Sophomore Steps Out Of Her Comfort Zone


This Saturday, Julia will be participating in the 12th Annual Ms. Phillipines 2019. (Julia Gayanelo)

By Lindsay Grippo

Julia Gayanelo, FCRH ’21, is new to the pageant life. “I actually grew up as a tomboy,” she says. “Doing this is definitely stepping out of my comfort zone.”

On Jan. 26 at the Newark Symphony Hall in Newark, N.J., Gayanelo will be participating in the 12th Annual Ms. Philippines 2019: More Than Just a Pretty Face pageant run by the Rutgers-Newark Filipino Student Association. She will be one of 24 representatives from 24 universities in the tri-state area, including Columbia University, Stony Brook University, Hunter College and others.

A mathematics-economics double major from Westchester, New York, Gayanelo was closely familiar with Fordham before ever attending herself. Her mother graduated from Fordham’s Graduate School of Education and her older brother from Fordham College at Rose Hill. “We are a big Ramily family,” Gayanelo said.

Gayanelo is very active at Rose Hill. She is a student employee at the Office for Student Involvement and an outreach ambassador for Rose Hill Society, as well as a member of the Ultimate Frisbee club, the Running Club, the Outdoors Club and FUPAC. And now, she is throwing her hat in the ring for this year’s Ms. PI.

The event aims to “showcase empowered Filipino women who are compelled to break the glass ceiling while defying female stereotypical social norms,” according to the pageant’s Facebook page. Contestants are encouraged to focus on an aspect of their own character, an experience or a female role model that has empowered them as Filipino women.

Gayanelo’s participation in Ms. Phillipines 2019 is due to her involvement with Fordham’s Philippine-American Club (FUPAC) on campus. “I really just wanted to meet other people and go out of my comfort zone and embrace my culture,” she said.

Over the past few weeks, contestants have been participating in joint dance rehearsals every Saturday that typically span from five to six hours long. To Gayanelo, the rehearsals have been prime bonding time.

“We have gotten super close,” she says. “At first, I was scared because it takes up your whole Saturday. But it is actually so fun; instead of going into the city and hanging out with my friends, getting brunch, I’m still hanging out with my friends, we are just having dance rehearsal.”

The show has multiple segments, including a collective opening dance, an evening-look runway walk, a talent portion and a cultural portion; that is to say, Gayanelo’s hard work is by no means limited to Saturdays.

“It was finals week, and we rehearsed until one a.m.,” she says in discussing her preparation for the event. She and partner Jeffrey Pelayo, FCRH ’21, of Fordham Flava will be performing a dance for her talent portion.

Gayanelo will also perform a dance for the culture portion. Her performance will be a commentary on the white-skin beauty standards faced by many women of the Philippines.

“Every girl faces beauty standards. But in the Philippines, girls specifically face the Western idea of beauty,” she said. “So they have foundation that makes their skin lighter, and they have this tape that makes their eyelids look less Asian. They are following what the Western idea of beauty is: ‘If you’re white, you’re pretty. If you’re not white, you’re not pretty.’”

In the dance, she struggles with and ultimately overcomes the pressures that result from societal ideals of beauty.

Through her performance, she hopes to inspire all women to accept and love their individuality. “I’m just trying to show that everyone should embrace their self-beauty and be proud of who they are.”

The pageant process overall has served as a learning experience for Gayanelo. “Confidence has definitely grown during the pageant,” she said of her experience so far. “It is so empowering for women to do this.”

Her favorite part: meeting girls she can connect with.

“Growing up in Westchester, it was really hard to just meet another Filipino friend. I felt like I was always different from everybody else. But coming here and meeting people, I was like, ‘Wow, we are actually the same, and I can identify with them. I can relate with them,’” she said. “I was so happy to meet everyone and form that community.”

For more information about tickets for the event, contact members of FUPAC or Julia Gayanelo directly. Otherwise, start preparing yourself for a potential run-in with pageant royalty; Fordham might have its very own beauty queen on campus in the upcoming weeks.