The best Role of my life

Photo by Dilia Oviedo Luciano

Photo by Dilia Oviedo Luciano

I've taken this role of -mother to be- as an amazing opportunity to connect with my body, in a loving and kind way. Carefully listening to my needs, trying to stay true to a more honest version of myself. Not paying much attention to what I feel doesn't apply to me or my child. There’s an information overload, so many myths about pregnancy, its difficult to distinguish fact from fiction.

My pregnancy got me thinking about my presence on social media, how we feel a need to post every little thing, although its actually healthy to keep some intimacy from the web.  And how we feel so influenced by what people post, seeking out an unobtainable ideal of perfection. I'm not against pursuing a better version of yourself, but when unnecessary surgery, intense diets, and unsupervised high risk exercise routines becomes a norm, we need to ask ourselves: Am I doing this for me? Or am I being pressurized to change to get validation from others?

I've been saving this wonderful little secret from social media for 8 months now, because I truly enjoyed telling people the news in person and getting a spontaneous smile, a genuine hug and face-to-face congratulations. The reactions about keeping my pregnancy off the Internet have been varied.

Nowadays if you do not post something on Facebook or Instagram it's as if it never happened. Apparently "when a tree falls in the forest and there is no one nearby to hear it, it doesn't make a sound." It’s a very personal decision and I respect the parents who decide to document everything publicly on the web. But something as personal as a pregnancy would seem to meet nothing more than happy comments and likes, when in reality some women experience the opposite, especially those that are part of the public eye, a criticisms about how exaggeratedly big the belly is or how small the bump is based on how long you’ve been pregnant is never missing from the feed… Or needless comments about what to do or not do, when each woman is so different.

Although I like to share some aspects of my life experiences online, in order to expose and make accessible a little glimpse of my pageant years, and my recent actress and filmmaker shenanigans. I watch what I share. Lately before I make a post I always ask myself how can it affect the person who has access to my content.

During my pregnancy I have been exposed to a number of images and information on social networks that can put a lot of pressure on a woman in this stage, on how you should look and feel. I have concentrated on doing exercises with my coach under the guidance of my doctor, and a routine of prenatal yoga, both have allowed me to take care of my body, my mind and my spirit, without putting emphasis on how I look, I focus on how I feel, preparing myself for childbirth both physically and psychologically. This process is very unique for each woman, each pregnant woman should consult with her gynecologist to know what is appropriate for her case, not to be confused or depressed by what they see or hear out there.

I am at a moment in my life where I do not allow anyone or anything to impose that single body image that is unattainable without sacrificing physical and mental health. I am as I am, and I feel good, I am very comfortable with my imperfect self and it has taken me a lot to get to this point. More of us should be freed of the stress of pursuing an illusory aesthetic ideal promoted by media. More of us should think about the power that an image has, and if we are contributing to that "single model of human beauty", manipulated by advertising and media at the service of beauty industries, "health" and Fashion. Life is about living reality, not about living inside a life you created to please others.

I will close my article with this fragment of the Acento article called Tyranny without Tyrant, written by Juan Tomás Tavares - "If we do nothing, we are supporting that tyranny of appearance in the society of representations. Only when consumers demand the plurality of body image models, based on health criteria and phenotypes, will the market liberate us from the tyranny that subjects so many people to the unnecessary tortures of hunger (in the midst of abundance), routines of extreme physical exercises, mental stress and vain surgical procedures. The concept that beauty lies precisely in plurality and variation, and not in a single model for all people, must be encouraged in future generations. "

To read the Acento Article "Tyranny without Tyrant" click here

 

CAREER OF CINEMA - POST MISS DOMINICAN REPUBLIC - Are beauty pageants a platform?

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Everything I would have liked to know.

I recently met a charming participant of the Miss Dominican Republic 2017 Contest, a theater student who enrolled in the event full of hope, now disappointed to see how things work within this beauty world. I tried to guide her as best as I could so she wouldn't get discouraged, I told her everything I would have liked to know when I was in her place; it reminded me a lot of my fish out of the water experience in 2012. It turns out we share cultural backgrounds, we are both Dominican-Italian, and we both love acting. Just like this girl, as a teen I started taking small steps within the audiovisual industry, a vocation that I paused during my year as Miss Dominican Republic Universe, because of all the responsibilities I assumed under the title.

