Aware of the reputation that precedes her, brought about by her political and showbiz pedigree, Miel Pangilinan is taking all this in realistic stride. Valuing herself above all else, she is raring and ready to show us what she’s got.
The last time we meet Miel Pangilinan is in an intimate Halloween party somewhere in the labyrinth of Poblacion in Makati. With a warm glow spilling from the door that was ajar and a speckle of light coloring the dark room in whimsy, there she stood, dressed as Britney Spears from the …Baby One More Time music video, or some version of it at least. Truth be told, her presence was more than enough to bring the room alive. Whether it was unabashed laughter straight from her core or the conversations she made from end to end, all the joy could be traced to where she was. When confronted with this fact, however, she is pleasantly surprised. Perhaps only realizing this now, she simmers in the thought and relents, “ You know what, I guess I really am happy right now.”
“It’s still obviously an up and down thing every day, but on an average, I think I am pretty happy. I learned that being hateful towards yourself, it doesn’t really get you anywhere. You know, some may find temporary satisfaction in being self-depracating, but I feel a lot happier, because I have identified a lot of the things that was going with me as a kid and I am aware of how I feel about myself,” she says, this time over a call that followed the drawling rhythm of a slowed down Sunday. “Just being able to acknowledge that and it exists and to move forward with that, I am happier because I understand myself more now.”
As an unparalleled sense of joy courses through her being as we speak, Miel Pangilinan is the first person to volunteer that it was never an easy path to get there. Her pedigree and privilege aside, which she fully acknowledges where and when she can, the young woman who practically grew before our very eyes asserts that it took a lot to even feel comfortable being herself, especially in the midst of a punishing pandemic.
“Growing up in quarantine, it’s like you experience highschool anxiety and struggles, but alone. I went through a peak of emotions and things, but I came out of it getting over a lot of that social trauma about being in middle school. I was able to work through most of it, but there was just a lot that changed,” shares Miel Pangilinan. “Even outside quarantine, people go through a lot of changes within two years, but ‘yun nga, the pandemic exacerbated it for our generation, which gave us a lot of time to think about ourselves and what we’re doing.”
HELLO, MIEL PANGILINAN
“It’s definitely weird. Being a kid that grew up in the midst of lockdown and quarantine, there’s a lot of things you expect to experience like when you get to highschool. You go in with a lot of this expectations, but I basically lost years of my life to being in lockdown and being scared for my health and everybody’s health. It’s definitely weird being 18 and even people who didn’t grow up in lockdown can relate where it’s like, “I don’t feel grown up.” A lot of times it can get really overwhelming,” explains Miel Pangilinan who recently came of age. “’Yung ano lang, expectations ng mga tao kasi 18 na ako and I’m older now, I have to go to college, and I have all this plans, but there’s this big chapter of my life that I ended up skipping. Now, I feel like I have such little time na lang to experience that I have to before I graduate.”
Truth be told, Miel Pangilinan feels like she’s chasing time, even though it is a well known scientific fact that the ticking of the hours and days are finite. Does she feel shockingly different having turned 18? Not really, she says. “The first thing I did at 12 AM on my birthday was to cry. It was less of a change within, but more of a change that society expects from you, especially when you’re a girl. Suddenly, there’s all these things you have to be ready for, but you’re not really just yet,” she opens up. “Kasi kapag 18 ka na and babae ka pa, especially in the Philippines, there’s so much expectation to suddenly be your own person but also not be. They want you to have control over what’s happening in your life, but they’re not giving that, does that make sense?”
It makes complete sense, and if you think about it, women are put through so much pressure with the pageantry of turning 18. (Meanwhile, for men, it’s just another year, carry on.) But being in the public eye, with her parents rooted in politics and show business, Miel Pangilinan has had to endure so much. “The thing that I got after my debut was being serially shamed online. I was being fat-shamed, really aggressively by people online. I didn’t even realize it until much later na, kaka-18 ko lang and ang daming sinasabi. It’s also scary, because there’s a lot more things people can feel they can attack you, just because you’re not legally not a child anymore. As a girl especially, because of the culture in the Philippines, youre ten times more vulnerable. It’s not always like that, but it’s just weird.”
