The host and former beauty queen talks about how pageantry gave her body dysmorphia.
It’s no secret that the beauty standards in the Philippines still upholds the cookie-cutter image of a queen: slim, statuesque, long and silky hair, and almost always, someone with a light complexion. It seems that no matter how much we try to promote self-love, let’s face it: more often than not, the same type of beauty still wins.
So, when Ayn Bernos, host and founder of the unapologetic homegrown brand Morena the Label, joined Miss Universe Philippines last year, we believed we were finally making strides in the right direction to become more inclusive in pageantry, especially with the height restrictions being lifted. It was a moment for many Filipinas, seeing someone that could represent who they really were at 5’3″, beautiful kayumanggi skin, and was more than ready to challenge the norms. Of course, this didn’t come without heavy scrutiny.
On her recent vlog, the entrepreneur revealed that while she did feel accomplished fulfilling her inner child’s dreams of joining Miss Universe Philippines, she felt that this gave her a growing sense of body dysmorphia. She constantly felt anxious about being compared to other queens who were more “tall and slender” and was given unsolicited advice most of the time. Below are some of the revelations that Ayn Bernos shared on her vlog when she joined Miss Universe Philippines 2021.
AYN WAS TOLD SHE NEEDED TO LOSE WEIGHT IN ORDER TO LOOK TALLER ON STAGE AND GET VENEERS. IN ONE MONTH!
Ayn knew how harmful pageant standards may be, but she wasn’t prepared for the unsolicited feedback from people around her. Before joining the pageant, she was already working out and rock climbing, so she believed she was physically fit but others thought otherwise. “One in particular that stood out was somebody who told me I needed to lose 15 lbs in order to look tall on stage. At that point, I was at 118.” Ayn was also told to get veneers as it might make her face appear smaller despite having braces for years. “I was told to get veneers, because they could do something about the positioning of my teeth so that I would look slimmer.” They told her to cut down her weight in a month’s time.
THEY TOLD HER TO GET HER CHEEKS DONE
“People also told me to shave or tapyas my cheeks off. Meaning I needed to get something done to shrink my face,” shares Ayn. How is that gonna work when she was born with a round face? Beauty comes with different shapes and sizes. No one was born chiseled by the gods.
AYN WAS TOLD SHE HAD ARMS OF A BODY BUILDER
“Some of the things I was very self-conscious about was my arms. Even though right after the pageant I was so skinny, I thought that I had big arms, ‘cause I read in a comment once that I had body builder arms.” While this unnecessary comment snowballed into her distorted views of her body, Ayn finally owned it months after, took her power back and started ✨power✨ lifting. Tell ’em, girl.
SHE GOT SKINNIER DURING THE PAGEANT RUN NOT BECAUSE OF EXERCISE, BUT BECAUSE SHE LOST HER APPETITE
The harrowing pressures of being in the public eye is no joke—especially in a platform where you’re constantly being judged for your looks more than your critical thinking skills. During her preparations, Ayn described her physique as the “skinniest she’s ever been in her adult life” and yet to some, it still wasn’t enough. “But at the same time, it was also conflicting, because for some people, I was a hypocrite. Some people told me that because I was already skinny, then I was no longer representing them or that I was no longer challenging the norm.” This mental battle made Ayn lose her appetite over the course of the competition, to the point where she would literally forget to eat.
PAGEANT FANS WOULD ALWAYS COMPARE HER TO TALLER, SLENDER QUEENS
It was mind-boggling even to Ayn how she felt like an “average-looking Filipina,” and yet, it’s the same thing her bashers were throwing at her. “There was one photoshoot where my leg was showing. I was wearing I think a bodysuit or a one piece suit and they put it right next to Bea’s (Miss Universe Philippines 2021 winner).” Obviously, they beat her up in the comments section mostly because of her “shorter, stumpier” physique. This went on as pageant fans would usually place her photo next to the other girls.
BUT DESPITE THE PRESSURE, SHE KNEW SHE HAD TO SHOW UP FOR HERSELF
“I realized people are not used to seeing girls like me, when in fact I was pretty common.” This is the truth that’s hard to swallow and it might just boil down to unconscious internal colorism—a topic Ayn loves to talk about. At the back of her mind, while she was aware that she didn’t pass the usual standard for beauty queens, she was clutching onto her Q&A skills. “I’m a very average looking Filipina. If you think I’m not qualified, then that means you think other Filipinas are not qualified. That to me was just unacceptable.”
FROM BODY DYSMORPHIA TO BODY NEUTRALITY
After Miss Universe Philippines, Ayn revealed that it’s when the body dysmorphia kicked in. “It really slowly evolved and my body image deteriorated slowly after the pageant.” She shared that going to the gym felt unproductive in the past, where all she ever did was look in the mirror, talk to herself negatively all while working out. Ayn often felt self-conscious about her weight, wouldn’t eat out of fear of being bloated until she realized the tags on her clothes still said small. Even then, she’d feel anxious going out in fear of people seeing her “outside of her prime.” At that point, she knew her unhealthy relationship with herself lead her to therapy. She decided to take a break from the events, did a mental check-in and spent two months in Spain to heal.
A self-help exercise that was inspired by Lavendaire on Youtube. Visualizing my current self versus my future self.— ah-yeen (@aynbernos) April 11, 2018
Dami kong issues! But working on them. pic.twitter.com/UfQKBA43t2
“What that experience really taught me was how restrictive the kind of beauty standard people are looking for when you talk about pageants.” Ayn Bernos shared her journey through her podcasts and TikToks, changed her mindset and nurtured herself mentally. If anything, your mind is your home. Make it a safe space. She eventually learned to subscribe to body neutrality rather than body positivity. The term is less of a celebration and more of accepting that you have to be comfortable existing in your body.
“It’s so nice to be able to show myself and not feel that I have to hide. This is something that I’m working on at the moment. I’m definitely healing my body image after the tedious process of becoming a beauty queen.” It’s about time the twisted, dusty rules of pageantry change and listen to people like Ayn Bernos who single-handedly challenged the norms. And that’s on queen behavior.
You can watch Ayn’s vlog here.