Creative direction JANN PASCUA. Art direction and production design NICOLE ALMERO. Fashion direction JEB FRONDA and LYN ALUMNO. Styling GEE JOCSON assisted by IAN REY. Beauty direction TRINA EPILEPSIA BOUTAIN and MIA CASTRO. Makeup (Bella) GUILLY VALENZUELA (Milka) ROBBIE PIÑERA. Hair (Bella) JEFF VALENZUELA (Milka) RAYMOND SANTIAGO. Shoot coordination ERICA LUNA and LOUIS ESGUERRA. Shot on location at SHUTTERSPACE STUDIO.
HERE COMES THE SUN
Bella Ysmael has her eyes on the universe—but in the meantime she’s focusing on living her best life
Neon Yellow Dew Nautilus Sleeved Dress by JAN GARCIA, Yellow belted flare pants by YVES CAMINGUE
The singular Bella Ysmael wants to make a connection
There are people whose beauty requires immediate attention. You can’t help but look at them the first time you see them. Their looks—all of it—the symmetry of their faces, the curve of their bodies, the way their hair falls just so—is simply intoxicating. They demand attentionAnd then there are people like Bella Ysmael. She is a beauty, undoubtedly. But it doesn’t announce itself, so you it’s almost easy to look past her in a room full of stunning women. That’s how I first met her. It was for a group shoot with the ambassadors of the Avignon Clinic. Ysmael was happy to tuck herself in a corner, emerging only when it was time to shoot. Clad in a custom-made gown with a plunging neckline and glittering yards of dark tulle, she was gracious with the compliments, but remained elusive. It’s not that she was cold—far from it—but was instead so quiet and calm, respectful of the fact that it was a chaotic shoot filled with dozens of personalities. Afterwards, when people asked me about her, I would say that yeah, she was beautiful but enigmatic. It was a curious difference from the other beauty queens, who seemed to take up the whole room. It was only when we sat down together for her second cover shoot with MEGA, that I—most of the MEGA team—really got a good look at Bella Ysmael.
In a way, Ysmael is a throwback to the beauty queens of yore. She comes from a storied clan and her aunt is none other than Margie Moran, Miss Universe 1972. She’s classically beautiful with the distinct Filipino melange: high cheekbones, beautiful fair skin that tans in the sun, long dark hair, and a toothy, girlish smile. She also possesses the perfect posture and precise movements of a dancer, and more than just a striking resemblance to her pagean twinning aunt. At 24 years old, she’s in that in-between stage where her thoughtful, articulate answers are peppered with y’knows and I’m likes, which, far from distracting, serves as a reminder that these women we put on the world stage and burden with our hopes and expectations are still quite young. During the course of the pandemic, the community quarantine, and her debut in the pageant world, it’s evident that Ysmael, who won runner up to Rabiya Mateo in the Miss Universe Philippines 2020 competition, has done a lot of soul-searching.
STOP AND GO
Like all things, the Miss Universe Philippines competition took the a nosedive when the pandemic hit. What started out as a quick pause stretched out to a long and uncertain limbo that’s still happening as of today. Listening to Ysmael narrate what happened, it was like we were reliving 2020 again.
“I guess there was a point right before the pandemic hit in March where I kind of felt like, ‘Oh my god, I’m giving up!’ You know? I felt like I wanted to give up. I felt so tired, I’ve had no sleep, everyday we have something to do: I have to go to the designers, I have to visit this [place], we have a sponsor visit—it was quite exhausting especially for me because I guess I consider myself a homebody,” she says. “So there’s that point. And then the pandemic happened. And they were like, ‘Okay girls, we’re going to take a break first for a week.’ And then in my head I was, like, ‘okay great, I can rest!’
Without realizing that, oh my gosh, it’s a pandemic. I didn’t realize back then. We were all thinking, okay, it’s just a week break and then we’ll be back. Until it kept extending and extending and then things started to get crazy and we were all stuck at home and we were like, is the pageant even continuing? Is it still going to happen? And it came to a point where we were having a meeting and they said, ‘Okay girls, we’re pushing through with the pageant on October.’ And this was around, I think it was June. So we’re like, part of us were like, ‘Okay great, it’s happening!’ And another part of us were like, ‘October?! We’ve been at it since January or February.’ So there was also another point where I was like, do I still want to continue with this?”
We all know that Ysmael soldiered on, and while she didn’t win the chance to represent the country in the Miss Universe competition, she did win over a lot of people—many of whom are now campaigning for her to compete again.
From the outside, it’s odd why someone wouldn’t just join again, as past winner Pia Wurtzbach did—twice. But the thing is, committing to something takes a lot. Most of us can barely commit to daily exercise.
Ysmael says it more eloquently. “On the baseline, you think, pageantry, it’s a beauty pageant—it’s about beauty. But, that’s actually one of the things that I love about modern pageantry— it’s about a whole lot more than what’s on the outside. Everyone is beautiful in their own way, and there are so many beautiful girls, especially in my batch, who are very confident in themselves, very sure of who they are. Especially me being a first-timer on a national level of pageantry, it was really scary. But then, through this journey, in pageantry, I realized that the intensity of having to wake up three, four hours before your call time to put your own makeup on, because there’s no glam team provided for example, having to beat traffic, having to carry yourself on top of four, five, six-inch stilettos all day and still standing up with a smile; being able to be kind to everyone because you don’t know what they’re going through and even if you’re having a difficult time, you don’t want to pass that negativity on to them. And they’re just excited to see you. For events they’ve been waiting hours just to see you walk you know? So I think the intensity of having to kind of carry all that pressure on your shoulders without people realizing and sometimes them expecting even more from you? It gets very exhausting, and not just physically, but mentally as well. So I would say that’s the struggle of pageantry. Like any job, it’s never easy and it will take a lot. But that’s why you say you give your all, because you kind of find the balance of wanting to give more the people but also putting up limits for yourself, putting up boundaries for yourself. It’s kind of like, a weighing scale where you’re like, are you giving too much? Am I not giving enough? Am I still taking care of myself?”
She catches herself.
“I’m out of breath. I don’t know why,” she says with a nervous laugh.
We naturally delve into self-care. Ysmael is an ambassador of the Avignon Clinic, a rising star in the local beauty industry. It’s a dream for the young lady.
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