One of the function rooms at the Raffles Hotel was transformed last week into a young girl’s dream wardrobe. Rows of stilettos and platform shoes lined one wall while dozens of beaded, draped and frothy gowns in neutral hues took up more than ample space.
On one table, glittering baubles from Bulgari waited to be worn, their security detail consisting of two burly men in barong never taking their eyes off them.
The team from Franck Provost was discussing with the Look magazine (April issue) stylist whether the model’s hair would be worn up or down while makeup artist Paolo Maranan set up his lighted makeup stand by the window for more natural light.
By the time the Janine Marie Togonon arrived, the team was raring to go. When the country’s Miss Universe 2012 first runner-up entered the room, however, we were greeted by the sight of a fresh-faced young woman who looked like she was barely out of her teens.
There was no high-wattage smile or come-hither look. The “Cobra walk” we silently wished for was nowhere to be seen as she quietly made her way to the hairstylists who quickly began teasing and combing, pinning and piling her hair.
It was only during the interview that this writer began to see glimpses of the beauty queen that almost won the Miss Universe crown last December. Although Togonon admitted that in childhood, she never considered joining a beauty contest, much less representing the Philippines in the prestigious Miss Universe, once she became one of the contestants in Binibining Pilipinas, she put her mind, body and soul to it.
“We never watched the Binibining Pilipinas or any other pageant on TV when I was growing up. I wanted to become a doctor, I wanted a job that dealt with medicine because I come from a family of doctors. When I realized it would take years to become a doctor, I decided to become a pharmacist,” Togonon said.
As a beauty contestant, she went on a strict diet which ruled out eating rice, allowing only for fish and a small amount of meat. “I didn’t miss eating rice probably because I grew used to it pretty quickly—plus, there’s always bread. We also had to take gym classes under John Cuay as a group. As part of winning Binibining Pilipinas-Universe, I was required to undergo more targeted sessions, including core training.”
Togonon took to the routine rather easily because even as a child, she enjoyed working up a sweat playing outdoors. “I play badminton, but I also enjoy trekking and rafting, anything to make me sweat because I feel like I lose weight if I perspire at least once a day,” she said.
Togonon is an animated talker. Her eyes, which she says are her favorite body part, are expressive. She knows this now and makes it a point to wear eye makeup before she leaves the house, something she did not normally do when she was simply Janine the pharmacist.
“I really have to put more effort into how I look in public because I realized that people have started to look up to me after I came home with the first runner-up sash.”
Handling the pressure
Asked how she and her boyfriend are handling the pressures of being in the public eye, she said that it was hard at first. Togonon intimated that her boyfriend was affected by the put-downs and name-calling that took place soon after the pageant.
“People say I should be with someone more handsome and richer, but I told Jaypee that if I did that, what would that make me? What kind of principles would I be espousing if I followed that kind of thinking? It’s still difficult, but we’re hanging in there because Jesus is with us,” she said.
In the meantime, Togonon is open to the idea of going into show biz like the two previous Miss Universe beauty queens, Venus Raj and Shamcey Supsup. “Maybe I can do hosting jobs or a bit of acting, but I have to train before I accept any acting assignments.”
She is also seriously considering what to do with this newfound acclaim. “Since the Miss Universe pageant, I’ve been reading tweets from people who say that I’ve inspired them, although I’m not sure how I was able to do that exactly.
“With this influence I have now, my mother suggested that we put up an adoption agency or a home for the aged. Although the Binibining Pilipinas Charities already has its own list of organizations, my mother and I want something we can call our own.”
Young, beautiful, and with a heart of gold. She may not have clinched that Miss Universe crown, but with her plans to open a facility for abandoned children or elderly folks, Togonon has certainly captured the hearts of Filipinos everywhere.