Something that worried her was whether her participation would open doors in the film industry, big international stars such as Sophia Loren, Oprah Winfrey, Sharon Stone, Halle Berry, and the current Wonder Woman Gal Gadot were Misses. Locally, icons like Milagros Germán, Mariasela Álvares, and Miralba Ruíz were also beauty queens and have careers worth admiring. But I dare to think that not all of your success is due to your participation in beauty contests. There is a level of hard work behind achieving your goals that goes beyond how you do in beauty contests. A crown does not make your path easier. It's no shortcut.

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In my case having participated in beauty contests made my goals as a filmmaker and interpreter a real challenge. I was very clear about the type of actress and filmmaker I wanted to be. After the contest I was offered roles that I discarded because they were only going to sink me more into the beauty queen label, and as a filmmaker it has taken a lot not to be only known as a beauty queen.

I hope to have answered the question my dear actress collegue Nayibe Tavares-Abel left in the last article "being a beauty queen really labels you for life, which is difficult to leave behind as an actress because they always look for you for the role of “the cute girl” or “airhead”. How has your experience been?"

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Clearly I don't identify with the doll-like woman promoted by the beauty industry...

As much as I try to turn the page, and even though many have expressed on the internet in a crude way that I do not fit the model that defines female beauty; 5 years after my participation, I still receive questions and comments about that stage of my life. Some comments I have never known whether to take as an insult or as a compliment. Instead of wasting my energy letting destructive criticism affect me, I take these opportunities to try to contribute to the initiative behind breaking the rules that this industry has created, norms that mark physical standards that in one way or another influence every woman.

I would have loved to be clear from the start that beauty is very subjective. Is it worth reaching the standards of beauty according to society, if that oppresses what makes you really be you? I am not skinny, I have curves, I am big, I have mixed factions product of mix races, and there is nothing bad with that because there is not a single type of beauty. Do not let anyone make you feel despised.

I cannot think of one thing that the contest director did not want to change of me, she created insecurities that I did not have, the opposite of what a good mentor or advisor should do. It was unfortunate that the pressure I received made me feel uncomfortable with my body that does not comply with "beauty rules", but I am grateful that after this experience I discard them, I am more real, and that makes me happy. My experience in this pageant world was definitely not in vain.

My life after becoming Miss RD changed. I understood in more depth the influence that not only beauty contests have but also magazines, movies, TV, and social media. I saw how I am the result of what I was exposed to as a child. This experience provoked me to focus on leaving a good legacy in every step I give.

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After being typecasted,

it took me years of work to break away. I finally finished writing my first feature film in 2016, In the same year I produced it and even had the opportunity to play a role in this independent project I made with the collective effort of my friends. It's a quirky story about a boy named Josue, who before graduating from high school focuses on conquering his best friend. It has a release date in 2018, and I cannot be more ecstatic for it to be at the movies already, so I can get the chance to share with everyone the result of years of dedication.

My calling to work in film was very similar to the reason why I was struck in first instance by the reigns: my admiration for strong, extroverted, and confident women, like those great classic actresses; For example Audrey Hepburn who was the Goodwill Ambassador of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), and at the same time gave deeply human and inspiring interpretations through the screen. It made me want to take acting classes to overcome my shyness, to know myself more, to dare to be and to let my imagination fly without parameters, I also somehow wanted to contribute to my community. Something that the film industry has made possible and stimulated. Here we celebrate diversity, textures, nuances, feelings, it is really inspiring . The Dominican film industry has been open to making all kinds of films, highlighting different realities and capturing how colorful we are in this country. Developing within this area has helped me to be, not pretend, and be proud of who I am.

I feel in my waters as an actress and screenwriter, and in the future I would love to continue exploring directing films. I just studied Directing Actors in San Antonio de los Baños Cuba, and I have plans to direct a project that I am developing: A film based on the experiences of several girls who have occupied the place of Miss Dominican Republic, who like me have felt pressured to fit into an unreal mold.

