If these animals could talk, they would probably be protesting by now. But in the words of Gio Flores, Kagandahang Flores’ (KF) beauty and aesthetics department head, he has seen a fair number of girls through the years “na mukhang itik” (duck-like) turn into graceful swans through intensive training, positive attitude, and sheer force of will.
KF overall head Rodgil Flores also remembers warning a trainee who didn’t even make the first cut in her debut attempt to win one of several crowns up for grabs in Bb. Pilipinas “na manghihiram ka ng mukha sa aso” (a phrase that defies translation) should she go home to Cebu empty-handed for the second time.
That woman happens to be Karla Henry, who once told Rodgil that she was ready to train anew prior to joining Miss Earth Philippines. Not only did Henry win the local tilt months later, she went on to win for the country its first Miss Earth crown during the pageant’s international competition in 2008.
“Since she lost badly in Bb. Pilipinas a few years earlier,” said Rodgil, “I told her that placing second in Miss Earth Philippines wouldn’t do. Besides there was only one crown up for grabs this time.”
Henry knew fully well her brief, but “I still went through with it. I began to understand and learn what a lot of the other girls felt before—that fire inside to go on no matter what it takes. If you want something so badly, you would do anything to get it. You don’t care anymore how many hours you sleep at night. You train, train, train.”
Because of his son’s involvement with countless hopefuls, Rodgil’s mother has gotten used to seeing him regularly receive wide-eyed girls in their home. These beauty queen wannabes come from all corners of the country and they all have one objective: to be given a slot as one of KF’s trainees. One particular girl struck her for the wrong reasons.
Apart from her slight frame, the girl wasn’t particularly tall or striking. In fact, with her thick mane and bushy eyebrows, she looked plain. And she had an obvious gap between her legs that didn’t escape the old lady’s scrutiny.
When the girl left, Rodgil’s mother asked her son if he took her in. His answer was in the affirmative. “Are you sure,” was all his mother could say. “Ako ang bahala sa kanya (I’ll be the one to take care of her),” was Rodgil’s curt reply.
That girl was none other than Precious Lara Quigaman, future Miss International, who later won during a low point in Philippine pageantry when the country went through a decade-long drought in Miss Universe. Quigaman’s victory in 2005 was one bright spot in an otherwise bleak period.
Quigaman had an interesting backstory. At 17, the Laguna native joined Bb. Pilipinas, but failed to place. Shortly after, she and her family migrated to the UK. After a few years, she returned to the Philippines still fired up with her dream of becoming Miss Philippines.
“But no one, including her former training camp, would take her in,” said Gio. “It was her aunt who initially talked to Kuya Rodgil. After Kuya saw her, he took a chance by accepting her. But we had a lot of work to do—from her hair to her eyebrows, down to the gap between her legs.”
Karen Agustin, Bb. Pilipinas Universe 2002 and one of KF’s personality development trainers, also noticed that Quigaman’s ribcage was lopsided. To make matters worse, they only had a month or so to correct the problem.
“One side for her ribcage was protruding,” said Agustin. “I don’t know if it was subconscious on her part or if she had scoliosis. But we were able to correct it in time.”
Quigaman’s case wasn’t unique, said Gio, because there have been other girls like her in the past. KF resorted to the oldest trick in the book: the art of illusion. They overhauled her pasarela walk and thought her the right angles to “dissimulate” whatever flaws she had on stage. It worked!
This time around, Quigaman handily won Bb. Pilipinas International. Rumor has it that she had originally won Bb. Pilipinas Universe, the contest’s top prize, but had to settle for a lesser title because the then UK-based Quigaman had problems with her residency.
Instead of taking it easy, she redoubled her efforts during the months leading to Miss International. She also gained a bit of weight and acquired curves in the right places. Although she wasn’t particularly tall, she had a well-proportioned figure anchored on fairly broad shoulders. In other words, after KF did its work on her, her walk, poses, and very presence became hard to miss on stage.
“To be fair to Lara, she also did a lot of work,” said Gio. “She was training like crazy. KF did its part, but she also did hers with loads of passion.”
And that training, said Bb. Pilipinas World 2007 Maggie Wilson, “you carry with you for the rest of your life in whatever field you choose to pursue.”
“If you want the crown so badly, you might just get it,” Henry added. “But it also comes with a prize. Like Tito Rodgil always reminds us, we’re not just Miss Earth Philippines or Bb. Pilipinas International for one year. We will be remembered as former beauty queens for the rest of our lives. You have to carry on and not embarrass yourself and your mentors.”
Rodgil, sounding like the countless beauty queens he has trained, put the entire experience his protégés go through more succinctly: “There’s a timeframe to training for and joining a pageant. Even if you don’t win, the training stays with you. That’s what you call short-term goals with a long-term effect.”