A 21-year-old model became the first Filipino to walk in the most-watched fashion show in the world, the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show in New York on Nov. 8.
Kelsey Merritt, an AB Communications graduate of Ateneo de Manila University, will become a Victoria's Secret model who will be watched by hundreds of millions worldwide when the show airs on Dec. 2.
"It feels like a dream," she told Teen Vogue in an interview published online. And a country obsessed with beauty pageants could not agree more.
Today, a Victoria's Secret fashion show is arguably more popular than beauty pageants, airing in more than 100 countries, especially among the young the world over who aspire to model the scanty pieces of this iconic lingerie brand.
Merritt will join the ranks of celebrities Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid.
Merritt, who was born in Pampanga province and grew up in Manila, was also a model of the Inquirer ToBeYou section. She did a shoot for ToBeYou in Boracay, when she was a model of the local Bench brand, Kashieca.
Early on, she single-mindedly worked on becoming a model. Aside from ToBeYou, she did shoots for local glossies and billboards and walked the runway shows of the Bench brands.
She told Teen Vogue before the show: "Getting the show is a dream come true but being the first Filipino woman to walk in the show means I'm making history. The show is broadcast in more than 190 countries with models from 20 countries, and I got chosen to represent my region. Blessed!"
Her block mate at Ateneo, Nicole Thorp, also a ToBeYou contributor, described Merritt: "She is nice and hardworking, and she could juggle her modelling jobs in New York and London."
'I'm just me'
Merritt's runway stint is heating up the internet, with some netizens commenting that she's not a "pure Filipina"-her mother is Filipino, her father American-and thus she should not claim her achievement as an Asian victory, because she is "white."
Merritt, however, has a sensible, straightforward reply to that in Teen Vogue: "I would love to tell them that I am just me."
She posted on her Twitter account: "I was born in the Philippines and grew up in Pampanga. I finished my studies in Manila before I moved to the US last year. My blood is more Filipino than those of 'pure' ones who've never stepped on Philippine soil). I love my country and I'm proud of where I came from."
Apparently, she has defenders, most of them students.
In a poll of ToBeYou, Ira Patricia Pelayo of the University of Santo Tomas (UST) said: "But what is true Filipina beauty? Even though Kelsey Merritt has eurocentric features, she still embodies strong and fierce Filipino features. The fact that she is Filipino by blood is something that we should be proud of as she represents us in the international modelling industry."
Another UST student, Hasmin Sevilla, added: "Her foreign looks don't make her less Filipina. Aside from our blood, a great measure of one's nationality is the content of our hearts. Her beauty and courage should make us all proud!"