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If you enjoy what you do and you do it from the heart, you will touch people...

and in addition you will generate a domino effect full of positivism, allowing you to feel and tear down those walls that we have built throughout our lives to "protect ourselves". Trying to keep myself authentic by showing myself as I am with all my faults, not only on a physical level, has made me deeply connect with others.

Let us try to contribute to a better world by starting the change in ourselves, each day learning to be better human beings, whatever the field in which we develop. For me the cinema is a language that allows us to portray the reality in which we live, allows us to give strength to our voices, to see our stories, images that unite us all. There is a great responsibility as creators of images, not only is a method of entertainment, is also a tool that can make us evolve, teaching the world what happens to people, who we are, and who we want to be. I am very proud to work within the film industry. Similarly, however uncomfortable the situation was during my reign, I do not regret it, because I take very seriously my role as a defender and propeller of a sincere view of woman. The soul has no color or form, and reaching your maximum potential depends on no one but you.

The truth behind being a beauty queen (2/2)

For many years I felt unbeautiful. I remember that as a kid I would wish upon stars, wells, and even pray of someday becoming strong, outgoing and confident in my skin just like the wonder women I saw on TV and the big screen. Deep down, I participated in Miss Dominican Republic searching for some kind of acceptance. I saw it as a challenge to surpass my insecurities since as a teenager I put up with being bullied, and struggled with self hate. I really thought this could lift my self esteem and serve as an example of personal growth. 

I never expected to get very far, considering I didn't come from money, or a known last name, and I didn't have the help of any sponsors, so finishing first runner up in the pageant represented a great victory and even a surprise.

And what made me feel more proud was knowing that what earned me this spot was not having the best hair or best body but giving a good answer to one of the most complex questions made in the contest that year, proving to myself that appearance is a side note to what makes you beautiful.

As first runner up my purpose became to advise Dominican girls with body image issues, I wanted to help them feel awesome. I felt motivated, and confident enough to continue pursuing an acting career. But suddenly my plans were cut short when the winner of the contest broke one of the rules and was dismissed, making me Miss Dominican Republic 2012.

I was in utter disbelief. All hope to fill the shoes of Miss Dominican Republic ended for me at the end of the contest, and it was not the ideal way to get the title. They say that every first runner up desires this to happen, but in my case I never dreamed of winning anything through the sanction of another person. It was a very unfortunate situation; it even crossed my mind to turn down the crown. How could I accept to be the face of an institution that had lost so much credibility and was going through a scandal?

It was hard and uncomfortable accepting this position after what happened, some started to say that I came from a wealthy family and that my Father bought me the tittle, when truth is my Dad had passed away recently and I am actually from a very hard working humble family. This was when all my insecurities started to kick back in, I felt like an infiltrator, like I wasn't good enough to represent the women of my country. 

I put my insecurities aside, I had signed a contract and if I did not meet its conditions I could be sued by the Miss Dominican Republic Organization and Antena Latina Channel, who owned the contest at that time but were in a litigation process to part ways. So I decided it was best to toughen up and assume my responsibility as first runner up with humbleness, with the commitment of doing the best possible job as Miss Dominican Republic, taking on the example of the hard working personality and inner beauty that characterizes Dominicans even under overwhelming conditions. I wanted to think that if fate put this in my way, although it was uncomfortable, maybe it was for a reason or mission I would not understand at the time, because opportunities are not the result of chance.

After my decision to fulfill the commitment that as a child I defined as being similar to becoming a super woman or cultural ambassador of the country, the experiences under the title weren't super. In fact, some difficulties tested my spirit. The consultancy done by the Director of the Organization really was not the right one for me. Naively I followed her directions but I didn't feel they suited me. During my preparation for Miss Universe I experienced what I saw as lack of respect and lack of emotional and financial support, which made it difficult for me to strive, making the relationship with the director not as smooth as I would have preferred. She wanted to mold me into a bimbo stereotype that to my understanding wasn't going to stand out from the 80 most beautiful women in the world and I didn't.