If people think being scrutinized over things like weight was already especially mortifying, especially for a child, imagine being twice as hard on yourself over the same thing. “There was a time where I didn’t like how my body looked. It was a big struggle for me to feel comfortable in myself. The way that I would overcompensate was forcing confidence. So, I think deep inside, my inner child will definitely feel a lot better. It definitely is a dream come true for her where she looks the way she does and is not judged for it,” she says of her triumphs such as posting on social media or well, this cover. “You see, when I was 12, there was this recommended video to me on YouTube, ‘yung mga parang gossip tabloid. The title was like, “Miel Pangilinan Mag-diet Ka Na,” and it had all these comments from different people. That was very traumatizing for a kid. It’s still hard to deal with. I went into a spiral and fed things into my brain, which I really didn’t enjoy. They say it comes with the territory and that it will still keep on happening. I obviously can’t help but get hurt, but the thing that I tell myself is I can’t allow what others say about me to affect how I feel about myself. The same goes for my sexuality and things like that. What is it gonna do for me, other than make me feel bad. Yes, it’s inescapable and I get hurt over it, but that’s the extent that I’m going to let the comments do to me. I don’t let it go past a surface level effect on me.”
People, as social creatures, want to fit in, and this is something most would rather not want or care to admit. But for Miel Pangilinan, this notion was a turning point for her, the girl who admits to doing cartwheels and jumping jacks to make her feel wanted. “I was going through a lot of things regarding my body image that I was struggling with. There was a lot going on at the moment concerning my image, my weight, my insecurities, so being put in a new environment, it’s very weird place to be in. The me prior was definitely a lot more insecure,” she says thoughtfully. At this point of the pandemic, Miel Pangilinan has a better sense of self. “I learned to be a lot kinder to myself. I’m also a lot more comfortable in a lot of things concnering myself and I found the right circle of people, I set boundaries, and I am you know, a lot more confident. Obviously, there’s still a lot more I am working on, but being in COVID-19 helped solidify my sexuality. You know, I just knew myself better. Going from there, even there’s still a lot more to work on, knowing myself better than I did before two, three years ago is enough for me to have right now.”
Slowly and surely, Miel Pangilinan is loving herself without any conditions, curves and all. Manifested in TikToks or posts on Instagram of her fashion or makeup, she is confident in being herself, naysayers be damned. In fact, she has built a community on social media where people who relate to her or are going through the same thing in some way, shape, or form get to interact with her. “I can get anxious about being in a public space, but I also thought about this, and got emotional. The thing is, it felt like the little me who was plus-sized who didn’t have that much representation, this was everything she wanted and needed,” she says of her full circle moment service to her inner child. “That’s why it comes to things like that, I’m thinking of what I’m doing, especially for people who will be responding and reacting in the same way. Obviously there’s a lot of stress and pressure that comes with it to sort of be confident, but just me being present and who I am, that’s enough work for me right now as a plus-sized person seeking more body diversity. This way, I am able to help as well.”
THE QUEER UNDERSTANDING
While it wasn’t certainly news for those near and dear to Miel Pangilinan, she also publicly came out as queer over the course of the pandemic. “I kind of came out for the first time as pansexual. I was maybe 12 or 13, and I didn’t know much about the term then, but I just knew my attraction wasn’t held to just one gender. What was funny to me was that I was already out to my friends before coming out to my parents. The reason why it wasn’t that much of a big announcement or a big deal was because all the important people in my life who needed had already found out. The only remaining thing left was just to put it out there. It was more of just, by the way,” she says of what was for her a surprising upheaval it caused on the mainstream media. “It didn’t feel right to hold back who I was, at least in the public. It felt right to come out even if I experienced and still continue to experience backlash over it. But I already felt that I had strong enough support from my friends and family, that I’m very thankful for, so I felt comfortable enough already, because these people had my back. It made coming out to the public a safe enough option for me, which I’m genuinely thankful for, because I know that there’s a lot of queer people who don’t experience the same thing.”
