The renowned photographer steps in front of the camera and gets real about self-expression, transformation and beauty for all
Would I have been a lot more successful if I started accepting myself earlier?” This is a question that often lingers at the back of BJ Pascual’s mind. It may seem ironic to come from the 34-year-old photographer whose work is on magazine covers, billboards, and ads for major brands all over the Philippines. If you would ask most top celebrities and models today who they dream to work with, his name would most likely be one of their answers.
But during the beginning stages of his career, the lensman reveals that he had always concealed a part of himself: he never smiled in photos because he hated his teeth, which led to a preconceived idea of who he was; he only wore masculine silhouettes; and he was prone to losing himself in creative projects.
“In the early 2010s when I was young, the view of the people wasn’t as progressive, including myself when it comes to sexual orientation and gender expression,” Pascual shares. “The masculine presentation is what was accepted at that time.” He recalls feeling conscious of his own voice, an effect of internalized homophobia after being called out on social media for acting or sounding too gay. “Even though I loved myself in real life, I wouldn’t post videos online because people would still comment that I sound so gay. It was a time that I really hated my voice,” he admits
Unlearning the patriarchal ways of thinking and hyper-masculine ideals was a slow and conscious process for Pascual. But since he started working in the fashion industry, where the LGBTQIA+ community is celebrated, he found a safe space to grow into his queer identity. This inspired him to dedicate his platform to challenging the status quo. “Once I started being active with my advocacies, I became more comfortable with myself,” he says. “I would also get messages from little gays saying I inspired them. I guess social media hurt me at the beginning, but it also helped me learn to accept myself.”
Today, his style in beauty and fashion has made leaps along with his career. From suits, simple T-shirts, and skinny jeans, he took a 180-degree turn and went for gender-fluid pieces and details, which include crop tops, heels, and even a hint of blush every day. “I think social media helped the shift to gender fluidity, and it coincided with the time that I became more experimental. And I started to love myself a lot more.”
It’s compellingly optimistic and encouraging to witness this kind of transformation. The photographer proves that self-acceptance may be a long winding road, but it can open infinite possibilities to what your life could be and who you could become.
“When people express themselves freely, they become more creative and successful in whatever they do,” he affirms. So even though BJ Pascual may have wished he accepted himself early on, there is no question in our mind that who he is today—liberated nd free—will take him to even greater heights.
What is your beauty philosophy?
Beauty is always changing, from your beauty regimen to your mindset, it’s always evolving individually for yourself. So just go with whatever you feel is right for you.
Can you share with us your first beauty memory?
My lola doesn’t leave the house without any sunscreen, and palagi siyang nakapayong kahit hindi umuulan. When we travel to other countries, she’s that Asian lola who wears the umbrella hat. From an early age, she really taught me that sun exposure is harmful to the skin, so I always wear sunscreen. That’s why when people tell me ‘Uy ang ganda ng skin mo,’ I always say ‘namana ko siya sa lola ko,’ not only pertaining to her genes but also to her beauty practices.
Describe your skincare and fitness routine.
I try my best to squeeze in working out and visiting the Aivee Clinic in my schedule. Beauty regimens and fitness routines go hand-in-hand because when you feel better about your body, you automatically feel good overall. I also make time every night, around 30 minutes or 45 minutes, for skincare, body care, and hair care.
My skincare is simple. I start by cleansing with micellar water and the Yam Root Vegan Milk Cleanser from Isntree that removes makeup really well but isn’t drying. Next, I put on my holy-grail skincare product, The Cream from Augustinus Bader, which I discovered through Georgina Wilson. I then combine it with whatever serum or essence that I have available, like the SK-II Treatment Essence or the Apricot Kernel Oil from Officine Universelle Buly.
I noticed that the skin on my body is also aging, so I started using the Firm Ground Retinol Body Lotion from Versed Skin. Men are also prone to male pattern baldness, which I’ve been paranoid about even in my 20s since I have thick hair. So, the hair doctor at Aivee, gave me really good advice to take care of the hair while it’s still there than kapag wala na siya. Basically, I think of hair care as skincare. Now, I apply retinol and minoxidil on my scalp and take oral Finasteride every night.
What are your go-to makeup products?
Ever since I started wearing makeup, I have been using the Nars Radiant Creamy Concealer in Custard. It’s forever my concealer of choice. Never na rin ako lumabas ng bahay without blush. So I use the Dear Darling Tint from Etude House on my cheeks and lips every day. But recently, I’ve also been using the BLK Cosmetics Creamy All Over Paint in Summertime.
You’re known for referencing iconic fashion editorials, campaigns, and runways. Do you have any favorite beauty editorials or campaigns?
I admire the work of Pat McGrath, especially with Steven Meisel. One of my favorites is their editorial for Vogue Italia called “Organized Robots,” which was a bit controversial. It was Sasha Pivovarova, Gemma Ward, and Coco Rocha wearing all-white, with bleach brows and almost no makeup, just blush. Also, their cover editorial together titled “Makeover Madness,” which was about plastic surgery. Both are iconic.
What do you like best about the local beauty industry today?
I think the local beauty scene is booming. There are so many new makeup brands popping up and a lot of them have really good products. For example, Sunnies Face and their Fluffmates, BLK Cosmetics who is doing well with a lot of their products, and even GRWM Cosmetics, ang ganda ng blush nila. I’m happy that a lot of these small independent Filipino brands are succeeding, and I think social media also helps. If something goes viral, people go out and buy it. I just saw Gabbs Gibbs post about this brow gel from Lovely Causemetics and I ended up buying it as well.
A lot of beauty influencers are also part of the queer community, like John Rey and Janio on TikTok. So I’m happy that in the local beauty scene everything goes hand-in-hand, that while the beauty industry is being celebrated, so are a lot of LGBTQIA+ influencers.
Photography KENNETH TANGONAN
Makeup ANTHEA BUENO
Hair JAY AQUINO
Shoot Coordination KZ FRANCISCO