The North Caloocan-born model believes in having a positive mantra.
Awash off Palawan’s mystic shores, Filipino-Arabian model Aliah Canillas is one with the water, enveloped by a rush of waves. Beneath an interplay of light and shadow, she is captured in poses at once striking and serene. It might come as a surprise to some to learn, then, that she had just overcome her fear of the ocean right before the pictures were taken.
“Habang nasa boat kami, nakipagchikahan nalang ako kasi, grabe, nagpapanic ako [On the boat ride there, I would chat up the team to distract myself because, oh my gosh, I was panicking],” Canillas laughs, noting that—thankfully—majority of the shoot was held nearer to the shore.
Doing things that seem daunting comes second nature to the 21-year-old, who started modeling at 15. She attributes this fearlessness to a certain amount of versatility and adaptability required in her chosen profession.
Canillas is no stranger to an ever-shifting environment, having participated in numerous beauty pageants throughout her life—from kindergarten to high school, no less. From her start in pageants, modeling seemed like the natural next step. “I joined school pageants and mall pageants, and some photographers would approach me to do collab shoots with them,” she says. “That’s how I built my modeling portfolio.”
When asked why she started joining them in the first place, she shrugs and smiles, saying she was only following her mother’s instructions. “Masunurin [I was obedient],” she laughs.
The model notes that pageant posing and fashion modeling are “so different.” As a teenager, she studied how to fill the gap, watching YouTube tutorials and reading magazines at every chance.
“Also, my mom!” she chimes. “My mom helped me [learn how to pose] because she reads a lot of magazines. I would go to photoshoots with her, and she would be behind the photographer, [going] ‘Do this! Do this!’”
While the support from a parent is always helpful, the model also approaches taking an image with a good amount of intention, as she considers how an image is taken and why they decided to take it that way. It’s all a part of her process: “I’m a visual learner,” she says. “Everyone knows naman na malaki talaga yung impact ng image. It’s art, actually. It depends talaga sa tao and sa experience ng tao kung paano siya titingin sa or i-pportray ang isang photo [Everyone knows that the impact of an image is huge. It’s art, actually. How anyone perceives or portrays an image depends on that person and their experience].”
Mind Over Matter
The sky seems the limit for Canillas, who says her ultimate goal is to become an international model. She’s mentally and physically preparing herself for such an opportunity, admitting that she’s wary of becoming homesick. “Especially ako kasi close ako sa family ko. [Especially for me, since I’m really close to my family],” she says.
However, should the offer come up, Canillas says she’d go in a heartbeat, and it’s only unsurprising, given her eager disposition. She chuckles, “Why not?”
On what has gotten her this far, the model says that it’s a mantra she repeats over and over: “Mind over matter.” She explains that it’s framed the way she views herself.
“‘Pag nag-worry ako ng malala sa hair ko, parang yung outcome niya hindi yung kasing ayos ng curls [na gusto ko]—buhahaghag talaga siya. [When I keep worrying about my hair, my curls end up looking like the opposite of what I want—my hair becomes even messier],” she explains. “I don’t know if that makes sense, pero ‘pag sinasabi ko sa sarili ko na ‘Today will be my perfect hair and skin day’—positive mantra—nagiging better yung curls ko and skin ko [I don’t know if that makes sense, but when I tell myself, ‘Today will be my perfect hair and skin day’—a positive mantra—my curls and skin turn out better].”
The saying works across any situation, whether she’s aiming for that good hair and skin day or the milestones she wants to reach in the near future. With Canillas’s continuous grit and persistence, she has landed herself a Vogue Philippines cover, and soon, perhaps, she’ll have the world.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Photographed by Artu Nepomuceno. Fashion Editor: Daryl Chang. Beauty Editor: Joyce Oreña. Makeup: Janell Capuchino. Hair: Mong Amado. Nails: Extraordinail. Model: Aliah Canillas. Producer: Anz Hizon. Photographer’s Assistants: JV Rabano, Sela Gonzales. Stylist’s Assistant: Ticia Almazan. Shot on location at Palawan. Special thanks to Marion Branellec De Guzman of Jewelmer.