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And the Winner Is: Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray Shares How She is Making a Difference

Catriona Gray entered the pageant world in 1999. She was only five years old when she won Little Miss Philippines. “It was more my mother’s choice than mine, to be honest,” Catriona chuckles. “Being on stage, I remember I wasn’t even nervous, in fact, I was more concerned with finding my parents in the audience.” This win was just the beginning of many more victories. Catriona continued to win pageant titles, all culminating in December 2018 when she was crowned Miss Universe.

Even with her background in drama, modeling, and dancing, being a pageant queen was never one of Catriona’s dreams. “I never grew up with the dream to enter pageantry or being a beauty queen. Even when I grew up as a teenager, I still didn’t have an interest in pageantry,” she says. “Before the age of 20, I thought pageants were just a show. All I saw was that final coronation night.” But as Catriona got older, her views about pageantry changed and she began to see it was much more than just a coronation.

Catriona had a friend go through it in 2014 and saw how much preparation goes into it, as well as the duties and the one-year job that comes with the coronation. “It took a very close friend of mine to join a national pageant for me to see what kind of voice beauty queens had in the Philippines.” Catriona realized how important pageantry is in the Philippines. “When beauty queens speak, the public listens.” At the time, she was volunteering with a charity and realized she could combine her passion for her charity with the platform of pageantry. Around that same time, Catriona noticed a shift in pageantry —contestant’s stories were being emphasized more, to her, almost as much as their physical attributes. The shift made Catriona take pageantry more seriously.

When Catriona is on stage, she exudes beauty and grace —she makes it look easy. “We are just women up there; we are not super beings. It does take a lot of effort to look that put together and that beautiful.” Being on stage and exuding confidence is something she works hard at, and is not something she believes she was born with. She confesses to being a naturally shy person. “I’m very quiet. I’m very simple.” For Catriona, it’s a persona she puts on every time she goes on stage. But the moment she steps onto that stage, she is ready for anything. Though she has never slipped, she does have a plan, if it ever happens. “I would just get up and keep going. I feel that it’s a test of grace under pressure. And I feel like the judges look for more in a woman’s character, rather than if she can walk perfectly on stage. It’s not just the physical attributes that can get a woman heard, it’s really what you have to say.”

You could say that Catriona is the most beautiful woman in the world, since she holds the title of Miss Universe, but the 25-year-old beauty queen shares that she too had an awkward phase — just like everyone else. “I had an ugly-duckling stage,” she laughs. “I had my growth spurt at the age of 8.” At 12 years old, Catriona was taller than most of her teachers and peers. “I felt extremely awkward, uncoordinated. I had braces. I had terrible skin and a crazy sense of colorful fashion,” she chuckles.

Catriona wants to show the world that she is so much more than a beautiful face. As Miss Universe, she wants to make a difference and give back to the community. Becoming Miss Universe has changed her life. “It’s a humongous blessing, but it comes with such a big responsibility.” As Miss Universe, her reach is greater than she ever imagined. She wants her message to be one of education and awareness. “I was drawn to pageantry through giving back to the community, so now, that’s really what I want the tone of my reign to be.”

Now that she has the platform, she is raising awareness about HIV/AIDS. She wants to build a better future for children, a better tomorrow. HIV/AIDS is close to home for Catriona. When she was a young adult, she had no awareness and unfortunately, learned the hard way. “I had a friend, someone who was close to me, get really sick and consequently passed away from medical complications associated with HIV/AIDS. He was only 26,” she says. “I wish I wasn’t pulled to the cause in that way, but that’s how it was.” When that happened, Catriona started volunteering with a group in the Philippines called Love Yourself. Love Yourself provides support, education, free treatment, and counseling to those who have been affected by HIV/AIDS. “It’s so much more than a medical problem, it’s wrapped up in so much stigma.”

Today, Catriona is encouraging people to take that first step and get tested. “We shouldn’t have to wait until it happens to someone close to us. It’s really about increasing the dialog,” she says. Catriona explains that there are so many regions in the Philippines where people don’t really know what it is. “We are using education to really empower people to take a hold of their health.” Catriona currently works with amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, to find a cure and is hopeful that they will find one. She explains that there are many ways to get tested, there are even over-the-counter options. “We should shift our mindset to seeing it just like any regular health check-up. Testing positive doesn’t mean your life is over.” There is medication, that if taken correctly and consistently, can really make a difference, she tells me. Catriona believes in organizations, like amfAR, that are looking to make a difference. Her cause is not only to raise awareness and get people to get tested, but also to raise awareness about the importance of finding a cure.

Becoming Miss Universe has given Catriona a platform to make a difference in the world, and that’s exciting for her. “It enriches your perspective. I think it’s amazing.” She is empowered to pioneer change for a cause that is so important to her, but it has also shown her so much more about the world and how we are all connected. Before Catriona was crowned Miss Universe, her focus was on the issues in the Philippines, now, she sees how some of the projects happening in the U.S. can be helpful in the Philippines. “It’s been very eye-opening for me. I feel like a sponge every time I get to learn something new.”

Catriona is enjoying her time as Miss Universe and making the most of her reign, but the title comes with a number of expectations and hardships. “In the Philippines, we’re one of the biggest social media user nations. Reading comments can get a little overwhelming and trying to measure up to people’s expectations can be overwhelming,” says Catriona. “It’s a process, having to come to terms with the fact they don’t know everything, and never allowing my worth to be defined by what other people perceive of me, especially strangers.”

As Catriona enters her last quarter as Miss Universe, she already knows what she wants to do after she passes on the crown later this year. “I would love to continue doing what I do, which is being a spokesperson and being able to work with the various organizations, because at the end of the day, that’s such fulfilling work for me.” Becoming Miss Universe has allowed Catriona to speak up and be heard, and to her, that is power and a huge responsibility. It’s one of the reasons why she was so compelled to enter the pageantry world —and maybe even the reason she was crowned Miss Universe 2018. “I believe when you have an ambition, it’s in your heart for a reason. And when going into Miss Universe, think about what your purpose is. Make the journey about more than the crown, don’t put all your eggs in that one basket, but rather look at it as an opportunity to develop yourself, gain experience, friendships, learn more about your country, and push a cause.”


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Words by Claudia Paredes. Photo credit: The Miss Universe Organization | Fadil Berisha | Benjamin Askinas


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