Personally I wanted to be authorized by the organization to work with a strong group of advisors and coaches just like other successful Dominican Miss Universes before me did like Amelia Vega and Marianne Cruz, getting the support and assistance I needed to help me be a better version of myself instead of transforming into something else, I wanted to achieve harmony between what favored my natural image and strengthen my performance skills without suppressing my personality. The challenge was to achieve a balance that would allow me to be physically, intellectually and spiritually prepared in order to overcome the challenges faced in Miss Universe, representing my country and culture honorably, I wanted to train harder than Rocky Balboa for his fights. I did the best I could under the inflexible circumstances, despite my request not being authorized. I felt tied down. But I never lost hope that things would improve. In the midst of these difficulties I focused on looking for the positive side, thousands of Dominicans expected a triumph for the nation, and I aimed to make known before millions of viewers my Caribbean nation.

However none of my efforts mattered much in the year I participated in Miss Universe, because Trump had a business, and this business did not involve beauty, neither internal nor external. Some of the semi-finalists were selected based on business interests, robbing the opportunity of strong contenders who gave their all. The presentation to the jury and the personality and talent tests were not as relevant as that brief moment where we were introduced to Trump, and there he made his choice the day before the final contest.

In 2012, the Dominican Republic was basically blacklisted for confirming that they would host the Miss Universe contest and then declining the offer. It was not until the Miss Universe 2012 contest was over that I realized that even before setting foot in Las Vegas, where the contest was hosted, I had no chance of qualifying. I was very disappointed, and not because I didn't make it into the top 16, but rather because the image I had created in my head of these organizations I admired was completely shattered.

It made me question everything, I did not want to pander to antiquated patriarchal ideals of feminine beauty. Women are more than just bodies. 

During my “reign” I experienced the same bullying that I went through at school all over again, except this time it was cyberbullying, available for the world to see. Adults that without even knowing me dedicated themselves to creating tasteless jokes, cruel gossip, lies, memes, criticizing me destructively... All without any idea of what was really going on behind the scenes or worry about finding out the truth. I realized that we live in an age of emptiness, in which for some not only destroying and stepping on others is seen as normal, they also seem to get pleasure out of such cruel act that only causes pain, and physical appearance seems to rule over inner beauty.

I wasn't going to let this experience get to me, even though the negative internet comments were hard to ignore, in the things that cause us pain there are also blessings, hidden lessons. I can not deny that many people gave me a warm acceptance, I give importance and appreciate the positive energy that many sent me and still continue to send, because without such support I don't know how I would have managed to move forward carrying the tittle. I discovered what can be endured when the heart does not stop having faith in human kind.

What I valued most about getting this title was doing community service where I got to teach Dominican girls that staying true to who you are is the most valuable lesson that I have learned and reaffirmed, and it is something I want to share with everyone. Sometimes staying true to your values and what makes you — you, brings you disagreements, but there are things that to me are not negotiable.

The essence of a human being goes beyond outer appearance, it goes beyond a dress or hair color; that is ephemeral. My learnings will always stay with me and have certainly made me a better person. Once you embrace yourself you will spend less time and energy putting yourself down or letting others put you down, and more time blossoming.

Photo by Yael Duval 

Photo by Yael Duval 

As women we have to work on knocking down this false stereotype of what we should look like, and together build more healthy diverse content for future generation of girls, where we redefine beauty to be more than what mets the eye, so we can cultivate a kinder, healthy relationship with ourselves.

With this article I want to make a call out to us Dominicans: We can not reinforce the idea that girls and women should be valued primarily on their physical appearance. Beauty pageants should celebrate diversity, not reject them. In this country we are a mix of Taino, African, and European roots, we islanders are born from a union of races, we have skin of different shades, we are Dominicans. And being Dominicano lies in our colorful painteresque personality that is unmistakable anywhere in the world. Let's stop undervaluing our Miss Dominican Republic, who will proudly represent us in Miss Universe, let's respect not only her dream, let's respect her as a human being. 

I am hopeful that Miss Universe, the most popular beauty pageant in the world, now being in new hands after it was sold by Trump, will have a chance to return to its original values, when it was less about business and the talent and personality portions mattered more. It is up to organizations like this one to become aware of the impact they have over young girls lives.

