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I’m Not A Morena But Here’s Why Ayn Bernos Joining Miss Universe Philippines Means So Much To Me

What Ayn Bernos means for me & my dreams

After the Miss Universe Philippines Organization removed the pageant’s height requirements earlier this year, 5’3″ Filipina Rousanne Marie “Ayn” Bernos braved all criticism and signed up to join. 

This irked some pageant fans who believed the organization had lowered its standards on beauty queens. But to others, she was the long-awaited representation for petite, morena Filipinas in a pageant that had long favored women with Eurocentric features. On 30th October, she walked the Miss Universe Philippines 2021 stage, finishing in the Top 16. 

I don’t belong to the short, morena type of girls Bernos represents, nor do I want to be a beauty queen. In fact, I’m quite the opposite – 5’7” and a chinita. But Bernos joining Miss Universe Philippines 2021 means a lot to me.

It’s because her joining the pageant despite people saying she doesn’t stand a chance makes me think I should chase after my dream of becoming a published fiction author too, however far-fetched it might seem to other people. Besides this, Ayn Bernos represents the fearless person I want to start becoming now.

Before people can tell her her limits, she’s already working on her dreams

Ayn Bernos Perspective - story prompts
A Google Sheets file for all the story ideas I’ve had but was too chicken to write
Image credit: Kim Shelly Tan

I’m a perfectionist. I don’t start writing anything unless I know I’m going to finish it. I don’t even get into a new activity if I know I’m not going to be great at it. For instance, a tarot card deck and a gouache paint set have been sitting on my online shopping wish list for months.

But I know this isn’t just me. I’ve seen plenty of other young adults on TikTok sharing their own little anecdotes about perfectionism, many of which attribute this behavior to their parents who wanted them to be the best among their peers. In fact, researchers from the National University of Singapore found that controlling parents are likely to cause their children to be overly critical of themselves. This leads us to be too afraid to try out new things in fear of failure.

Ayn Bernos perspective - Camp Confidence podcast
Behind the scenes of Bernos’ podcast Camp Confidence
Image credit: @aynbernos

Bernos actively goes after her dreams without fear of failure, even when other people call her ambisyosa or ilusyonada – someone who goes after big, seemingly impossible dreams. She doesn’t have a problem with starting from scratch and potentially making mistakes. She believes she owes it to herself to try. 

Because of this, she became an academic assistant in Spain, international speech champion, podcast host, TikTok content creator, and now, a beauty queen. 

Bernos tells us in a TikTok video, Pagka tayo mismo sa sarili natin ang nagdesisyon na “hanggang dito ka nalang”, “ito lang magagawa mo”, “bawal ka diyan”, “di ka deserving”, then ano pang mararating natin?” (If we tell ourselves things like “you can only reach up to here”, “this is all you can do”, “you can’t be there”, “you don’t deserve it”, then what are we going to achieve?”)

Bago ka magdesisyon na hindi mo kaya, subukan mo muna,” she even added. (“Before you decide that you can’t do it, you should try doing it first.”) 

Whenever I watch her videos, I begin to consider that maybe I should stop thinking that I’m not qualified to write what I want to write. Maybe I shouldn’t be the first person to reject myself.

She’s not afraid of starting over and over and over

Ayn Bernos perspective - makeup instagram
An old Instagram account for makeup that I discontinued because I thought I wasn’t as good as other makeup artists
Image credit: Kim Shelly Tan

Have I mentioned that I write? Since it’s the only thing I know how to do, I write for a living and write as a hobby. I don’t really try new things because I feel as if it would be a waste of time if I end up not liking it or not being good at it.

A lot of self-improvement content says failures are necessary to succeed. However, my self-preservation instincts just won’t let me believe it. After all, who could possibly be ridiculed if I fail? 

But even in scientific research, mistakes are part of the job. In a TED talk, the head of the research and development company X (formerly Google X), Astro Teller, said the engineers in his team succeed in creating new technologies because of failures that tell them what works and what doesn’t.

Because she’s learned not to fear failure, Bernos is good at being a beginner. After her broken engagement in 2017, she got a job in Spain and, as she put it, fell in love with life. Working a 16-hour/week teaching job, she was able to travel around Europe.

But although she had a stable job in Spain – one that allowed her to discover a new land – she wasn’t afraid to challenge herself and start a new chapter. Again, despite people calling her a failure for doing this. She quit her job, came home to the Philippines, and started her clothing business, Morena the Label.

Through all this, because she hit rock bottom and wasn’t afraid to get back up each time she encountered a setback, she was able to open various opportunities for herself. She was able to start a business, become a multimedia content creator, give 2 TED talks, and is continuously working on becoming an even better version of herself.

