Never has a monarch been remembered for her coronation as much as her reign—how she sheds her regalia, steps down from her court, yet remains relevant without a literal crown on her head is a whole different story altogether. From the Western royals of old to the gown-clad glamor queens of the pageant world, it’s all the same. Where most fall into obscurity in favor of a more peaceful lifestyle, others plunge head-first into their advocacies or transition into celebrities. On a road paved with tried and tested expectations, Pia Wurtzbach, however, drives off course, uphill.
Pia Wurtzbach for Preview.ph August 2021
Not only was her winning moment as Miss Universe 2015 the most memorable crowning in the pageant’s history, she’s also managed to grow, not apart from her title, but alongside it. Tracing her one-year reign, her splash back into acting, her stint as a judge on Asia’s Next Top Model, and her venture into business and podcasting, one moniker, through it all, has followed the Filipino-German—Queen P. It’s a publicly endowed title that will no doubt remain a permanent, personal crown for the beauty queen.
I first met Pia in 2018 during her measurement sitting for Madame Tussauds Hong Kong. She was eloquent, poised, and gorgeous—like, dare I illustrate, launch-a-thousand-ships beautiful. In the next two times I encountered her after that, virtually nothing had changed but the months that passed in between. She was still graceful, still Queen P, still ostensibly Queen Perfect in every way.
But the image of celebrity, of course, is often an illusion. And even someone who’s been immortalized like Pia doesn’t exist without cracks in her armor or—in spite of seemingly having reached her peak with a literal wax figure abroad—found herself struggling with more mountains to climb.
Before growing into a beauty queen, Pia was first a mini-entrepreneur as a schoolgirl. Granted, her ”business” was more of an innocent side-hustle that she ran in the confines of her classroom, where she made pennies out of selling her drawings of the Powerpuff Girls. “When I was younger, I loved to draw things… magaling ako manggaya ng mga cartoons.‘Pag may spare time ako sa bahay bago mag-class, gagawa ako ng marami…” she shared during an episode of her Spotify podcast, Between Us Queens. Her biological father had supported her budding talent for the arts back then, buying her the materials she needed to continue sketching her favorite cartoon characters. This support system, however, was short-lived after Pia’s parents separated. She explained, “Life changed, priorities changed, and everything changed. Ni-let go ko yung dream na yun.”
Alongside thoughts of college, it’s one of many dreams that continue to live as ‘What ifs’ in her mind. Made at 31, this model-actress-Miss Universe is as marred by doubts as anyone else. “A lot of us are like that, where we start something when we were young, we enjoy it, we know we’re good at it, but somehow we stop, tapos sayang. ‘Pag adults na tayo, iniisip na natin ‘Sana tinuloy-tuloy ko.’ Minsan you will realize a new dream even when you’re a bit older… and that’s okay.”
The beauty queen didn’t always have this mindset to comfort her, of course. When riding the thrilling yet uncertain waves of our youth, each minuscule event, each missed opportunity, or failed attempt almost always feels like the end of the world. It was no different for Pia either. In fact, she herself believed she needed to have her whole life perfectly figured out before she turned 30, especially if her Miss Universe campaign had fallen short of the crown. “I looked at my peers and how they were growing as people and felt that I was getting left behind. I felt like I wasn’t really doing anything and that I wasn’t achieving enough financially. I was stuck,” Pia told Preview. “When you’re young, you have this idea in your head of who or what you want to be when you grow up. You have plans, dreams, goals. And then you hit road bumps along the way and it makes you feel like you’re not really going in the right direction. It’s normal to feel this way.”
Despite the more than successful trajectory she did end up taking in her 20s, Pia has never shied away from talking about her own quarter-life crisis. In an online press event last March, she revealed being worried that she might not be able to replicate her Miss Universe success in her other ventures. That said, what sets Pia apart from her insecurities is that she acknowledges their existence. "One of the [things I did was to accept] that I am unsure of myself sometimes. Kasi 'pag beauty queen ka, [it’s] expected you know everything right away. You have the answer to all the questions. You're perfect all the time. You can't go wrong—and that's not real. [It's okay to] admit that 'hindi ako sure,” she told the media a few months back. "In this day and age, with social media, we want everything to be really quick. Dapat by next year or by next month, successful na 'ko. Hindi ako puwede magkamali. People online look like they got their lives together and it's all perfect but... take your time. That's my advice.”
