There I was at the finals of the 2017 Ms. Earth Pageant in fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada. I was holding hands with my pageant sisters who also made it to the top ten out of 63 countries. The culmination of emotions from years of preparation was thick in the air... there was dead silence.
Then the Emcee announces "And your top Ms. Earth winners..."
My ears began to ring so loudly that it numbed any sound that actually surrounded us.
They crowned the top queens, one of which was my best friends Joelle, who represented Australia.
Ms. United States won Ms. Earth 2017
As we exited the stage there was a mix of emotions in the dressing room. I remember distinctly the Eastern European queens were furious. Ms. Mexico, my roommate was was disappointed in her overall performance. The asian queens were busy taking selfies with each other. Australia and I were holding each other in joy and relief.
I WAS FINALLY FREE.
2 long long long long long long long longggggg years of discomfort, excitement, non stop events, hunger, exhaustion, emotional strength, and a permanent smile has finally come to this point.
I am Nessa Rae De La Pena Apostol and I am your 2017 Ms. Philippines Earth. My platform during my reign was raising awareness in sexual abuse and sex trafficking. I traveled all over the world (India, Australia, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Trinidad, etc.) volunteering my time at orphanages, rescues from child sex trafficking and speaking at women's leadership conferences. My strengths as a pageant queen was interview and public speaking. I personally raised $40k towards philanthropic causes (fundraising was my jam). And made hundreds of public appearances as Ms. Philippines at many events. It was glamourous. It was fun. It was unbelievable.
It was a busy two years.
It was a fun and eventful two years.
It was an exhausting two years.
At the time I really prided myself in doing the absolute most as a queen. There was a group chat with all the queens leading up to the Ms. Earth pageant and I can honestly say it was me and one other country who did as much traveling and philanthropy during her reign. It made me kind of disappointed and slightly judgmental to be honest to be the only ones really taking advantage of the rare opportunity we had.
As women, we have had a recent history of not being taken serious. To represent an entire country, to have a voice, to be seen for the powerful, confident and beautiful woman that we are was a once in a lifetime opportunity. The crown and sash were our stage and microphone.
This was paramount to me. It was my duty to leave a legacy in this world and serve this Earth. So I went at it hard core and couldn't understand why others didn't.
The truth is, when you enter into pageants, you will quickly realize most contestants do it for the crown, the title and all the pretty perks that go with it. Most girls have no clue what their platform is, what it means to them and what they do to support it. Some pageants have become a mill of pretty girls walking in Tippy Tops and big hair, that most of the industry has forgotten its true purpose.
Before I was crowned Ms. Philippines, I had been a gown sponsor and judge for many pageants. I have met hundreds of girls hoping to win a chance at the crown.
Honestly, we judges know IMMEDIATELY who the queen will be at interview. It is ALWAYS the girl who is most authentic and comfortable in her own skin and voice. It doesn't even take 2 minutes to know. A true queen knows herself on such a deep level of understanding and how she is making an impact to others in her life.
You see, if you enter into a pageant, you must understand, you have a chance at going to the absolute top, and there is A LOT of responsibilities. Everyone is watching you, and trusting that you will lead others, especially young women to greatness.
RULE ONE: BE TRULY PASSIONATE ABOUT YOUR PLATFORM.
I chose sexual abuse and trafficking for the very personal purpose of understanding my own journey.
I am about to be really honest...
I have been sexually abused in my past (I won't go into detail because that is a whoolllleeeee other blog post) and I had never really confronted those issues at the time. I was too afraid to show my fears, my vulnerability or admit I was broken. I had taken this as my platform as a way to find self healing-- big mistake.
You see, I had never talked to a therapist about it at the time and skipped all these healing steps before I started publicly speaking about these related issues. I went into a weird inner battle of being forced to be the cookie cutter presentable public figure and being the hurt almost unworthy, abused girl on the inside. Lets just say self sabotage kicked in for those two years and I became an expert at avoiding my problems and slapping a smile on my contoured face.
Again, I'll go more into detail about my journey to self healing in another blog.
