Catriona Gray on Transforming Our Perception of Beauty - MEGA
Perfection Made Possible: Catriona Gray Transforms Our Perception of Beauty

Perfection Made Possible: Catriona Gray Transforms Our Perception of Beauty

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In answering the golden question of how perfection is made possible, the thought-provoking perspectives of the beauty maven known around the universe, Catriona Gray, reveal the importance of authenticity and healing

People have always been obsessed with the idea of perfection. The seemingly impossible marble sculptures of ancient Greece depicted the “perfect body” through soft curves and free-flowing hair. Even internationally-acclaimed bands and solo artists like Simple Plan and Ed Sheeran talked about perfection in completely unrelated contexts. Everyone interprets this idea differently, and it speaks volumes about our diverse cultures and ideologies.

However, no other industry participates more in this conversation than the world of beauty. With every passing generation, the pressure to attain this so-called perfection grows tenfold. One day, you obsess over your curated Instagram feed, and the next, the industry is suddenly ranking people for having “the perfect face.” Exploring this topic often begets comparisons, doubt, and controversy, but it can also lead to self-actualization with the right disposition.

Having been deemed a symbol of perfection herself, beauty maven and Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray candidly shares her thoughts and experiences on the matter, from informing us how she was able to grasp the concept of perfection as a young child, her ongoing journey of navigating through the ins and outs of social media and pageantry, to letting loose transformative advice about beauty and perfection—all while untangling the mess surrounding this conversation.

Catriona Gray exemplifies grace with a free-flowing magenta dress.

It all starts with a question

When Catriona’s first sentence on the topic was, I don’t necessarily believe that perfection exists,” it had us stunned. Shouldn’t there be something to strive for? However, she clarified: “Maybe the aspect of perfection, for me, has always been something to strive towards, but it doesn’t actually have a shape, or a title, or like a materialistic value,” adding that she doesn’t even recall what shaped her perception of perfection in that way, despite labelling herself as a perfectionist.

Catriona reiterates that although a universal standard for perfection doesn’t exist, she still sets personal standards on herself. This is often triggered by the question, “Am I good enough?”​​ This thought pops in and out of her head, which is why she’s more determined to meet her goals and own standards, instead of being too busy thinking about what everyone else wants her to accomplish. This is the kind of perfectionist she admittedly is, and this dedication to self-improvement and being an achiever is what she does best.

Down to the root of it all

How we define perfection doesn’t just sprout overnight. It takes a while, and even changes as we age because of different factors that affect our point of view. For the 28-year old beauty queen, the concept of perfection was initially influenced by her parents when she was still a school girl. This often revolved around academics as Catriona always had a grade-conscious mindset growing up.

As she rapidly became a household name in the midst of social media, there was also a time where perfection was defined by how she was perceived by millions of people—a combination of both her supporters and critics online.

The soft pleats of this cream ensemble complement the smooth light waves of Catriona’s hair.

“I’m part of a generation that didn’t really grow up online, so I think I already established some sense of self-identity [during my early teenage years],” she shared. But as social media began to grow larger than life itself, Catriona struggled navigating through the harsh realities that came with being part of the digital world, especially around the time when she was the face of the Philippines for Miss Universe. However, she was determined to put all the negativity to rest by proudly standing tall with a more mature mind and solid belief in herself and her capabilities. “[Having other people set standards for you] lends itself to comparison more so than excellence—or other people steering your life in a certain way, or defining what success should look like on you.”

The journey to her crowning glory

Even before her reign as Miss Universe in 2018, Catriona has felt the pressure in navigating the pageantry world because of its competitive and subjective nature. The scariest part of it all is that people try to break pageants down to a formula, almost trying to make sense of what makes a winner. Catriona didn’t fall into that routine as she wanted to shine as authentically as she can be.

“I never really wanted to fit a mold. I never looked at the success of others or the perceived winning formula as something to replicate. I never wanted to be the next Pia, the next Iris, or the next Demi—I wanted to be my own Catriona. It was liberating, and my team can testify to this, too.”

Catriona Gray on looking forward, instead of looking back, during her path to queendom.

The storytelling aspect to her Miss Universe journey was unprecedented. The Albay native created films showcasing different aspects of Filipino culture, as well as her advocacy work. It felt raw and authentic, a departure from the classy glamor surrounding the crown. The critics, on the other hand, only groaned louder: dictating how to walk, talk, and look, as if they’re placing onto her what they think a winner should be. However, Catriona remained steadfast: “At the end of the day, it’s a choice if you listen to that or not, and I wanted to own my journey. I wanted to tell myself that it’s gonna be me up on that stage and carrying my country. I want to do it in a way that I have ownership over it,” she shared.

Because of this, Catriona seemingly created a paradigm shift in the industry, with fans and experts alike labeling her journey as perfect. “A lot of people said that I set a new standard, when before, I was seen as someone that was going against what was perceived as perfect. I think that’s a great lesson in that perfection is just an ideal, and sometimes, going against the grain can result in another type of victory.”

Authenticity over aesthetics

What’s the bigger risk: letting go of what people think or letting go of yourself? Whether we realize it or not, that seems to be the underlying conundrum on social media. It’s somewhat inevitable because of how the Internet influences us, so we tend to lose a part of ourselves to cater to other people’s standards, demands, or opinions on who we should be, how we should act, and what we should say—how we become perfect in their eyes.

