The Philippines is a country in love with beauty and victory. This despite the hardships of its people, which is why Filipinos will always empathize with stories of hardships, challenges, and resilience.
It is therefore no wonder that 2015 Miss Universe Pia Wurtzbach is extolled as inspiration and a modern day hero by her countrymen for pursuing and achieving her dreams, even if it meant competing in Binibining Pilipinas three times. It made her successful reign as Miss Universe all the more sweeter for Filipinos, as much as herself.
It is also no wonder that during the recent Philippine hosting of the 2016 Miss Universe pageant, the country also fell in love with Canada’s candidate, Siera Bearchell.
Beautiful and buoyant, she was nonetheless unlike the rest of her peers in competition. Full bodied rather than waif thin like them, many Filipinas admired Bearchell’s confidence, which earned her a spot in the Top 13 of the pageant.
She may not have won, but she definitely won the Filipinos’ and many hearts around the world for redefining beauty in such a positive albeit different way.
With just one Instagram post, Miss Universe Canada, Siera Bearchell broke barriers and became a voice for many women in the world: “I had to reclaim my body as my own. In doing so, I understood as a woman, I had a greater purpose — to REDEFINE beauty,”
Shamed for having a more “realistic” female figure compared to her fellow candidates in the Miss Universe pageant, Bearchell determinedly stood up for who and how she is, rather than manipulating her body to fit in with society’s notion of a beauty queen’s physique.
The post took the Internet by a storm and soon everyday women from all parts of the world applauded Miss Canada for bravely speaking her mind, and most importantly, doing what she can to redefine beauty.
She is a first for the pageant, confidently dispelling industry expectations to promote an advocacy of self-love.
As a child, Bearchell had always loved performing.
“I started dancing before I could walk,” she told The Sunday Times Magazine in an interview. “I loved to perform and became a dancer at 13 years old. My grandmother always told me that I’d be doing something in the spotlight.”
A tragedy almost doused her passion for the arts.
“My family and I lost our home to a house fire in 2009, and we were only able to get back on our feet with the help of Red Cross,” she recalled.
Rather than wallow in their misfortune, however, the work of the Red Cross inspired her to volunteer for the organization as a way of giving back for their valuable help. Since then, she was always on the look out to do things on a greater scale.
One such challenge she took on was to join the Miss Teen Saskatchewan pageant, a mere few weeks after the fire gutted her family home. Her renewed passion for life pushed her to do the unthinkable, which gave her the opportunity to see how beauty pageants can change not just her life but others’ too.
“After winning Miss Teen Saskatchewan and Miss Teen Canada-World, and then placing second runner up for Miss Ten World, I was given the chance not just to speak [about my experience]to 16,000 youths at [a gathering called]We Day, but also travel to Kenya where I was given the chance to build a school with Free The Children, and be involved with charitable organizations like Nicaragua and Colombia.”
More and more, Bearchell realized how her unplanned path of joining beauty pageants is a very powerful tool in helping make a difference around the world. Fuelled like never before, she knew she had to take the next big step and joined Miss Universe.
Competing in an international pageant, however, turned out to be a rude awakening for Bearchell. She recalled, “It was definitely challenging because there were so many people trying to tell me what to do, how to look, what to wear, what to eat. Someone even suggested I get liposuction to lose weight.”
Worst of all, she became the victim of cyberbullying because of her fuller figure, even before coming to Manila.
“I knew that I would not be the same as many of the girls at Miss Universe, but I still saw that as a good thing,” she maintained.
Taking stock of what she had to endure in the spotlight, Bearchell related, “Years ago, I would have been self-conscious and upset if I didn’t fit into the norm. However, today, I have learned to love myself for who I am and accepting that my body changes—and that’s okay. The negative comments didn’t affect me and I saw it as a chance to stand up for other young women who were not as comfortable in their skin as I was.”
Despite the body shaming, she made the firm decision to be true to herself no matter what people said. “I knew that if I wanted to be successful, I had to be true to myself and stick to what I believed in. I knew if I wanted to genuinely represent myself and my country, I would have to be who I was and not pay mind to those who were being critical of me and my body.”
She continued, “I could have changed myself and my body in order to fit into the typical mode of being a beauty queen. But I simply wanted to be who I was. In anything I have done in my life, I have experienced more success and happiness when I stayed true to who I was.”
It is this very conviction that allowed Bearchell to inspire millions of women around the world—something she believes is very powerful.
“The promotion of self-love begins with a large number of people working together, and I feel we all need to work together to redefine the global vision of beauty. We live in a society that profits off of our insecurities and because of this, it is no surprise why many women feel self-conscious and question their self- worth,” she explained.
“For years, I did not feel good enough and felt as though there was always something I could change. I had to take a stand for myself and for the millions of women like me around the world who would never feel good enough if they didn’t start to love themselves for who they are.”
Bearchell’s honesty is what saw her through the entire Miss Universe experience, landing her a spot in the Top 13 and in countless people’s hearts.
A month since her priceless experience in the competition and in the Philippines, she continues to pursue her advocacy through the same tool where she experienced cruelty—social media.
Acknowledging its influence, she declared, “I will continue to advocate self-love through social media and by speaking to women around the world in whatever way I can. I would love to be part of public speaking engagements where I can share my story and connect with women who have felt the same way as me. Since I relate to it so closely, being passionate about helping women to find confidence within themselves is second nature to me.”
Besides being a beauty queen, Bearchell is the epitome of a multi-faceted woman. She is a law student at the University of Saskatchewan who is just a year shy from her Juris Doctor Degree.
According to the beauty and brains, her decision to take up Law is also a result of her passion for giving others a voice.
“Law school teaches you how to form an argument, how to stand up for a cause, how to speak for others, how to use your own voice to make a difference and so on. It is my dream to work for the United Nations or the government, and I know that law will be a great place to begin,” she explained.
Moreover, Bearchell also owns a clothing label called Watered Down Apparel, which provides 30 days of clean water to different charities for every item the company sells.
Who is she though, beyond her many accomplishments? “I am a genuine and caring woman. I love my family more than anything and making memories with them are my most cherished times. My little brother is my best friend. I love being able to give back to my family as much as I can because they have done so much for me, and have helped shape me into the woman that I am.”
Finally asked by The Sunday Times what advice she would give a young girl struggling with self-image, Siera Bearchell, who was just in town to attend the opening of a Canadian coffee chain, replied, “Focus on what you love about yourself rather than the things you wish you could change. No one is perfect and we all have things we wish we could change. Love yourself for who you are, stand up for what you believe in, and lean in to the opportunities you have always aspired to achieve. True beauty, self-worth, and validation all come from within. True beauty is being who you are in a world that is trying to shape you into something that you are not.”