Long story short, it was an eventful two years of self discovery in the public eye. I don't recommend standing for something you yourself have not come to peace about and I definitely don't recommend claiming a platform you don't actually have passion for. I remember I was fitting a contender for a Miss USA pageant and the girl was absolutely stunning. She looked incredible in my gown. When we sat down and I asked her general questions about her pageant, I asked her what her platform was and she had no clue. Her sponsor who was in the room with us asked her if she likes puppies and she agreed. He said, "Okay great, your platform is for adopting dogs." She had no reaction. She didn't make it to the semi finals.
The winners take their platforms extremely personal and use it as the vehicle to their legacy.
RULE TWO: BE PREPARED
First of all, you MUST learn how to walk confidently in heels. You may be a perfect speaker, volunteer 1000 hours a week, Miss Congeniality, but if you look like a baby giraffe in a bikini and evening gown with the look of deer in the headlights, GIRL YOU WILL BE BOOTED.
I highly recommend taking lessons on rumba walks from a ballroom professional, they will teach you how to fully articulate your legs, ankles, toes and hips that no pageant coach can teach you.
As a professional ballroom dancer I was used to doing samba in 3 inch heels going at 100mph so this was a piece of cake. I was the shortest contender standing at 5'3 and I was preparing my walks for the tallest heels possible.
I was training in 10 inch platforms so that I could basically run in my 7.5 inch stage heels.
Learn how to do your own hair and makeup. There is no getting away with being "au naturale" in this industry so learn how to beat your face to the Gods and how to look Queen ready in less than 30 minutes. Hint: practice putting on fake eyelashes. To some it may be "anti feminist" but it is what it is, in this industry. think about it as part of the "costume."
Every outfit MUST be planned to the minute detail. Make sure you are fashionably up to date, your shoes, your jewelry, everything must be cohesive. You will be the most exposed you have ever been in your life. Not just at the pageant, but little public things like going to the grocery store or drive through. Sometimes people will recognize you without your crown and sash. But when those things are on, especially if you represent a large country, be prepared to be swarmed with people and their phones and opinions.
Know the world's issues and how you and your community (or country) is affected by it. Judges hate an ignorant queen. Sorry to be so blunt but its true. The world does not revolve around the queen. The queen serves the world. Learn how to get your point across quickly and clearly. Always finish your statements with a point.
Practice interacting with people. Eye contact and being approachable is crucial. Remember, you will be actual royalty to your community or country. The people come first and they look up to you. It will be awkward and uncomfortable, and there will be times where the glamour of popularity fades and you don't feel like smiling and hugging random strangers but most of them will feel like they already know you. If you are an introvert, this will be especially difficult but totally doable. Believe you are confident and take on the duty of a queen who serves. Start by introducing yourself to others and starting conversations. If you decide you "don't like people" this job may not be for you lol.
RULE THREE: INVEST IN YOURSELF & RESPECT YOUR SPONSORS
I'll admit, pageants are expensive. I mean, 2 years of travels, all the clothes, the professional beauty professionals, the fees, etc. It adds up. One pageant EVENT could cost thousands of US dollars.
It is ideal to get sponsors but you have to remember it IS a transaction. You must fulfill your end of the deal. So many times I've seen girls promise to represent their sponsors and do the bare minimum to represent crucial members of their team. As a former sponsor through my gown company the most disapponting thing is when the contender forgets the brand name, doesn't blast the company on their social media except for one post that barely shows the product. Especially with last minute requests and un personal connection. Remember, these sponsors are giving you free product or even MONEY to support your reign NOT just the pageant-- it doesn't matter how late in the game they join your team. You must commit to your dues to them. I had a girl I sponsored through her reign and she had a PERSONAL connection with me and truly believed in the product. Make sure you honestly can stand behind those sponsors otherwise, you will not give authentic advertisement for them. You must be likable to the higher ups in those companies, you must be cooperative & finish your end of the deal or you could be black listed for years to come.
Get real friendly and familiar with social media. This is everything to your team. No excuses with "I don't like social media." Either get used to it or hire someone to manage your pages and connect with fans to link to your sponsors fast. Your sponsors may become team members to your future endeavors after the pageant.
