In a life and career defined by being a woman, Catriona Gray passes on her stories, experiences, and lessons as she navigates her own personal journey and relationship with womanhood.
Throughout her career and personal journey, much of Catriona Gray’s life has been defined by her experience as a woman. The Filipino-Australian Miss Universe titleholder has been continuously vocal in advocating for women’s rights. As she navigates her personal journey of womanhood, Gray passed on her wisdom, insights, and lessons in an interview with Vogue Philippines.
What was your experience of girlhood like?
I guess growing up I was quite oblivious to the stereotype of what I was meant to look like because I guess I felt alienated in a way of being a half Pinay half Australian, I didn’t feel represented that much in the media. But in terms of having a timeline, I guess it was already kind of put on me that I should be aiming to go to university straight after graduation, and I was expected to study for three to four years, and then I was expected to get a job, and then I was expected to have a family all by the time of like, 26, 27 [years old].
I think I grew up with that kind of ideal timeline already put on me. I can’t necessarily pinpoint where it came from because I don’t remember it being told or passed down to me from my family, for example. But I guess the expectation was always there. And even amongst conversations with my classmates, that was the general consensus of what life was meant to look like for us, as a sense of normalcy of a life timeline.
But of course, realizing as [I] grew up that nothing really goes to plan, especially considering I took a very non-traditional career path into pageantry and beyond. My life really didn’t fit the criteria that I suppose I was expected to kind of fit into at that age, which didn’t bother me that much naman I guess. In my later 20s, parang I started to feel — because usually, I guess I grew up with the expectation from people around me who were close to me like my peers or my family — but then as you grew up parang, it almost felt to me as if society or just people that I didn’t even know were then being like, “Oh, so when are you getting married? Oh, you’re still single? When are you going to have kids?” It was weird because all of a sudden, my personal timeline became a talking point for people who are not necessarily within my personal circles. And I guess that’s just the big difference that I observed in progressing through my 20s.
In media, there has been more of a girlhood or womanhood renaissance, with more content being produced to celebrate femininity. In doing so, there are a lot of discussions about being a woman, what it means for us now, and how we present ourselves as a woman. For you, what is a conversation that you would like to hear more about women?
I want to see and hear more stories of how women struggled and how they overcame it to get to where they went. Because I think it’s the nature of our lives being online, usually we share the highlights, ‘no? Or the achievements or the milestones, et cetera. And I myself am guilty of this. But it’s it’s not that often that you see the whole journey. And I think when it comes to being a woman as well, certain types of challenges are presented to us that are not necessarily present for others. And I guess I would like to see that conversation being had and the sharing of those stories, because I feel like our weaknesses are really empowering in a way because if you — I was actually talking with Liz [Gray’s talent manager] about this earlier — I feel like the spirit of competition is much more alive and thriving within women compared to say, men, even if you look on social media, especially. And I think that’s really sad.
But I guess it’s really hard to escape in a way because like you said, a lot of discussions are being thrown around of what womanhood should look like. And I think as long as we keep trying to define it and make it a certain look or a certain thing, it’s going to exclude a lot of women. I think it’s rather in the strength of storytelling and sharing people’s unique journeys that we can kind of identify ourselves in those specific journeys. Rather than trying to compare ourselves and fit into a mold that’s presented to us as desirable, if that makes sense.
One of the beauty standards that is expected of women is to look forever youthful. Over the years, there has been more conversation about aging and doing it gracefully. What can you say about this expectation? Do you feel pressured by it?
I definitely feel pressured by it as I feel like every woman is as well. For example, if I may draw a reference to a recent Vogue cover with the 90 supermodels on it? I don’t remember if it was Vogue US or British Vogue. But their skin texture, even their neck lines were removed completely. And if you were to contrast that between another magazine cover of say, a man [of] the same age, where they keep the skin texture. They keep the crow’s feet and the frown lines because it’s seen as something that’s accepted and even desirable.
But for women, we’re expected to never age. And you can see that even in the advertising or like the anti-aging wrinkle creams, the anti-aging procedures, et cetera. I think it’s hard because I think we’ll always be sold that kind of product. I don’t think that we can really do anything to take that messaging away in terms of consumerism, but I guess just trying to reinforce that aging is a natural and beautiful process that happens to everyone. And to hold people, especially women, to the criteria of always looking like they’re in their 30s or 20s even when they’re well into their late 40s and 50s, is just an unrealistic expectation to hold above them. And as women, we shouldn’t always be striving to kind of meet that expectation because I feel like it’s just gonna steal our joy.
I feel very lucky that my mom who was a huge role model for me, I feel like she’s embracing aging very gracefully. I’ve never learned commentary on [herself] from her because I’ve never observed her talking about her age in a negative manner. She’ll mention, “Oh, I have a few gray hairs. I have to go get my hair dyed,” but I’ve never seen her scrutinizing herself in the mirror saying like, “Oh, my wrinkles are getting worse,” or “No, I can’t wear that I’m too old now.” And like I feel like I’m very lucky that I have that kind of role model in my life [who is] very close to me that shows me what aging gracefully looks like. But I also acknowledge and understand that not everyone has a role model like that to show what aging gracefully looks like. Thankfully though, on social media, I think if you look hard enough you can find people who are embracing aging, but it’s far and few in between and I guess that just lies in the consumerist nature of social media.