With just a simple base, Catriona still looks exquisite with a sharp, bold eye look.

“[In] social media, people are starved for reality, but there’s also that expectation of having to present yourself well.” If you have ever thought about curating your Instagram feed to a certain color palette or have gone back and forth deleting and re-uploading a Story, then you have fallen victim to this pressure. As Catriona explains, “The way that we judge people [and] validate them for their success, hireability, and level of their work is based a lot on what we see online, and that’s a very shallow perception because no amount of pictures or videos, whatever complexity and the detailedness, can tell what a person is. They never will.”

Younger and younger people are now defining their self-worth based on their social media presence, with the end goal of being the next perfect “it girl” of their generation. But as someone with more than 13 million followers on her Instagram alone, Catriona is insistent that this should not and should never be the end goal. Our online accounts are only a small part of who we are, and they shouldn’t overpower our identities because we’re more complex than what others see on their screens.

“If my social media were to be deleted tomorrow, who would I be? That’s such a scary thought, but it’s something that’s so humbling. You want to live a life that, if social media were gone, you’d still have a life, you know?”

Catriona Gray on our over-reliance on social media and how it defines a person

This stresses the value of authenticity, not just online, but in-person first, and this is something Catriona strongly advocates for. What she shares online is from her voice, and even stressed that there’s no social media manager handling her accounts. In doing so, she provides a space where people can be both comfortable and confident to exude their true selves, like she does. “I’ve always found great pride in the story that I have to share, which is my own, and I want to empower other people to do that, too… It’s liberating, and it’s something that everyone should be afforded, and not be cancelled for.”

There is no one definition

Just like how she controls her own narrative online; how she finds continued success in the world of pageantry, whether as a contestant, judge, or host; and how she has shown her talents in show business; Catriona dictates and portrays her own definition of beauty. For her, the concept of beauty should most certainly be self-perceived. It ought to be defined as how we see beauty, not how trends or societies do. People are so quick to judge and point out flaws that we end up shrouding our own beauty. You can even try out a simple exercise, as Catriona illustrates: “Ask yourself, ‘What do you not like about yourself,’ and we can so easily point out something. But if you ask, ‘What you love most about yourself,’ sometimes we hesitate. You really have to think about it. Isn’t that sad? We’re so in tune to what we don’t like [that we forget to] celebrate what we love.”

Whether Catriona’s wearing a detailed or intricate piece, it’s her perfect hair that remains to be the center of attention.

The journey towards discovering our own definitions of beauty and perfection can be a long one. It’s not something that’s easily achieved in the blink of an eye. It’s a long road of self-love, self-acceptance, and self-celebration that should be worked hard on.

“Self-acceptance is perfection for me in the world of beauty because when you’re happy with yourself, that doesn’t mean that you think every part is perfect, but it’s perfect for you.”

Catriona Gray on the correlation between beauty and perfection

Being one of the biggest names in the country, it’s no surprise that everyone wants to work with Catriona. As an advocate for a multitude of things, she makes sure that whoever she connects with aligns with her views and values. A great example of this is the hair care expert Cream Silk, built on empowering Filipinas and emphasizing our freedom to be whoever we want to be. This echoes her experience as a young woman inside and outside the world of pageantry as she was always told to pick between one thing and another. “I’ve taken part in campaigns with [Cream Silk] that celebrate Filipinos of all walks of life, whether they’re front-liners, designers, actresses, teachers, or fellow advocates. I love that because it’s celebrating women and all their shapes and forms, and just giving them confidence.”

This spirit of Cream Silk evidently flows in Catriona’s day-to-day activities. When things go awry, she knows the importance of taking some time to recenter and rebuild her confidence. At work, it can be as simple as taking a quick breather on the side or confiding problems with a friend. At home, however, building confidence mostly happens during her beauty routines. “The way that I look after myself really reflects what I do or [influences] who I interact with in my day.” Products like the Cream Silk Salon Expert Daily Treatments are hair care items that she’s known for using since they help restore her hair to its natural glory. Each one highlights her own personal beauty philosophy: “[Beauty products should] always enhance what you have, not alter it, and I feel like Cream Silk does exactly that.”

Evident in her enviable hair, Catriona trusts Cream Silk to give her the beauty of salon-treated hair with deeply nourished and renewed tresses.

The truth is, we get so engrossed in the idea of perfection because we believe that being perfect comes with immunity—no more judgements, no more faults, and nothing to be ashamed of. Normally, we immediately think perfection means there’s nothing to follow, but as Catriona argues, where’s the fun in that? “I don’t think that perfection is something you can attain and say, ‘I’m never gonna have a doubt in the world,’ because that’s just not reality. Perfection is more of just being steadfast, claiming that this is my own version of beauty that I’ve defined for myself, and I’m content [with] that.”

Cover Story KRISTOFF SISON and PEACHES GARCIA
Creative, Fashion, and Beauty Direction KRISTOFF SISON, JP TALAPIAN, and PEACHES GARCIA
Photography KIERAN PUNAY

Photo Editing NIEL JHED IBAY and ADAM AGUSTIN
Videography EXCEL PANLAQUE
Video Editing GARI SY
Makeup JELLY EUGENIO
Hair BRENT SALES
Styling RYUJI SHIOMITSU assisted by MIGUEL QUILANG and BEA GUERRERO
Shoot Coordination KZ FRANCISCO and MAE SICAT
Shot on Location at BEYOND CONCEPTS STUDIO