DO NOT get a sponsored evening gown just because its free!!!! This is extremely important. This is the category that the public look forward to the most. This is where you are most photographed and remembered by. Whether you wear gown that costs thousands of dollars, or get a dress from goodwill and alter it to your liking, make sure that dress is 100% representative of YOU, your style, your personality and your body. The judges have seen every standard pageant dress (I will not name brands) and want to see how a gown makes you shine. This could be the one thing that makes you memorable amongst 63 countries before the crowd gets to hear you speak. No matter what, make sure it is you. I am a huge fan of bespoke gowns because there will never be a dress that exists like that again. Judges love to see what represents you in regal fashion-- TAKE THIS OPPORTUNITY. You do not want to be forgettable.
RULE FOUR: PLAY NICE
Sure the stereotype is cattiness and intense bitchy personalities, but to be honest, that was like 2% of the girls I've ever experienced in this industry. There is a lot of inauthenticity because we are all trying to show the best versions of ourselves and thats natural when showing our game faces. Some cultures pageant's are different and more cookie cutter that others, its especially apparent in US pageants (more specifically the southern states) which was a culture shock to some of us. But if you come to the pageant with an open loving and secure place, those differences will roll off and you will see the beautiful commonalities with each other. If you show up as your true self you will attract amazing women who could be friends for life. Focus on the beauty in each one of those women. Joining a pageant is not about fierce competition-- its about sisterhood. You don't want to be remembered as the bitchy girl who ended up losing anyway.
RULE FIVE: THICKEN YOUR SKIN.
In this day and age of social media, it is so easy to get completely ripped apart for an unthoughtful interaction. You may be under a microscope not only by the public and judges but by the organization, your sponsors, potentially your country, your entire family and other pageant sisters... its a lot of pressure girls.
There will be days where people will criticize you about the smallest things, be offended by what seems completely neutral, or just be down right mean.
As a representative of the Philippines where it is basically pageant land, the pressure was intense. There were definitely moments where I was afraid to even look at my public social medias because of the guaranteed negativity I would read on a daily basis. Most of it was really silly, there are some people in this world that is just down right mean and judgmental but it comes with the territory. As Gary Vee says, "The reason so many struggle with negativity is because they overvalue positive reinforcement." Take every form of feedback as neutral.... It will keep you sane.
Learn how to be politically correct. Be careful of being too censored. Stand up for yourself. Soft confidence is key to powerful femininity. Balance is everything.
RULE SIX: BE PRESENT & HAVE FUN
There is a reason why you were chosen to represent your community/city/state/country. You were chosen by the organization to be the best possible representative. You will be treated like royalty during your reign, you will meet a ton of amazing people who could be part of your life forever. I have friends all over the world from other pageant organizations that I met during my reign and I have since had the opportunity to visit them in their countries, and be part of their families. It has been 3 years since I passed on my crown and I can confidently say that the girls that I really connected with, I am still very close to. We have traveled together, I have had the honor to watch some of them walk down the aisle, have babies and the time between has not changed our relationships. I truly love them and I am confident they will be there for me during my life changes.
The pageant comes like a tornado. It is fast, chaotic, and sometimes overwhelming. You will have complaints about the organization, you will have a lot of pressure. The preparation can be painful-- I physically trained and dieted like it was my job months before the pageant. Standing at 5'3, 108 pounds, I was the shortest and one of the "curvier" girls in the pageant. I still didn't feel adequate enough on the stage next to 5'10 statuesque Victoria's Secret bodies. I'll admit it makes me sad because I look at my pictures from back then and WISH I was still that fit when I thought I was "fat." I realize now that no matter how thin I got, it was never going to be enough because at the time, I wasn't secure enough in myself. So word of advice: try your best to not compare yourself to others. Be the best version of YOU even if it's not the stereotypical look of pageants.
In the end, all you have is your memories and the powerful legacy you hopefully created during this time. So make sure you give yourself the time to set down your phone despite the deadlines demanded from your organization, breathe, and BE PRESENT. The biggest take away from this will be the AMAZING women who will be in the next chapters in your life.
Hello world, I'm Nessa
Once upon a time, not very long ago, I was a full-time professional ballroom dancer, owner of a busy prom and bridal brand & a very very social consumer, traveler & dancer. The 2020 pandemic completely flipped my world upside down, and my identity, career and spirit has been on a journey of transformation since. Welcome to a very open view of how I am adapting to isolation, what I am eating, how I stay healthy, feel beautiful & how I am preparing for LIFE AFTER QUARANTINE!