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Catriona Gray Talks About What It Really Means to Be a Filipina Beauty

Being a mixed Filipina, the Miss Universe 2018 titleholder wishes to open up an important conversation about diversity.

by Nicole Arcano | Mar 20, 2019

"There have been many times where I've been told, 'You don't look Filipino. You don't look like a Filipina. You look Latin, or Hawaiian.’ I represent the diverse Filipina beauty. We are not just one kind of beauty anymore."

Vying for the Miss Universe crown even after already competing for Miss World is no regular feat for a beauty queen, but Catriona Gray has never been the type to settle. The Filipina-Australian model knew she had more to offer, and having an international ambassador’s platform would help serve her advocacies on a larger scale. Needless to say, the decision to push her boundaries came as a no-brainer.

We assume you're already well aware about the rest of her journey: her modeling and music career that came before pageantry, her spot in Miss World 2016’s top five, and her eventual triumph at bagging the Miss Universe 2018 title. A success story backed with so much hard work and perhaps a sprinkle of fate simply doesn’t come undocumented. That’s why, for her first Preview feature as Miss Universe and a year after her May 2018 cover, we had Catriona walk us through her rigorous training. And being the winner of the most prestigious beauty pageant in the world, it's only fitting that we focus on beauty—her secrets, tips, and personal mantras that helped her wow the universe.

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Ahead, in an exclusive interview with Preview, Catriona Gray tells us what it truly means to represent "Filipina beauty."

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You chose to train independently and formed your own team for training, which is rare for a Bb. Pilipinas winner. What made you decide to do so? Was it hard for you?

“It wasn't hard. I think the biggest part is just feeling that you can, because you wouldn't believe how many people told me that I would lose because I didn't have the guidance of a camp. So it's more that which stops girls from [training independently], I feel. I mean, I understand if you're a girl from the province and you know no one in Manila, a camp is an amazing resource for you to connect to designers, to someone who will guide you. Since I already knew people that I wanted to work with [from my time working] as a model, it was just easy. And for me, it made sense because in a camp, you can have up to 15 girls during Binibini season. Whereas with my own team, their focus was only on me, and that made the creative process so much easier—training was much more focused and more customized.”

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Why did you specifically choose the people in your team?

“It just kind of fell together. Jelly [Eugenio] was actually the one who did my makeup for my passover of the Miss World-Philippines crown. That was the first time we worked together and ever since then, I just really like how Jelly does my makeup. I find that when he does my makeup, it brings out my features in such a nice way, and he's so fast, too. And then mamang Brent [Sales]—I've known mamang since I was 16. He did my hair for my first TV commercial. We worked again together for Bench and a few projects along the way. So I actually met [my team] as a model. Even the stylists, sina Ton Lao and Justine Aliman through modeling pa rin. And even Mak Tumang, my designer, he had made me a dress for Miss World and I was so impressed by his workmanship and his attention to detail and his craft that I knew that when I wanted to join again, I said I need to work with Mak. So that's how it kind of fell together. I just really love their talent and also being around them. My team is made up of a bunch of really positive people. When I'm around them, it makes work not feel like work.”

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Not many know how rigorous training is for Miss Universe. When it comes to beauty, how did you prepare yourself for the big stage?

SKINCARE

“I really had to get my skincare in order in advance so that I would know I’d have good skin. [That was] one of the biggest things because it's the canvas of your makeup—the better your skin is, the less effort you need to put into your base. It really helped once I found out where the [competition] was. It was in Thailand, the same climate as ours, so I knew that whatever worked for my skin here would work there. I went to a dermatologist regularly just to make sure that my skin was in check, tried to eat well, and drink enough water 'cause it comes through there, too. Oh and I put extra effort into makeup removers, like just to get everything off. I think my makeup removing routine is three steps long! When I leave it on, like if I miss [one spot], I break out.

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MAKEUP

“The biggest thing that I had to learn was doing my face from scratch. From the everyday looks, to the special event looks like national costume, preliminary, and of course finals—I did the makeup for everything. My team really gave me one-on-one training for that. I invested in good makeup brushes, too. I got myself brush cleaners, and made sure that my kit was minimal but solid so that I could do all the looks that I needed to with minimum products.”