Aware of how difficult and for some, life-threatening it is to live out one’s queer truth in a stubbornly conservative country such as the Philippines, Miel Pangilinan is not taking this responsibility thrust into her very lightly. “Definitely there is a lot more pressure,” she says. “You know, coming out as queer, I did it more for myself. And I genuinely didn’t expect it to blow up like it did and to hear from people being like, ‘Miel coming out helped me come out to my parents.’ It was a humbling experience and it really set me in my place in this whole puzzle piece and like, after seeing the reactions, now I obviously know more clearly what I can do as a queer Filipino person. It’s a weight on my shoulders, but it’s one that I don’t mind.”
With a penchant for the straightforward and rational, a trait she shares with her father and sister, Miel Pangilinan is wise beyond her years when it comes to many things, a facet that is innate to this generation as well. “Similarly to me being a plus-sized person, the best advocacy is to just be yourself and to listen to the people in your community. Look, I’m not the only queer person in the Philippines who is adjacent to show business. I don’t want it to be like that. More than anything, I would be a lot happier if my coming out brought attention to this community of in the country,” she relates. “There’s people who are either proud being themselves or want to be themselves so badly, and there are people advocating for this community, we need these things available to us. In truth, I’m still very new to Filipino queer scene and the Filipino queer community because I only came out publicly recently. So, instead of being seen as an LGBTQIA+ figure head, I hope my coming out helps the rest of the community and gain access to the community. This should be a sign that we need more representation in general media of queer people, because there is so much more to it and just want to be able to be a part of that.”
“The root of most of the problems we face as queer people is the ignorance of others or the unknowing of who weare and the fear that surrounds what people don’t know. It’s just important now more than ever to learn and understand these things, especially in the Philippines where the bakla culture is so integrated into general culture, but we are still persecuted,” Miel Pangilinan says. “People need to understand that we’re here. We’re not just a token character in a teleserye, a myth, or the butt of the joke. We’re very real people with very real feelings. Before anything, our gender identity included, we are all just people in that sense. I hope that me coming out helps others see that it’s not a personality trait to be gay, but it’s the person and who they are. Being queer doesn’t change the person they are.”
THE WORLD AWAITS
While people are hyperfocused on her body or the fact that she doesn’t just like boys, Miel Pangilinan is raring and ready to build not just a name, but a life that is independent from the shadows that has and still continues to drape itself over her. A lot is uncertain in the context of the future for both the young and the older, but what propels her to the veritably unknown is the firm realization that she can be and already is her own person. “It feels euphorically liberating. As I continue to discover more of myself and my identity, it feels a lot more like I’m able to be myself and I’m not performing. It makes me feel more open say going live on TikTok or with my friends. Also, I feel a lot safer in myself knowing who I am and my truth. Here, I am just able to exist,” she says, just as her sister signals her that dinner is ready.
“Growing up in the shadow of other people, having my own space online definitely helps, because I am able to express myself in the way I want to and in the truest sort of form. Most times, I don’t feel like an extension of other people and I’m happy with that,” she says beaming with pride and that same bright smile in the blur of Halloween night. “Being able to be online where I can enjoy these things, and to share that with people who have the same interests, it’s definitely been cathartic for me. The best way for me to really reach people is to be the most myself I can be, because I feel like being disingenuous doesn’t get you anywhere. I really have been happy being able to interact with people online, because there’s less inhibition to really express myself not just in terms of identity as a queer person, but even in the simple things that I enjoy.”
There’s a lot more adventures to navigate, realizations to be made amid emotional upheavals, art to be passionately created, and NCT boys to fawn over, and worlds to conquer for Miel Pangilinan, but in the meantime, dinner awaits.
Photography Daryl Nacario
Creative Direction and Styling Lyn Alumno
Assisted by Raf Villas
Art and Video Direction Kenneth Dimaano
Sittings Editor Angelo Ramirez de Cartagena
Makeup Charlie Manapat
Hair Christian from MUD Studio Manila
Production Designer Migs Alcid of Studio Tatin
Videographer Raymond Cabalhin
Shoot coordination Nicole Barnedo