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So often, we see a billboard advertisement along EDSA and it features a model who is a pure stunner—thin and tall with fair skin.

The reality, however, is not everyone fits this model mold and it’s about time that we call for more accurate representation across all platforms. It’s almost 2020, after all.

That’s exactly why Angelia Orna and Gelai Penales’ recent victory in the online reality show, SM Youth Go-See Season 4, is worth celebrating. Both 20-somethings, who will now be ambassadors for the mall chain’s in-house, “youth for youth” brand, do not look like your stereotypical models.

The challenge in being different

Apart from the challenges contestants have faced through SM Youth Go-See, which includes an underwater shoot, a K-Pop idol transformation, and even an ’80s throwback challenge, both winners have faced personal difficulties, too.

For the 21-year-old Orna, a Marketing Management graduate from the University of Sto. Tomas, height has proven to be a hurdle in pursuing modeling. She stands only at 5’3″, far from the standard 5’7″ or taller for most Filipina models.

“It was actually a secret dream since I know na mahirap nga mag-model kapag maliit,” she tells MB Life in an interview following the season finale at the Mega Fashion Hall.

Penales, a 22-year-old film graduate from the University of the Philippines-Diliman, shares a similar struggle. Growing up as an athlete, she would feel insecure of her body for not being thin enough like most girls. She sports a buzz cut, too, which immediately makes her stand out among the show’s finalists or in any crowd, for that matter.

“People have been pushing me to be a model even before SM Youth, but then there’d be cases where I’d be told I’m too big or that I look too different,” she says. “It was very hard for me to overcome that and mute their voices in my head.”

Self-acceptance

For Orna, however, no shortcoming is bigger than anyone’s passion and determination.

“Nasa kung paano mo lang din aaralin ang modeling kasi may certain angles naman [that works] when you pose and all,” Orna explains. “Pero when you love what you do, you’ll do everything for it. That’s how I coped with the challenges to get what I really wanted.”

Penales adds that the show has also helped her embrace her unique look and identity, with the help of supportive friends and family. “This is how I look eh, so what can I do about it?” she muses.

Models with a purpose

Beyond being models that try to sell clothes, the new ambassadors believe representing SM Youth means being role models.

“Super overwhelming talaga kasi this is a big thing and it’s actually a responsibility also kasi you’re a model of the youth so you have to embody what they have to see,” Orna says when asked about what she felt about the win. “[Of course,] hindi naman din niyan mapipigilan ‘yung dapat ipakita mo pa rin kung sino ka.”

Penales also hopes to use the platform for positive influence. “[I want to] inspire more people kasi a lot of kids have reached out to me, telling me that they cut their hair like mine kasi they want to try something different,” she adds. “Hopefully rin, inspiring doesn’t stop after winning. I hope it continues more, that we’d still be good examples.”

For those who want to join the pool of cool SM Youth ambassadors, the winners have these to say: be passionate, be fearless, and be unapologetically you.

“Ang pinakauna kong narinig nung sumali ako sa SM Youth is be yourself. You don’t need to look a certain way,” Orna says. “Besides, kailangan talaga is passion, kasi when you don’t give your 100%, for what pa?”

Penales also wants to reassure interested participants that there’s no need for modeling experience prior to joining the show.

“SM Youth is where you learn,” she adds. “And if you want to do it, just do it.”

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