Considered at the top of her game, Pia’s biggest challenge now is to not lose steam. The feat is always a daunting hurdle for anyone in her position, and yet it seems years of training her intrusive thoughts away, while vying for the Miss U crown, have prepared her for this decade of her life. “It was one thing that not everyone believed in me, it was another that I had a lot of limiting beliefs and negative self-talk which were holding me back. I think one of the most important lessons you’ll ever learn is to show up for you,” she told Preview. “What I realized is that the climb was actually the easy part. Maintaining your momentum at the top is harder. You have to work twice as hard to keep getting better, to keep looking for new goals, and to keep yourself inspired.”
Five Steps Ahead
It’s easy to imagine the word “crisis” with talons and an angry emoji face like one of those bacteria commercials on TV, just carving away at the slivers of self-worth you have left, always malignant and on the hunt. In reality, problems like this, when rooted from within ourselves, never have faces one can physically solve or swerve.
Pia first spoke about her mental health during her Miss Universe reign just this year—how being plucked so abruptly from her family and everything she knew had actually taken a major toll on her, that she had to attend therapy sessions, with the title still heavy on her name. “I [needed] time to kind of absorb everything that’s going on and really make sure that I’m okay and that I don’t get overwhelmed and suddenly make mistakes along the way,” she revealed. And because depression, like any other illness, can resurface when you least expect it, Pia admits to still dealing with bouts of darkness now and again. "It's okay not to be okay,” she once said in an interview, and we couldn’t agree more.
To combat the blues, along with the looming stress of keeping her star on the map, Pia is always on the lookout for ways to make herself better, or to remain “five or ten steps” ahead of her goals. Of course, the fear of failure is still very much a thorn in her side, but Queen P knows better now than to let it consume her. Instead, she gives her mind and body something to preoccupy itself with.
“I’ve really started investing in my physical health, taking exercise more seriously [by] working with a world-class coach, and teaching myself new forms of activity. I make it a daily habit that I do most mornings,” wrote Pia in an e-mail interview. “I’ve also started taking much better care of my body and mind through sleep. Recovery is so important given how active I am during the day, and making sure I get enough deep and REM sleep has had a very positive impact. I’m also teaching myself about nutrition, eating clean whole foods, avoiding processed unhealthy food and sugars. All of these in combination keeps me fit, healthy, and happy.”
In With the New
Six years since her claim to fame, Pia manages to remain relevant for all the right reasons. When she isn’t in the spotlight for pageant-related news, she’s a regular on headlines advocating for women empowerment. Just last May, the 31-year-old posted a raw photo of herself, bikini-clad while showing off her stretch marks and cellulite. “We’re more than a number on a scale, a filter on Instagram, or the opinion of other people," read her caption. "[I] was a bit hesitant to post this pic 'cause I’ve been called so many names over the years, but you know what, this body has carried me through life, and I will honor it—cellulites, jiggles, and all."
Clearly an exemplar of women uplifting women, her status as one of Cream Silk’s ambassadors for their #DefyToBeGreater campaign comes as no surprise. Not when she always comes out greater than ever against cynics planted both outside of her circle and in her own head. “Cream Silk has been setting up a lot of initiatives to empower women so I offer my full support where I can,” said Pia. “Aside from that, I am more intentional with every single thing that I do; whether it’s a regular social media post, a campaign, or a speaking engagement, I take it as an opportunity to use my voice to inspire others to find theirs as well."
Pia’s ongoing podcast, Between Us Queens, is a paragon of the exact ideal she’s striving to live out. A platform shared with Carla Lizardo and Bianca Guidotti, each episode delves into familiar issues encountered by the everywoman, ranging from lighthearted chats about their “go-to landi moves,” to more serious late-night agendas discussing toxic masculinity. And it doesn’t stop there either. “Aside from the podcast, we were also able to build a community behind it,” shared Pia. “Today we have over 5000 engaged members in our Facebook group where anyone can give advice and ask for advice. It’s a safe space for everything. I’m really proud of the community we’ve built here. I get so kilig when I see how engaged everyone is, how much support and empowerment the women share in our group.”
As she emerges into a new decade with more fresh, promising pursuits in tow—while barely scratching the surface of her 30s, no less—Queen P is proof that you can continue inventing and reinventing yourself at any age. From establishing Bestea, her milk tea venture with Pauleen Luna and Niña Almoro, in Alabang last year, to exploring the home decor front via her upcoming collaboration with Studio Soliven, to her partnership with cosmetics brand Téviant, it’s looking like the best years of this pageant icon’s life are just starting.
“It’s when things get too tough that we need to hold on to our dreams,” Pia told Preview. “It’s easier to say than grasp but believe me when I say that the universe always listens. The only way you truly fail is when you give up, so don’t. Take a break, take a rest, then get up and wear that crown like the queen that you are.”
Words by Jam Nitura
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