
“Jeremy is the one who I can thank for this beautiful view,” she says smiling. “I can work from home, from here, so I don’t feel napapabayaan ko ’yung work ko. There’s only a four-hour time difference from the Philippines, which is very manageable, and everything is really accessible from here. I can’t complain; it’s been great.”
As the two of them settle momentarily in their chosen part of the world, Pia is excited about their plans to find a more permanent place to live. “We’re trying to find a place to live here,” she reveals, “it’s going to be a process, kasi s’yempre kailangan mo maglibot talaga, and familiarize yourself with the areas and find the best fit. That’s the plan.”
It is Pia’s first time in laid-back Abu Dhabi, but neighboring Dubai, on the other hand, doesn’t feel too foreign for her. “Hindi ako naho-homesick [in Dubai] because there are Filipinos everywhere. Para ka pa ring nasa Pilipinas. May Jollibee rin dito, ang saya!” she laughs.
Despite having been to Dubai several times she’s “lost count,” Pia couldn’t help but feel very excited about her Metro shoot.
“I always love doing destination shoots because it just gives a new vibe and flavor to the pictures,” says the beauty queen and Metro Channel host for Pia’s Postcards. “I’m excited to do this because it’s been a while since I glammed up in beautiful couture gowns—and by no less than Michael Cinco, Furne Amato, and Ezra Santos. Matagal-tagal na akong hindi nag-ga-glam kasi nga dahil sa pandemic din.”
“I’m a big fan of fashion and beauty. I love dressing up, and I also love giving these designers the creativity to bring their ideas to life,” she says. Always the perfect muse and mannequin, Pia does her best not to get too involved in the process of making the gowns she wears on the red carpet and in front of the camera. “I leave it up to the designers to showcase their skill, talent, and vision. I want them to dress me up in their creation, and let them do their magic on me.”
From Challenges to Champion: This is Pia’s Story
But it wasn’t always glamour and fame for Pia. By now everyone knows that her parents separated when she was in her teens, making her the family breadwinner; that she won her Bb. Pilipinas-Universe title on her third try; and that she’s gotten heartbroken more than once.
“When I was an artista pa lang, ayoko aminin na naghihirap kami, ayoko aminin na wala akong trabaho, wala akong mga project. When I was starting in Binibini, I used to think, ‘Ike-kwento ko ba na breadwinner ako, na mahirap lang buhay namin dati?” she opens up. “I used to be really shy about it.”
Eventually she became comfortable telling her story. “Because it’s hard to hide these things,” she says, “I’m just going to be honest.”
It was a thoughtful decision from someone who was self-aware about what she wants in her life and her place in the world. “As I grew older, I realized, why would I be shy about these challenges that I went through and that I’m going through? Why should I pretend that everything’s okay when they’re not okay?”
“Everybody knows what’s happening with my personal life—with my relationships, with my family. Nasa social media lahat. Wala na akong matatago eh; alam na talaga ng lahat,” she says. “And people see that it is not perfect. It hasn’t been perfect, and it’s still not quite perfect. But what’s important is that I’m happy.”
She points out that just because things aren’t going perfect in someone’s life, doesn’t mean that their life is in shambles. “[It] doesn’t mean that I failed,” she says wisely. “I’ve embraced these things already so I’m not shy [talking] about it. I try not to aim to be perfect anymore. I want people to see me as a real person; what I really want is for other people to see themselves in me.”
Pia knows that her life has been an open book, “sometimes unintentionally,” she says, all because of social media. Her Bb. Pilipinas Q&A response back in 2015 to VP Leni Robredo (who was then Camarines Sur’s congressional representative) proves that she’s always seen the power of social media, and nowadays, she has utilized the platform even further in campaigning for her advocacies.