What do you love about being a woman?
I love being able to evolve, parang Pokémon [laughs]. No, but I feel like being a woman is like a journey of collecting wisdom and being in the position to pass that wisdom down. Because I feel like when you’re growing up, I feel like as a woman, we’re always questioning ourselves. We’re either not enough or we’re too much. We’re either you know, too loud or not vocal enough, or we’re either too go-getter and we’re not collaborative enough.
In my experience with other women that I’ve talked to, I feel like the resounding theme is that we’re always trying to fit into someone else’s perspective of what a woman should actually look like. And I don’t feel like that pressure is there necessarily for other genders. I just love being able to talk to other women and to share wisdom [to] because it enriches my own and then as I mature, and as I go through life, I’m then able to pass on my wisdom to younger women. And I think that’s just one of the things that I enjoy the most, that sense of community or that sense of sharing collective knowledge and collective wisdom.
What message would you like to impart to fellow women who are experiencing the pressures of being one? What is a message that you think they need to hear right now?
I feel like we need to find a community and we need to establish a community. Because I feel like there’s this narrative that social media is meant to be this place where we can all come together and support each other. But social media is really not that and I don’t think we’ll ever get to a place [where] social media is a purely positive place. I would love to encourage women to find communities, where they can all get together and grow together and do life together, and then make an effort to create more spaces like that that more women can find and integrate into.
I really feel like when women come together, that’s when magic happens. Because we’re able to pull resources and there’s a sense of sisterhood and sharing each other’s struggles and wanting to do something about it. [I’m] encouraging people to get into [a] community and then to create more spaces for a community. This could be a small group that gets together. It could be in the form of a book club. It could be in the form of a sporting hobby group, it could really be anything but I don’t think we should rely on social media to do that because I don’t think it is that at all.
What message would you give to your younger self, who was navigating all these expectations and pressure?
It would be to just embrace your timeline and to not get caught up in the comparison — because I’m a planner that’s kind of my personality — and at every point in my life, even though I learned to adjust, I would always create the security blanket in the form of a plan because it makes me feel safe and in control. But a lot of the time, life doesn’t go the way that you planned. And at first that used to really frighten me especially when I was younger.
My advice to my younger self would just be to embrace the changes that come and to just adapt, [and] do the best that you can with everything that you have available to you at the moment. And try to learn to enjoy the moment and not get so caught up in what the future potentially does or doesn’t hold. And the second you want to embrace the fact that your timeline looks different to everyone else’s timeline, and that’s okay. Because comparison really is the thief of joy. And now with social media, you have access to so many people’s lives and so many of their highlights and all the great things that are happening to them. And it’s so easy to just subconsciously, as you’re scrolling, to compare what your reality looks like. And that can be a really difficult thing to kind of steer away from.
I would tell my younger self to find her encouragement in the form of people around her that she trusts and to also base her worth not [on] how much she works, how much she earns, or how many milestones she’s able to reach in a certain amount of time, but just to embrace her timeline and know that she has her perfect timing, whatever it may look like.
What does womanhood mean to you now?
Well, I will say what it means to me because I can’t define it for other people. Because I feel like womanhood is a concept very much like beauty that it should be defined by the [women] themselves because it can mean a lot of different things.
For me at this point in time, womanhood is kind of embracing the journey that I’m on as I try to juggle a lot of different aspects of my life. Especially relationally because I’m entering a new chapter soon as a wife and I’m going towards building my own family, but I also am very involved in the community and also in my work, so I just want to make sure that I’m just prioritizing the right things.
I think womanhood is a constant act of juggling and finding what works best for your unique situation, but embracing the highs and lows, the ups and downs, and the challenges that come with it.
Photographs by Shaira Luna. Beauty Editor: Joyce Oreña. Fashion Director: Pam Quiñones. Introduction: Audrey Carpio. Stylists: Neil de Guzman, Steven Coralde. Makeup: Gery Peñaso, Jelly Eugenio, Zidjian Paul. Hair: Brent Sales, Dale Mallari, Nelly Tolentino. Nails: Extraordinail. Talents: Catriona Gray, Megan Young, Melanie Marquez, Michelle Dee, R’Bonney Gabriel. Art Director: Jann Pascua. Production Design: Justine Arcega-Bumanlag. Producers: Bianca Zaragoza, Anz Hizon. Multimedia Artist: Tinkerbell Poblete. Photographer’s Assistant: Emelito Lansangan. Stylist’s Assistants: Chelsy Estrada, Em Liesel, Geno Espidol. Production Assistant: Patricia Co. Makeup Assistants: Jannine Bance, Jelly Dy, Shua Alcantara. Hair Assistant: Rommel Hermoso. Production Design Assistants: John Amon, Jeber Cunanan, Mario Taipen, Olderico Bondoc, Rodel Bondoc. Interns: Dominique Tan, Jilliane Santos, Sofia Ante. Shot on location at The Penthouse at Twenty-Four Seven McKinley. Special thanks to B&B Italia Manila and Focus Global Inc.
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