 

The truth behind being a beauty queen (1/2)

Photo by Yael Duval 

When I look back on my involvement in beauty pageants and my experience participating in Miss Dominican Republic 2012, there’s no doubt pageants aren't what they used to be. What it means to be a beauty queen and the responsibilities the tittle comes with have changed. 

In my childhood I thought I had a clear idea about what it meant to participate in a beauty contest. I saw the Miss Universe contestants as wonder women: confident in their skin without any fear of being themselves, celebrating diversity rather than rejecting it; women who did not feel obliged to be molded into a stereotype, leaders in their societies, representatives of their cultures and defenders of their beliefs; women who echoed the problems faced by their countries, not with the desire to expose and criticize but rather to encourage solutions to make the world a better place for all, less antagonist, more unbiased, and just. 

For a shy girl with low self esteem who was harassed at school, this vision of the Miss Universe contestants was inspiring. I was also inspired by Miss Dominican Republic’s character. 

When I was little, being Miss Dominican Republic was in many ways similar to being an ambassador of the country. In fact, Miss Dominican Republic received a diplomatic passport. She represented the voice of young people in Dominican Congress during her reign, always seeking recognition of their rights and highlighting their needs. Miss Dominican Republic was, therefore, a highly respected position; annually occupied by a woman of strong values, intelligence, friendliness and proud to be Dominican. Certainly a woman of great physical beauty but above all, a woman of exceptional inner beauty. To my understanding this last characteristic was the most significant quality. 

I'm not sure when beauty pageants began to get perverted; or what forces or circumstances led to the changes. I am just sure things have changed a lot. During my participation in Miss Dominican Republic I was surprised to find out behind the scenes how much influence politics and interests have. I clearly witnessed that Miss Dominican Republic had lost credibility. It wasn't the institution that I had imagined and admired as a child. 

Despite the disappointment, I stayed in the contest with the hope of making my participation a worthwhile experience. My Dad, who died just before the the contest, had motivated me to participate. He thought participating would benefit me because I was pursuing an acting career, and I wanted to make him proud. Therefore, my goal became to compete with honesty, simplicity and dignity. Also I felt this was a good opportunity to show Dominican girls with dreams like mine that it is possible to respect our values as we pursue our dreams and there is merit to perseverance before adversity. It was with these, we could call dreams and hopes, that I decided to participate. 

Finishing first runner-up was a big satisfaction for me. This result represents a great victory and even a surprise. I never expected to get this far without the help of any sponsors. But the determined and persistent work joined by the selfless support of a group of very talented people blossomed into this excellent result. I used my entire savings to cover my expenses. Jusef Sanchez became my adviser, thanks to the support from the manager of The Price Models Miguel Alejandro. The gowns were donated by Leonel Lirio, one of the most renowned designers of the Dominican Republic. My college buddy Alondra Angeles was the photographer who took all my official photos. My training as a contestant (catwalk, speech and on stage performance) was made possible by the team Bellaldama. Certainly I was highly blessed with the support of a group of good friends and people of many talents and experience. With each I have a debt of eternal gratitude. Without their collective support, the contest would have been almost impossible for me. 

In the end, as with every challenge in life, when we reflect back, the support and love of family is always primary. In my case this is the great truth. The unconditional support of my mother was a constant source of good energy and security. I knew that I could rest my head on her shoulders and that her ears were open to listen at any time of day. In difficult times, the memory of my father offered me peace. In my heart I felt that he cared for me from above. My gratitude to both is infinite. 

My victory as runner up was suddenly cut short, and changed into a mixture of emotions that I still have difficulty defining, when unexpected and painful events resulted in me crowned Miss Dominican Republic 2012. All hope to fill this position had ended for me at the end of the contest; my vision was set to serve my country with honor and gratitude as first finalist while meanwhile pursuing an acting career. But this surprise not only represented an unexpected change in my plans, it also opened my eyes to another dimension about beauty pageants; I definitely confirmed that the view of the forest is very different from a distance. 

I will elaborate on my experience as Miss Dominican Republic 2012 in Part II of this article.