Making MEGA’s last cover star Pia Wurtzbach shares her brave journey to self-love and acceptance.
The thing with Pia Wurtzbach is that she’s unexpectedly normal when she’s sitting next to you at dinner. Never mind that it’s the kind of event where people are dressed to the nines, dripping in jewelry and oh, Pia happens to be one of the VIPS and she’s arrived looking like a modern Veronica Lake, her makeup flawless, hair in the signature waves and her famous figure seemingly poured into a slip of a dress. But unlike, say, the other VIP women across the table who seem otherworldly and untouchable, scant with their expression and polite to a point of coolness, Pia is adorably down to earth. Ask her about the spindly stilettos and figure-hugging dress she’s wearing and she replies with an expression that is decidedly un-Miss Universe. We’re giggling like school girls until she’s called on stage. Suddenly the girl next door dissipates and Pia turns it on. Suddenly she’s the most regal person to have ever walked on a stage, displaying the kind of elegance and graciousness that saw her come out on top of what was arguably the most controversial Miss Universe plot twist we’d seen in recent memory. Onstage, she’s Queen Pia.
A few days later she’s in the MEGA studios to finish her shoot for her Making MEGA documentary. Girlfriend Pia is back, dressed in jeans and slides, juggling a phone, water and an iced coffee as the glam team primp her to Versace perfection. Sitting in front of the camera in a tight-fitting, gold Medusa-print top, her eyes lined like an Egyptian queen and her hair gathered into a high ponytail, the larger-than-life Pia is back on again. Her skin seems to glisten with diamonds. Then she opens her mouth and again it’s Pia your old friend, the kind of person you can easily see whooping and screaming, ‘You go girl!’ while watching Cheer. After an hour of straight talk and much laughter, it’s clear that there’s no disparity, there’s no hiding or switching of personas. It’s all her. The queen, the homegirl, the alpha woman, the beauty queen, Miss Beyond Beautiful. At the end of the day, it’s all Pia Wurtzbach.
Save The Best
She’s still shrugging off the effects of her crazy, jet-setting life which included a journey to South America weeks ago for her first Making MEGA. Pia’s route took about three days, and in the process she picked up a nasty cold that could’ve easily derailed the shoot schedule, which started as soon as she arrived at the hotel in Rio. Within an hour she was already in the famed Copacabana beach, the bustling center of the city. Dressed in one sexy red outfit after another, her bronzed skin and smoky eyes hiding sniffles and a cough, Pia did it all. She rolled on the surf, cavorted on the sand, flung her damp hair and dress around in the afternoon sun. In between takes she would grab a tissue, gingerly hold it against her nose so as not to disturb the makeup too much and blow. Or cough. Or sneeze. If she was miserable, you couldn’t see it. She was astoundingly pleasant, game for one last take, and able to gaze at the camera like it was the most desirable thing in the world. In a place that was teeming with incredibly beautiful women with pert bottoms and and glistening bosoms held together in the teeniest, tiniest of swimsuits (thongs are still very much in vogue in Rio), Pia, even in a gown, managed to capture the attention of everyone. And we mean everyone. From grandparents to little children to the ridiculously hot umbrella guy with the blue eyes and the cadre of supermodel-like women, everyone was gaping at Pia Wurtzbach. Wrapping up the shoot, we offer her a look at the shots we’ve taken. “It looks good!” she says enthusiastically. Are you happy, we ask her. She nods. “Are you?”
Back in Manila, Pia is marveling at what we’d all just pulled off. “I told myself, I’m not letting a cold ruin this shoot. I traveled too far, for too long to be beaten by a cold!” she says. “I’m going to get the shots and I’m going to do it well.
And boy did she. From a glittery bodysuit to a Lesley Mobo number and a jacquard suit paired with nothing else but a pair of pristine white Converse sneakers, Pia worked them all to perfection. “I take my work seriously. And I think that’s an example of loving something fearlessly,” she declares proudly. Pia is adamant about her love for her work, her career. She understands that her ambition is key to her journey of self-growth. Far from it being simply being about the money and fame, dedicating herself to her work is a way to discover herself and showcase her love for the dreams of a once-little girl who wanted an extraordinary life.
“I’m proud to say that I’ve never missed a day of work. I’ve never been absent. I always show up, no matter how sick I am, no matter how tired I am. Hindi ako nag-ka-cancel ng work,” she says without a trace of arrogance, just pure dedication. It’s this kind of character that has led her to many longtime associations with several brands, including the iconic sneaker brand Converse. Of the many high-profile collaborations she’s had with them, last year’s Love the Progress campaign was a highlight. This continues with Love Fearlessly, a collection designed to encourage the discovery of genuine self-love in contrast to the superficial validation of social media likes, follows and views.
How’s this for numbers? This is Pia’s seventh MEGA cover. This the magazine’s last Making MEGA. This is her first Making MEGA.
With every cover that we’ve shot with her, even when she wasn’t Miss Universe yet, she’s brought it, given it her all. Since 2015, she’s appeared on the magazine at least once, each time with something new to say—and the magazine has only been too happy to let her speak. It’s a beautiful partnership: the Philippines’ best fashion magazine and one of the Philippines’ best women. True talk: when Pia won Miss Universe years ago, she put forth the image of the modern Filipina, one who was intelligent, articulate, witty and willfully ambitious—all while retaining all those beloved old fashioned values we adore: elegance, good humor and an empathetic persona. And while she’s still all of those, she’s also so much more now.
