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Samantha Ashley Lo; Calm and collected beauty queen

Binibining Cebu Tourism 2017 Samantha Ashley Lo Photo by Yasunari Ramon Taguchi

CEBU, Philippines — Samantha Ashley Lo wasn’t cut out for the pageant circuit. At least that’s what she thought.

However, things took a turn when she braved her first beauty competition last April in the form of Miss Mandaue 2017. Growing up in Florida, Sam never dreamed of becoming a beauty queen. Now pursuing a degree in Nursing at the University of Cebu-Banilad, the 24-year-old aspired to become a famous soccer player as a child, maybe an artist, a doctor even—but never a crown on her head.

Sam heard of Miss Mandaue through her handler Sven Chua of Origin Model Management. Naturally, it came as a surprise to her family (her dad is Fil-Chinese, her mom is Cuban-Lebanese) when she decided to join Cebu’s longest-running pageant. But they were all excited to face this new chapter head on.

Despite not clinching the Miss Mandaue crown, Sam would soon make a comeback as Binibining Asturias in the maiden staging of Binibining Cebu—a standout face among 53 other beautiful and intelligent Cebuanas.

By the end of the night, the mestiza nabbed one of the three titles. Sam, one of the most popular candidates, was hailed as the first Binibining Cebu Tourism title-holder.

“I’m feeling so blessed. Everyone worked so hard, and I can’t ask for more. I’m just very happy and this is all very exciting,” Sam says of her placement.

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The fourth of five siblings, Sam admits that since being introduced to pageantry months ago, everything felt like a job. But it didn’t take long for it to slowly transform into something she was excited and passionate about.

Beautiful, eloquent, and stately—Sam is a certified head-turner. She did have her share of difficulties, one of which was dealing with comments about her weight.

“The only thing I felt pressured on was about losing weight. Back in the United States, we were all very athletic and promoted muscle growth in boys and girls. But they didn’t want that here. It was a totally different culture,” Sam explains, saying that shedding weight and muscle made her feel like losing her identity.

Sam further says that the bigger picture was becoming someone new. She knew they were all working towards shaping her into a better version of herself, which for Sam, was actually pretty cool.

“Now I feel better than ever,” she adds.

No one is exempted from the scrutiny of a pageant-crazed country. Every bit and fiber of your being would be questioned. When asked about feeling objectified with that level of exigency, Sam maintains that she takes it all as constructive criticism.

“I’m old enough to know who’s right and who’s wrong,” she says. “At the end of the day, I’m really busy that it doesn’t even bother me.”

Despite questions on the relevance of pageants, Sam was able to find something within herself through the competitions, something that others saw first before she did.

Told to name a woman she looks up to, Sam smiles and asks a question in return. “Is it selfish if I say myself?” she laughs.

Sam says she’s grown into someone she didn’t think she could be.

“It’s like watching a baby find its two feet,” she muses with a smile. “I’ve done a lot in the past seven months since joining pageants. I’ve come such a long way and in the end I’m really happy with the progress. I was able to beat everyone’s expectations despite all the doubts.”

Sam reveals there were those who stopped paying attention to her when she didn’t take home the Miss Mandaue crown, which she found hurtful. Despite that, she was able to find potential as a woman who is more mature and found a softness inside of her that she hadn’t known before.

Sam, who looked calm and collected throughout the Binibining Cebu pageant night, credits her first title to sheer focus and dedication. It was all about conserving her energy and spending it on the right moments.

“We’ve all worked our asses off since day one, and these girls know how cranky I get when I’m tired. It’s not like you drank some sort of magic Gatorade or flirted with the trainers. No, you just have to work hard. The rest is up to God and the judges He puts in front of you,” Sam imparts.

After spending more than three days a week together for more than two months, to say that Sam and the candidates are thankful for the Binibining Cebu experience is an understatement. Sam particularly enjoyed their trip to the Lhuillier beach house in Sogod, saying that in between juggling their personal lives with pageant duties like writing input for the pageant program, charity events and sponsor visits—the beach house was a lovely respite for them.

Sam, along with the rest of the Binibining Cebu winners, admits that it’s pretty cool to find yourself on the papers. They get recognized around town now, with random people congratulating them.

The fame notwithstanding, the ladies know they’ve won a job as well.

Aside from being an ambassadress for tourism, Sam cannot wait to work on her life’s advocacy of helping children and people who suffer from abuse. She plans on helping children in need through education and feeding programs.

“I want to show everyone that these kids can become something great as long as we give them the chance,” she adds.

At the moment, Sam definitely wants to focus on her studies. Since moving to Cebu five years ago, Sam took up Nursing at her mother’s request.

“My teacher taught me the heart of Nursing—we bring life and love to our patients. I didn’t realize that before. Now, when I get to the hospital, it feels good to see your patients with a smile on their faces.”

Sam is likewise looking forward to striking a harmonious plan with beauty pageant camp Aces and Queens. She’s eyeing on competing for the Miss World Philippines crown if given the chance to choose her path.

“I’ve heard Miss World is one for mestizas. I’m happy with what Binibining Cebu is trying to do which is highlight the native Cebuana beauty but I’m mestiza so I want to join my fellow mestizas.”

“Of course, there’s a time crunch. I’m doing everything I can. I mean, I’m 24 and the cut-off is 26. I think my strongest suit is being a happy person and I feel like the mid to late 20s is where a woman ages like fine wine or a budding rose. It’s the part of a woman’s life where she reaches the peak of her beauty and I’m trying to enjoy this moment despite the limit.”

Growing up abroad and being able to speak several languages like Lebanese and Turkish, Sam muses that this allows her to connect with people regardless of where they come from and how they identify as. But despite growing up in a different country, Sam presses that the way she was brought up—from how they ate to how she took a bath and the values she follows are indeed very Cebuano.

“Being able to speak those languages and coming from different cultures makes me connect with people more. It’s not about a language or a religion, it’s all about connecting with people and sharing and creating a culture.”

Being new to the pageant world, Sam admits she’s met both great people and some shady ones along the way. This time, as she moves from being a Miss Mandaue 2017 hopeful, to Binibining Asturias, to Binibining Cebu Tourism 2017, Sam is equipped with more skills. With the right people behind her, she knows what she wants to look for in her brand new world of crowns, purpose and sportsmanship.

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