HAIR

“With my hair, I had to treat it a lot. I would go to the salon to get treatments. I'd get trims all the time and tried to use extensions as much as I could, because by the end of the pageant, my hair was fried. Also, I had to learn from Brent how to do second day hair. For example, I’d have curls one day, and then the second day he taught me how to do a cute ponytail or a bun just to save my hair that day from irons and the heat. Just practical stuff to save time and to save my hair!”

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What did you find the most difficult to learn during beauty training?

“Hair. It's exhausting—like your arms hurt, and then once I put in all my extensions, it makes it three times more [painful] especially with curls. My goal for training was also to get my time down to a minimum, so that I could save on sleep and stress and be able to put on my makeup [and hair] for my daily events in 30 minutes. That's why I would practice by myself at home because I wanted to be as fast as possible.”

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Can you tell us how you did your winning look?

“I actually took my time in doing my makeup that morning. We were up by 12:30 a.m. [to start] hair and makeup, either doing our own or going down to the hair and makeup teams at around 3 a.m.

“My hair, actually, I feel like I didn't do a very good job. I mean I did an okay job but like it could've been better. I sent a video to Brent and he was sending me a video back telling me how to fix it. We had a group chat, and I would just constantly correspond with [my team], showing my makeup and they would send me feedback. It took around two hours to do my hair and makeup.

“But the switching [of looks], since I start with center parted hair and then go side-swept for evening gown, that was really stressful. The changes are so fast in the Top 10. Literally we didn’t even have a mirror. It was like someone did it, they hair sprayed it for me—I couldn't see it. I had to do my lipstick with a cellphone light and a small mirror. It's crazy. And those are things you don't know in advance, so it's always good to do beauty training because then when you’re put in that situation you're not going to [be] super stressed. At least you'll be like, "Okay, I know what to do."

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What were your favorite things that you learned from your team during training?

“When it came to hair, it's really about the framing and the parting. I never knew that played that big of a part in the hairstyle itself but it really does. [Framing] makes the hair sit around your face in a beautiful way. Also, I always had this perception that you needed mousses, dry shampoos, gels, hairsprays and everything, but honestly, I only had one product [during the pageant], and that was hairspray.

“For makeup, Jelly gave me this foundation that had a yellow tint. He would tell me that since the light they use [on stage] is white, it might wash out my tan skin tone, so putting on a yellow-based foundation would make [my skin] look healthier. Another tip that Jelly taught me, that I pinch myself that I didn't know it before, was using Duo eyelash glue to hold up my brows. I’ve never found a brow gel that's worked for me because my eyebrow hairs are quite long, and they always end up drooping. So when I found out about that tip, I've never been the same. Also, adding another color at the center of your lips, I also did this in the Vogue video, can change the look to make it a little fresher.”

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Speaking of Vogue, can you tell us about your Beauty Secrets video? How did that happen?

“I died, guys. Jelly knows this. I got an e-mail on my personal account from a Vogue writer from the US, saying that they wanted to interview me for their online platforms. We had a meeting and it was mostly about Miss Universe and a little bit about beauty and stuff, but there was another person present who happened to be like the head of digital and she just mentioned, 'Oh, we'd love to get you for some stuff if you're interested, like you know the Vogue Beauty Secrets—' I was like, 'Yes! I'd be up for everything! I would do everything!’

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“When we left the meeting, I kept talking to the media manager of Miss Universe and I was like, 'Can we please make the Vogue beauty video happen 'cause that will be amazing. I will freak out. The Philippines will freak out.' And then yeah, it came through! I was so excited. I was messaging Jelly like, 'Oh my god they want me to do the coronation look!' It was so much fun, and did you know they only filmed it with an iPhone? It's just [shot in] a hotel bathroom. That's it! It's super minimal. It's not even a full setup. The lighting is just from the hotel lighting. I talked a lot in that video. [Shooting] took like an hour.”


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Being Miss Universe, how does it feel to have become a global representative of Filipina beauty? Do you feel a responsibility to represent us in some specific way?