“You have to prove why you’re on the cover of a magazine,” she says. “That’s what I feel every time I do a shoot: what story am I going to tell this time? It can’t be the same as last time. There’s always that challenge and I’ve started to really embrace that.”
“I may not always come with a big story to tell, but you just have to be really authentic.”
We go through all her covers, including the one we shot before she won the title.
“Now that I think about it, the first ever cover that I did—wow! I thought I knew so much back then. But I was so wrong,” she says. “To other people they’re just beautiful pictures, but to me, I know what I was like at that time. I can look at all of them and they all have memories. They’re [each] a different version of Pia.”
“I grow more and more as a woman, every year.”
And what a woman she’s become. In the photos, she displays a different side, one that is decidedly less inhibited, more daring, more confident, if it were possible to add even more to the woman who defied so many naysayers when she joined the Bb.Pilipinas pageant three times. But she wears this newfound assuredness with ease, like second skin, like the glittering scuba outfit she wears in the cover. It’s not in-your-face, it’s not cocky and put-upon. Perhaps because she pairs it with—and this is clichè—grace and humility. Pia, after all, has lived her life pretty openly. Her personal and professional struggles are open for the world to see—and judge. She knows it’s part of the celebrity game and she doesn’t let it get in the way of her own growth, of her desire to build the kind of life that she wants.
But what does she want?
I remember Paula [Shugart, Miss Universe President] asking me: ‘Pia, think about it. What do you want?’ That’s question that she asked me before I passed on the crown,” Pia recounts. “‘What does Pia want? Don’t think about Miss Universe. What makes her happy?’”
Pia, for the first time, looks a little unnerved, as one does when recounting a particularly vulnerable moment. “I remember looking at her and not really having an answer. Because back then what I would say is: what makes me happy is seeing everybody else happy. My happiness was based on other people’s happiness. If I see them happy, my mentors happy, my boss happy, then that makes me happy because I know that I’m pleasing everyone. But that will burn you out. You can’t keep doing that, you can’t keep pleasing everyone.”
So what did you tell her, we prod.
She takes a deep breath. “That question was left hanging and I thought about it for a long time. Tapos randomly maalala ko lang siya.”
From the moment of fragility, Pia takes a turn, as she often does. Her ponytail swings a little as she looks straight at us.
“If she asked me the same question now, I probably won’t have the same deer-in-the-headlights look on my face anymore,” she says.
“I want my voice to be heard. I want to feel and to know that my opinions matter and my voice matters. What I have to say matters to someone. I don’t want to be just like another person in this world who lived and never really made a mark. I want to be remembered. What makes me happy is when somebody comes up to me and says, ‘you know, you really inspired and thank you for changing my life.’ Those are the comments that I really love, because I don’t know them, but they know my story and somehow I connected with them. This is why I do what I do. That gives me purpose.”
It’s not often that a woman, especially one in the spotlight often and who’s initial claim to fame—winning a beauty pageant—expressly tells people about their naked ambition. Legacy, to be remembered, to leave an indelible mark–—that’s something guys would often say, regardless of their status in life. But a woman? Even one as accomplished and lauded as Pia Wurtzbach will often take a demure side step.
But these are modern times and when the latest Miss Universe is calling for females to take up space, it’s time to let those old fashioned ideals go the way of the dodo. For someone whose voice is often heard, sharply and audibly, it’s refreshing to hear her say that it’s not enough.
“I don’t think I’ve taken up enough space. No, no, no. I don’t think so!” says Pia with a laugh.
“Yeah, I won Miss Universe, but what else is there? That’s a question I always ask myself. I keep challenging myself in that way. Miss Universe was a big achievement, and it is a big deal, and it changed my life and I’m so grateful for it. But I don’t want that to be the pride or the peak of my life. There are other things out there that I can pursue. That’s why I don’t stop working, because I’m looking for other successes that I can achieve that are or could be as big as Miss Universe.”
And that, ladies and gents, is something that every little girl needs to hear.
Thank you, Next
Business is where Pia’s mind’s at these days. She’s interested in doing more longterm, behind-the-scenes endeavors that will make use of her other prodigious skills. Ever the beauty girl, taking her interests in makeup and skincare are in her agenda.
Her recent lipstick collaboration with local brand Téviant was well received, something that Pia is particularly proud of, largely because it was about women empowerment. “I really see myself working in that space. We are actually working on something new for this year and I can’t wait to share it with everyone. Hopefully I can take on a bigger role in Téviant,” she says.
Her long established partnership with global brand Olay is also something close to her heart. Since her teens, Pia has already set a strict skincare routine, one that she has carried over with her to this day, albeit with changes to suit her changing needs.
“If there’s one thing that I never break, it’s that promise to take care of my skin. I started early and I take skincare very seriously.”
“Never breakup with your skincare ladies!” She says with a laugh.
Speaking of breakups, Pia endured a very public one just last year. True to form, she took it as a challenge and went about her life, focusing on work and learning form the experience. And of course, because life is funny that way, romance came knocking quickly.When we bring it up, it’s the only time Pia blushes.
“I’ve never talked about this before,” she admits. Just as we were going to express how happy we were for her, she takes it down an unexpected path.
“I’m happy, I’m inspired, I feel very empowered. I feel like I can be myself and I don’t have to water myself down. I can be my full self. I can be my full Pia, 100% empowered Pia, fight mode all the time; I can be the alpha that I am, all the time. I don’t have to filter myself for anyone anymore.” And with that, everyone starts whooping—Pia included. The universe, it seems, is not enough.