If you asked a 9-year-old Kylie Verzosa about her dreams growing up, being a beauty queen was definitely excluded from her list. But 15 years later, she wears a crown on her head and is set to rule the world as she takes on her role as Miss International 2016.
Ambitious, hardworking, and determined, Kylie is impressively confident. But growing up in Baguio city, she admits to being the total opposite. Like any other teen, Kylie battled with low self-esteem. She tells us, “During high school, all of my friends were shorter than me. It was so funny because I even prayed to God to make me shorter. I didn’t want to stand out.” Little did she know, it was a blessing that would later help elevate her to a newly embraced fame. After graduating with a Business Management degree from Ateneo de Manila University, she spent her days teaching mental health issues while modeling on the side. While it seems that a pretty face can get anything with a snap of a finger, the beginning of her career was a slow burn. She says, “I really started from the bottom. I experienced going into castings, lining up for hours in a crowded room, and waiting for a call back.” But with a beauty like hers, it’s hard to believe that anyone would turn her down. With long dark hair, feline eyes, and flawless skin, she’s as captivating in the flesh as she is on TV and magazines. And although she’s no stranger to being in front of the cameras, learning the ins and outs of the beauty pageant industry was a challenge she was willing to overcome. So what was her secret to winning the crown? A mix of perseverance, commitment, and a developed skill set. She insists, “I didn’t win for being beautiful. I won because of what I knew from experience.”
On a gloomy day in January, Kylie Verzosa is dressed in her go-to uniform of a long-sleeved polo, jeans, and sneakers—a refreshing look from her continuous streak of glamorous gowns and her royal sash. Here, she talks to us about breaking pageant stereotypes, her take-it-or-leave-it approach to beauty, and her 6-step advice to loving yourself.
Since winning Miss International, does the pressure of the media get too much at times or have you gotten immune to it?
I never let it affect me. I am who I am. But I always have to be at my best physically, mentally, and emotionally especially now that I’m Miss International. I like it because it makes me grow and stretch as a person.
A lot of people are critical of beauty pageants for being heavily based on appearance. What’s your say on that?
Even I was in the beginning. I was very hesitant to join. So I had to overcome that and I told myself that if I joined a beauty pageant, I don’t want to be known as just a beautiful person. People look at it as such a low thing and their perception was that it’s not something an educated woman would get into. But hopefully, the more people get to know my story, their perception of beauty pageants will change.
When did you decide you wanted to join beauty pageants?
At an early age I didn’t decide, “You know, I’m going to join a beauty pageant.” It wasn’t my dream. Siguro, as I went along the way into modeling, people encouraged me to try new things and one of them was to join a beauty pageant. Eventually, I got into it but I lost and I didn’t like that feeling. I don’t like not being good at something I know I can do more of because I know I deserve so much better. So I thought to myself, “Why did I lose?” I studied the craft very well until I groomed myself into what they were looking for.
What was your biggest inspiration during your journey to being a beauty queen?
My biggest inspiration? The crown. (Laughs) I have to say it was the goal itself. I was focused for an entire year. Every morning I woke up and thought about nothing but that because if my actions didn’t match my goal, I wouldn’t do it.
Having had a background in modeling, how do you think modeling shaped you to become a beauty queen?
I have to say, it’s given me such a great advantage. I learned how to work in front of the camera, I learned how to work my walk, and I had a lot of connections within the industry. So I made use of my skills to win because having confidence comes from knowing what you’re doing.
What was the biggest change from being a model to being a beauty queen?
It’s so funny now because before, I used to be a support for celebrities where they don’t want you to be your best self. So I told myself that one day, it’s going to be my name on the door. (Laughs) And now I’m so happy for moments like this because I know what it feels like to start from the bottom. It makes me appreciate it so much more because I know I worked hard for it. But I believe that I still have a long, long way to go.
How did you perfect your pageant smile?
It was so difficult! In modeling, you don’t smile at all. During my first pageant, their comment was, “Kylie, you have to smile,” (Laughs) My smile was a smirk. So I practiced and it took me a long time to perfect it. You know, it’s nakakanganga. But eventually you get used to it.
So I’m sure preparing for it physically was really tough. How did you prepare for it mentally?
Oh my goodness, I read every day. I always had a book in hand or I listened to audiobooks because I don’t like my mind to be adrift. I had to take breaks from modeling because I couldn’t do it for a long time. It wasn’t enough for me. It was purely physical and I couldn’t take that. They only look at you as a pretty face, but I always had something to say. So when I joined beauty pageants, people started listening to me. I found my voice there because people value it. The best part about my job is now I actually get to influence and help others.
What’s your advice for people having issues with self-esteem?
Know your strengths, develop your strengths, be true to yourself, set goals, celebrate victories, and think positive thoughts. I wasn’t Miss International when I was born. It wasn’t my destiny but I made it my destiny. It was a long journey and it took a long time to get to where I am.
What’s it like to have so many people supporting you now?
I can’t believe it, it feels so good and I’m very honored. I’m glad that they were there with me and I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them. Emotional support boosts your confidence and during the pageant, they helped me online. They literally lifted my spirit.
What has been the highlight of your journey since winning the crown?
I have to say my victory parades. Just celebrating and seeing all the people, being on a float, it exceeded my dream and so much more.
When you need some time to yourself, what is your perfect way to relax?
Listen to music. I also write a lot because it releases a lot of emotions. I go to the gym and I take good care of myself because I owe it to myself to be the best I can be.
What has been your favorite fashion moment?
Aside from my national costume and evening gowns by Francis Libiran, I also liked a pink Mark Bumgarner dress that I wore.
Sitting on a makeup chair for hours, what are some beauty looks you’ve learned to apply to yourself?
I’m not experimental when it comes to makeup. I wear one eye shadow all the time. I don’t think it’s ever changed. I prefer natural beauty and that’s one of the things I wanted to change in the pageant industry. I hated big hair and thick makeup. It makes me cringe. So I told myself that when I join, I’m going there as I am.
Let’s say they gave you 15 minutes to look camera-ready. What would you do?
I’ll tell them, “Can you give me fifteen more minutes?” (Laughs) I’d just apply foundation, a bit of powder, blush, and contour. If all else fails, I would rather go without makeup than unfinished makeup.
Are you on a strict diet?
I loosened up a bit since I won. You know, you cannot deprive yourself for too long. Your body has cycles; it’ll look for it. But I do eat healthy. I eat fresh fruits and vegetables everyday. I don’t eat rice and I try to stay away from meat. My number one enemy now is bread. It’s so addictive.
What’s a healthy snack that you always have?
I love nuts and peanut butter.
How many hours a week do you exercise?
Two to three hours every other day. Sometimes an hour in the gym is fine. I do a lot of yoga, pilates, cycling, and boxing, but I get bored fast so I like to mix it up.
It’s an exciting year ahead for you. How are you handling all the big changes in your life?
One by one. I’m trying to handle the pressure but to me, it’s my motivator. I stay grounded, I pray a lot, and I focus on what I want to do.
What’s your personal goal this year?
I want to travel. I want to do my charity work abroad, so that’s what I’m working on. I’m going back to Japan some time next month, and then I have a couple of projects lined up so I’m excited for that.