“Yeah, I do, but I also represent a diverse Filipina beauty. There have been many times where I've been told, 'You don't look Filipino. You don't look like a Filipina. You look Latin, or Hawaiian.’ So yes, I represent Filipina beauty but I also represent the diverse Filipina beauty. We are not just one kind of beauty anymore, and if I can open up that conversation, that's great.”

The diversity of Filipina beauty has been a big topic of conversation ever since Pia Wurtzbach won Miss Universe, when you also took home the crown, and when Kelsey Merritt became a Victoria’s Secret model.

“Every time. It's so strange, like what is pure Filipina beauty? Like, there is a stereotype, but what is it really? I saw [what people were saying about Kelsey], and it was just really sad. I also received it, even when I won nationals. I mean, the opportunity was open to us. And again, what is a pure Filipina?”

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Speaking as a mixed Filipina, what have you learned from that experience?

“We have to just admire where there is beauty. It doesn't have to fit a certain mold or concept or perception. Beauty comes in so many different forms and anyone can be beautiful. That's the truth of it, honestly. Whether it's a feeling or it's a way that you like to do your makeup, or when you're with a certain person, or at a certain place. Beauty is so multi-defined; it has so many different missions that when we even try to define it, we're already in the wrong, you know what I mean?”


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How has becoming Miss Universe and the process behind it changed the way you view beauty?

“It's opened up my eyes to a lot of different things. But being a beauty queen, we're surrounded by beautiful people. Every single contestant is beautiful. It really made me search deeper, like, ‘So you're beautiful externally but what else?’ There is beauty in being a kind and considerate person, in being a joy to be around, or being a good listener who can really connect to people. There's beauty in character. It's a cliché thing, but that's the beauty that won't fade, and that's the beauty that sets you apart. I really believe it is [how you make your impact]. It's what people remember. They remember how you make them feel, not how you look.”


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What beauty advice would you give young Catriona that you think she really needed to hear?

“I would tell her that the stuff that makes you stand out that you probably feel a little awkward and shy about, those are the things that you'll embrace later on, so embrace them earlier. For example my height, I hated it while growing up. I felt so awkward. I was so tall. I was five foot eight by the age of 12! This is when boys hadn't even hit puberty. I was taller than everyone including my teachers. Usually girls grow at 12, but I finished at 12. I felt crazy awkward, but now I love my height. It's an asset now, so I guess if I could talk to my younger self, [I’ll say] the things that set you apart and make you feel awkward are going to be the things that make you unique and play to your favor later on.”

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Now that you have such a large platform as Miss Universe, what beauty lesson do you hope to impart to other women or everyone during your reign?

“A practical beauty lesson is to enhance your features [with makeup]—don't try and change them. So then you look like you! When you look like you, you're unique and there's something really special about that. There have been so many times that I've had makeup done on me that tried to change the shape of my nose and my eyes, but I feel most beautiful when my features are just accentuated [and not] altered.

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“On a general note, beauty can't be defined. You need to define beauty for yourself. You shouldn't let social media, the media, or people around you define what you think is beautiful because everyone has the right to define what's beautiful for them. It's a matter of how you feel. If you feel beautiful with no makeup or with a lot of makeup, don't let people shame you for that. You're entitled to be happy and feel beautiful.”


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Catriona uses this clear eyelash glue as eyebrow gel.


“I use it before or after makeup, but I just love the smell I don't know if it really does anything.”


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“It's honestly my favorite shimmer in the whole wide world, and it's what I used in both my nationals in Binibining Pilipinas and Miss Universe.”


Catriona opts for gentle formulas for her cleanser and moisturizer to balance her skin.


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“It really works! It doesn't smudge 'cause I find that sometimes I wear mascara and it's smudging at the bottom of my eye at the end of the day or even on my eyelid.”

Photographed by BJ Pascual

Art Directed by Mark Buenaobra

Styled by Marj Ramos

Makeup by Jelly Eugenio for NARS

Hair by Brent Sales

Sittings Editors: Nicole Arcano and Maura Rodriguez

Shoot Coordinators: Lou Ferrer and Nikki Rivera

Shoot Assistant: April Lozada

Shot on location at Novotel Cubao

Special thanks to Nonito Cuizon

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