Looking at everything Bernos has been able to achieve because she allowed herself to be a beginner makes me wonder what kind of person I could’ve become if I just let myself be bad at something. What opportunities have passed by me just because I didn’t try my hand at something one time or stopped doing something too soon? Perhaps I should really learn to just enjoy the process rather than constantly strive for perfection.

She sets her goals and goes after them

Ayn Bernos perspective - dream board
Ayn Bernos’ dream board in 2018
Image credit: @aynbernos

The fact that Bernos used to be like me also makes me believe that I can also be like her. In 2018, Bernos tweeted a photo of a drawing of her then-current self and how she envisioned herself in the future. It gives me goosebumps seeing how she’s achieved many of the goals she had listed down.

Writing down your goals isn’t simply a law of attraction or a manifestation thing. It’s actually backed by neuroscience. Putting what exactly it is that you want on paper will help you determine what you’re going after and focus on achieving that.

The goals I’ve written on my Notion app that I’ve achieved
Image credit: Kim Shelly Tan

Seeing this work for other people, I’ve also started doing similar things this year. I use a spare notebook as a gratitude journal and write my goals on a notes app. This has helped me prioritize the things I want and create small milestones for me to achieve so I’m not just mindlessly living life. So far, there have been a few things I’ve listed down that I’ve accomplished. I should really start aiming for bigger goals soon. 

She’s kind to herself in the process of achieving her goals

Ayn Bernos perspective - Jung's Map of the Soul
One of the psychology books on my to-be-read list
Image credit:

Bernos wasn’t always like this – comfortable with starting from scratch over and over – but she learned to be kind to herself. She believes that the point of trying isn’t perfection but forgiveness – letting yourself get back up whenever you fail.

In a TikTok video where she shared how she went from a shy college student who didn’t know what she wanted and constantly sought validation from other people to the confident, multi-talented, and independent person she is now, Bernos put an emphasis on trying. She said that, often, we don’t allow ourselves to start doing things because we think we’ll fail anyway. 

Through the years, she has also made some steps to improve physically. Even when it comes to her physical improvement, Bernos believes in celebrating your body even before you achieve your fitness goals

I’ve also begun to read books and watch content on self-improvement this year although I’m still working on the mental and emotional part rather than the physical one. This content includes Bernos’ motivational TikTok videos. I find that her videos go beyond inspiring me to chase after my dreams and try out new things – they also remind me to be kind to myself in the process.

Though I don’t want to be a beauty queen, she’s my sign to be less afraid of failure and be unapologetic about my dreams. Beyond this, I want Bernos’ level of self-love for myself – unconditional, forgiving, and so immense that she’s able to disregard what other people say.

She became the representation she wanted to have and more

Ayn Bernos perspective - Miss Universe Philippines 2021
Ayn Bernos during the Miss Universe Philippines 2021 pageant
Image credit: Miss Universe Philippines

Bernos joined Miss Universe Philippines because she wanted someone to represent short, morena girls like her and decided to be that person. The moment Miss Universe Philippines removed its height requirements for candidates, she signed up.

She did it for her younger self who loved watching beauty pageants but thought she’d never be able to qualify, but she made more impact than that. She amplified the fact that Filipinas who don’t fit into Eurocentric standards can also be beauty queens in a country where this is the standard of beauty. She also gave many people the inspiration to go after their dreams.

On the other hand, even if I’ve practically dreamed of being a published fiction author all my life, it still seems to be a silly dream. Somehow, it pales in comparison to other people’s dreams of becoming a doctor or a lawyer. Although many FIlipinos have been published locally and internationally, getting a book published remains daunting to pursue for me because of my notions of how a published author should write like – with impeccable grammar and zero plot holes.

But again, maybe all the limitations I see now are mostly self-perceived. The biggest obstacles I have to overcome are those I built myself. Above all, I should always be the one who believes in myself first.

It’s (y)our turn now

Achieving dreams and becoming better versions of ourselves can’t be done overnight. Instead, it’s a long, non-linear process, which is why we need courage, determination, and kindness like Bernos had emphasized. Success also isn’t guaranteed but the experiences we meet along the way will be just as rewarding – maybe even more valuable than the success itself.

If you’re still here, you must be like me. So now, I’m giving you a sign to buy the journaling materials you’ve been eyeing, start your YouTube channel, or just do whatever you’ve always wanted to do with no second thoughts. Meanwhile, I’m going to check out one of the two things in my online shopping wish list. Remember: If Ayn Bernos can, we sure can, too.

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Cover image adapted from: Miss Universe Philippines and @aynbernos