Empowering Women to Love Themselves During the Pandemic
Aside from her podcast, Between Us Queens, with her friends and fellow beauty queens Carla Lizardo and Bianca Guidotti, Pia is excited to launch an advocacy show with “Love Yourself” in the next month or two. The show focuses on various issues such as living with HIV, losing a loved one to COVID-19, overcoming an eating disorder, and surviving domestic abuse, to name a few.
“I really learned so much from [interviewing] them,” she says, adding how the pandemic has also made people more aware of the importance of talking about their personal challenges, in particular, mental health issues.
“Imagine before, walang may mental health advocacy sa beauty pageants; hindi siya uso. Now, so many more people are talking about it openly. I love that because we’re becoming more woke, more sensitive to the feelings of other people,” says Pia. “Maganda kasi ’yung we teach people to be strong and to brush problems aside, basta kaya mo, laban nang laban. Pero paano ’pag hindi mo na kaya, di ba? It’s becoming a conversation now, and it’s a question in beauty pageants now.”
Pia, of course, is referring to Boy Abunda’s question at the recent Bb. Pilipinas pageant: “When is it okay not to be okay and when is it not okay to be not okay?”
She jokingly responds, “’Tito Boy, sa pag-isip ko pa lang ng tanong niyo, na-times up na po ako.’ Ang hirap talaga kasi parang 2-in-1 ’yung tanong eh. See! Even me, I can't answer it in a pageant-quick way.”
In all seriousness, Pia believes that it’s always okay not to be okay—to be able to communicate and openly tell someone when they are having difficulties and facing challenges because sometimes, one cannot simply endure the pressures of being okay all the time.
“It’s unrealistic,” she remarks, but stresses, “It is, though, not okay to be not okay when you start harming yourself or others around you. That’s when you would probably need to seek professional help or you would need more support from your family or your friends.”
“You know what I love about questions like this is that we’re talking about it,” she says. “Now that we’re forced to come up with our own answer to the question means we are talking about mental health issues. I think that’s what Tito Boy was trying to do with all of us—and it worked!”
Facing Challenges, Finding Strength
Despite all the picture-perfect photos on her IG, Pia isn’t immune to stress and challenges. This is why this new #DefyToBeGreater campaign for Cream Silk is close to her heart. “There are two kinds of stressed out,” she explains. One is the feeling of being overwhelmed by the number of things that are going on in one’s life and not knowing how to manage everything. “[It’s when] something is happening that I can’t control—that’s stressful for me,” she says. “Pero meron ding down days where I feel like, ‘My gosh, I can’t even function today,’” she intimates.
These are the days when she is far from having the perfect life that most people envision her to have. “People think na just because you’re a celebrity or a beauty queen, that you’re immune to hurt—that the fame or money shields you from hurt. It’s not true.”
She shares how it stings to read negative comments about her online. While she knows that she can’t control what people will say or think about her, there are times when it can be all too much. “Minsan may araw na medyo fragile ka, na affected ka du’n sa nabasa mo. Celebrity or not, social media has become a toxic place,” she observes. “I don’t want to pretend na superwoman ako [or just because] nanalo ako sa Miss Universe, hindi na ako natatamaan ng mga bashers. I still get hurt.”
“Ang hirap kaya mag-sustain ng matapang ka palagi. S’yempre hindi naman makatotohanan ’yun,” she says softly.
It may come as a shock for some, but even the former Miss Universe herself can start doubting herself. “‘Tama ba itong ginagawa ko? Am I good enough? Have I done enough?’ [Sometimes] I don’t feel so confident. But those are [just] moments.”
She knows well the importance of acknowledging her feelings, but most importantly, she knows where to draw her strength during those trying days. Her advice: “Whenever I have a down day, I’ll talk to someone. I’ll talk to Jeremy, my family, my friends—I’ll tell someone that I’m not okay that day. That’s what [your loved ones] are there for—to help you get out of that rut that you’re in. As long as you have the right people around you, it’s easy to bounce back from that. Just try to go back and focus on the things (or people) that really matter. I know it’s easier said than done, pero ’yun talaga eh. You just have to tell yourself.”
