When social media personality Roussane Marie “Ayn” Bernos was given the opportunity to chase her pageant dreams through Miss Universe Philippines (MUPH), she initially had no training, no make-up skills, no glam photos, not even heels.

But nothing was stopping her from going for what she has been “imagining for many, many years.”

“Even if you ask my mom, I would walk around the house, pose in front of the mirror and they would always ask me, ‘Why are you posing?’ But for me, it was something that I just enjoyed doing (since I was a kid) and I guess it’s paid off because now I get to do it hopefully on stage,” the 27-year-old content creator and entrepreneur told The STAR in an interview before she was announced as part of the official 30 candidates of this year’s MUPH.

What Ayn thought was impossible became possible after this year’s MUPH removed the height requirement, allowing the 5’3”-tall proud morena to join the competition.

So vocal was she about her dream to be a beauty queen someday that she’d often joke to family and friends that “the moment the height requirement is gone, I’m joining, wala akong paki (laughs), I will join Miss Universe, I will join a pageant.”

When it did happen, she applied on the spot last May. “I remember my dad even sent me a screenshot of the headline (saying) Miss Universe (Philippines) would be removing the height requirement, and he was like, ‘Isn’t this your dream?’ And I was like, I already applied,” she recalled. “It’s so funny because a lot of people kept tagging me on posts, like last June, and I couldn’t tell them that it’s done, I’ve already applied.”

Ayn praised MUPH’s move, saying it has opened up opportunities for aspirants like her. “Pageantry in the Philippines is such a prestigious thing. It’s something that a lot of people aspire for but because of their requirements, not everybody can try. But the fact that now we can simply try, I think it’s empowering… For me, that’s a sign that things are progressing. I think it is the right direction.”

Besides the qualifications, she also hopes for changes in the expectations of what a beauty queen must look like. “Hopefully, the community and the audience will be more accepting of diverse beauty because if we’re talking about beauty and purpose that’s something that you can definitely see in everybody. If everybody has a chance to show it on stage, it should be a good thing.”

From the initial 100 delegates, Ayn fought her way through the headshot, video introduction, runway, casting video and interview challenges, often landing in the Top 5, before making it to the Top 30.

Ayn, who has over a million followers on TikTok and gained popularity for educational videos, credited her online supporters for coming together for her and helping her power through challenges that had fan-voting components. Scores were back to zero in the lead-up to the preliminaries and coronation event happening tonight in Bohol.

It’s not been easy for Ayn getting this far because by pageant standards, she admitted she’s not the ideal. At the same time, she said she’s also the kind of person who goes after opportunities without second guessing. “I feel like if I give myself the opportunity to second guess, baka wala na akong magawa… I find myself in situations where I would think bakit ko ito ginagawa sa sarili ko? But then, these are the very opportunities that continue to change my life. Showing up for opportunities that are sometimes too big for me, I think, allows me to also rise to the occasion.”

Ayn, whose idols are former Miss Universe first runner-up Miriam Quiambao, former Miss U queens Pia Wurtzbach and Catriona Gray, and Miss U Australia 2020 Maria Thattil (who’s 5’3” like her), acknowledged that being a newbie in the pageant scene is a weakness. Her only pageant experience was two campus-based contests back in college at University of Sto. Tomas which she neither won. But both experiences solidified her love for pageantry and made her discover a passion for public speaking.

She believes that’s one of her strengths going into this competition. “I’d like to focus on my ability to tell stories and send messages.”

Ayn is also aware that “not everyone agrees with my delegation.” She previously went viral for addressing an online comment that claimed she was “delusional” for daring to join MUPH.

“I want people to understand that, No. 1, I’m not delusional. I am fully self-aware. I understand what it’s going to be like for somebody like me to join (MUPH). And yes, it’s the inevitable, the criticisms,” she further told The STAR.

“I’m here because being here matters and that’s what I really care about. It’s not just looking prettier or altering my body to be a certain way just to be accepted. It’s being myself, being onstage and showing people that I can do that, too. We can do that, too.”

For Ayn, making an impact is the most important thing. “Even if I win, even if I don’t win, no matter the result, what does my presence on stage mean? As somebody who grew up watching pageants, I know the impact, because I looked up to these people growing up, they were so inspirational to me. But what’s more if I could see myself in them? What’s more for the kids who see themselves in me? That’s what I care about. It’s not about having long legs, about being taller or having a smaller face. It’s really not that. I fully know who I am and I am going as myself.”

Of course, she’s not just in MUPH for the experience, she’s also in it to win it. She has since trained under veteran beauty camp Kagandahang Flores.

Asked what she has learned from her pageant journey so far, Ayn said, “I learned that I have so much to learn about confidence. Because honestly I thought going into this, I’ve achieved that level of self-worth and self-compassion, to the point of hindi na ako matitinag, but being in the pageant is a different experience altogether.

“I never imagined I would have these many eyes on you, because even though I was a content creator, the focus really was my content. I created the videos about English grammar, but it wasn’t about me. Even in my main (YouTube) account, it was about makeup, lifestyle, travel, but it wasn’t about me as a person.

“Then going into (MUPH), all of a sudden it was about me, as Roussane Marie Bernos representing San Juan (City). It’s really humbling hearing people talk about me, my face, my body and I really had to do more work, to maintain my self-confidence, because it’s hard when you hear a lot of external opinions.

“But what I’ve learned so far is you need to surround yourself with good people. You need to really know who you are and understand that at the end of the day, you are yourself. You are your own person. There is so much power in your identity and I really need to hold on to that because otherwise, matitinag ako, and I don’t want that to happen. I want to keep my self-esteem intact even after this competition.”





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