For Pia, it’s not difficult to talk about her challenges, even her emotional upheavals, because whatever it is that won’t break her will actually make her stronger. Her challenges form part of her success narrative, the stresses in her life give her strength to even achieve more, showing that adversity shapes character, and is fuel to greatness.
Opening New Doors
It’s been more than six years since Pia was crowned Miss Universe, and since then, so many doors have opened for her, to opportunities that she has embraced wholly and happily. Despite having reached such great heights, she is in no way stopping just yet. The road ahead of her is long and there is still so much she wants to do.
Just as she had set her eyes on the Miss Universe crown, she is now focusing her gaze towards being an entrepreneur. “I’m a little shy talking about this, but I’m trying to be a businesswoman, and taking up this course I found in UP Open University,” she shares. “It’s Entrepreneurship. It’s nothing formal, but it’s a start and it’s keeping me occupied.”
She has always been hands-on in managing her career, and she has a milk tea business in Manila (“Naka-survive naman nitong pandemic, thank God,” she says), but her studies have been giving her the same level of excitement as preparing for a pageant once did. “I kept looking for that thing that would give me the same excitement that I had competing, and it took me a long time to find it,” she says.
Her drive to learn and excel at something unfamiliar challenges her and lights up that fire burning inside her. “Ganoon kasi ’yung nangyari sa akin noon sa pageants. Hindi naman ako favorite, natatalo ako, so it became a challenge—lalo akong ginaganahan. Hindi ako magaling dito, so how do we do it? Then I spend a lot of time just trying to be better. I’m finding that [same drive] with this,” says Pia, her eyes gleaming.
“So, that’s why I’m taking my sweet time, because I’m really trying to gain knowledge as much as I can,” she adds, “because in the future, I would like to launch my own product or my own brand, and that’s where I’m headed, and that’s, I guess, the next phase.”
Her determination and self-assurance are indeed admirable traits, but it perhaps stems from a sense of practicality and foresight. Pia confesses, “I’m not going to stay young forever; I’m not going to look like this forever. I’m preparing myself for the time where my focus might change. What if I want to have a family? What if things slow down for me? You have to be prepared for all of these realities, and I’m trying to find something that I really enjoy but will [also] give me fulfillment. Right now, this is it, and I’m trying to work on it.”
Beautiful Inside and Out
Just like the rest of us, the pandemic opened Pia’s eyes to the importance of taking care of her health and well-being. As the world slowed down from its frenetic pace, it made her value her health even more. “This is something I learned during the pandemic: That I don’t want to get sick. I want to keep enjoying life, I want to keep helping my family, being around for them. I want to keep doing the things that I love and I want to stay healthy for as long as I can, [so] I better take care of myself,” she asserts. “We're so fragile as humans and we have one body and health. Totoo pala ’yung ‘Health is wealth.’”
If you’ve been following Pia and Jeremy on social media, you would see those little grids and IG stories littered with photos and videos of the couple working out and enjoying the outdoors together. Pia reveals how her current stress reliever is “eating clean and getting a workout at least three times a week.” “Back to basics na ako ngayon,” she adds, especially when it hit her that she’s no longer in her 20s and invincible. “Reality starts to kick in and then you start feeling like, ‘All right if I don’t switch gears now I’m going to pay for this in a big way in the future.’”
She even adds how something as simple as getting sufficient sleep makes a huge difference in her daily life—physically, mentally, and emotionally. “Pagka puyat ako, I feel like du’n ako mas natatamaan ng problema, that's when my mind starts playing tricks on myself,” she opens up. “That’s when a silly comment by a fake account will bother me [when] on another day it won’t. But on a puyat day, that’s where parang your shield is little thinner and then the arrows are piercing through, their arrows are hitting you, not fully, but medyo tinatamaan ka. You’re not as strong to fight off the world when you don’t get enough sleep. Totoo pala talaga siya. If you get enough sleep, you wake up and you feel like you can take on the world.”
Pia’s advice on self-care isn’t hard to follow: Eat right, get enough sleep, and move. It’s really a formula anyone can easily adhere to and apply in their own lives.
Her back-to-basics mantra has also helped maintain her long lustrous locks despite the stressful times and the change in weather and climate brought about by traveling. “I was able to give my hair a little break during the pandemic because there were less shoots so that meant less styling and heating products. I was able to give it a break and now it’s grown thicker so that’s good news. So nakapag-quarantine rin ’yung buhok ko,” she laughs.
“It's important to find the right products that work for you, and once you find that product that works for you best, stick to it,” she advises. In her travel arsenal is the NEW Cream Silk Triple Keratin Rescue Ultimate Hair Fall Defiance Conditioner, “for a girl that defies all odds!” she says gleefully.
Wherever she goes, Pia will always have Cream Silk in her luggage. “I bring it everywhere,” she says, sharing how she makes sure that she brings the big bottles even while abroad. “It’s on another level. [Other products] don’t have the same effects as I want and I can’t find another brand locally that will have the same effect.”
As the interview draws to a close, Pia grows more pensive. “I think I’m in a good place,” she says.
“I feel like I grew up a lot in the past two years when all of this started. I was forced to because there’s no work—lahat naman tayo no work—[but] I was forced to reflect on myself and really ask myself: Are the things that I’m doing really making me happy? How am I really contributing to other people given this platform that I have?”
Even with over 12.5 million followers, Pia is in disbelief at how she got to where she is. “Because it’s so crazy—of all the people, ako pa? Alam mo ’yun? Minsan I still pinch myself with that thought na, ‘Talaga? Ako ’yung sinuwerte?’”
The magnitude of goodwill that has come into her life doesn’t escape her, but it’s not just sheer luck. She worked hard to achieve her dreams, and her sheer determination and grit helped propel her to where she is now.
But most importantly, Pia all too well knows that there’s a huge opportunity to do good for others here. “‘Ano kayang p’wede kong gawin para makatulong naman ako? Sayang naman ‘tong platform na ‘to, sayang naman ’yung followers, sayang naman lahat ’to kung pagpapaganda lang,’” she asks herself.
“‘What can I do to be of value to other people? What value can I add to someone else's life aside from winning Miss Universe?’” she continues.
She reflects on how overcoming her personal challenges have paved the way for others, too, to be courageous in their own lives. “I find that feeling of fulfillment when people approach me and then they tell me that I’ve inspired them to go for their dreams. [When I’m told that] my beauty pageant dream became someone’s inspiration, I find that crazy because in that moment, di ko naman inisip na one day this is going to be someone’s inspiration. I was just hustling; I was just doing what was natural for me—all I wanted was to make my goals happen, but I didn’t think that this process would become this story that people could look at and think, ‘Ay, p’wede ko rin palang gawin ’yun.’”
“It’s such a nice feeling; it’s very humbling,” she says gratefully.
Pia started off by winning the hearts of Filipinos in Bb. Pilipinas, and went off to win over the world as Miss Universe. As she continues to travel and explore the world, she also embarks on other endeavors that will take her to even greater heights. “I’m at the point in my life where I want to be a part of someone else’s success because other people have helped me to be who I am now—helped me to become Miss Universe. So it’s all about giving back now,” she says, “Iba rin pala ’yung feeling and sense of fulfillment when now it’s your turn to help somebody make their dream come true. It’s such a nice feeling; parang nanalo ka na rin.”
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Produced by YUGEN PR Agency
Photography by CS Toledo
Styling and Sittings Editor: Josh Yugen
Art direction: Raff Colmenar
Makeup by: Jessie Tabla
Hairstyling by Dani Hiswani
Special thanks to Fashion Meal
Shot on location at Furne One Amato Couture Studio and SLS Dubai
Additional retouching by Alex Dulay
Coordination: Grace Libero-Cruz and Geolette Esguerra