This 'modern Filipina' will tell you why strong is the new sexy

Barry Viloria on May 27, 2016 05:09 PM
This 'modern Filipina' will tell you: Strong is the new sexy
'Fit for Fashion' grand winner Jackie Zapata on finding confidence in your own skin. (Photos by Vyn Radovan)

Many women would agree to the prevalence of this age-old stigma on women being judged for showing “too much” skin, or wearing clothes that are “too revealing” they draw unsolicited catcalls from boys in the street corner. After all, as old school titas would say, if you’re a self-respecting lady, why slip into something skimpy, right?

But debunking this is Fit for Fashion Season 2 grand winner Jackie Zapata, ever so eloquent, petite in height and, in this conversation, never shy to show her chiseled shoulders and arms while in her favorite performance rig-out.

“I'm liberal. If I'm ever going to use that word, that's where I would use it. I feel that confidence—call it confidence, call it sexiness, call it self-expression, and call it celebration of the female body. Whatever it is, if you are happy and you are healthy and you are confident then more power to you,” she declares.

Motivation to move
You’d say Zapata, who turns 33 in June, represents who a modern Filipina is. She was born and raised in the States, and went on to work as a Wall Street banker in New York. She has always been fit and sporty growing up—her interests include volleyball and track. But one unfortunate event around two years ago brought all that to a halt: She broke her elbow from jumping at a 4-feet box, roughly her height at 5’1”.

“I was going for speed. I was tired, my form wasn't quite right and so I slipped. I think I just caught my toes but I didn't get my center balance onto the box and I fell backwards. I tried to tuck my arms in but I guess I caught myself and I fell and snapped my arm in half. So, it was kind of just dangling there,” she recalls.

Zapata spent eight months to a year to recover after that “humbling, first injury.”

“You can't do what you used to do, you used be so good at something and then I was really burdened by my fear of using my arm. I would hear it crack in the middle of workouts or I would wake up and it would be a humid day, and I would have arthritis in my arm and it was something that I had to learn how to use again.”

Zapata gained unnecessary weight after the accident, too, and, worse, lost her confidence. This became her motivation to get into Fit for Fashion, a Fitness First-branded reality series that put the contestants coming from different backgrounds through various challenges.

“I've lost a certain sense of my identity because I wasn't active anymore. I was burying myself in my work. I wanted to get stronger again. It was my chance to reinvent myself, my chance to build my confidence again.”

Regaining confidence
And so she did work on her mission while on the show. Out of thousands at the Fit for Fashion tryout, Zapata got into the final lineup. On the reality show that ran for 10 weeks, she also got to lo live with other contestants of different nationalities. The challenges posed didn’t just focus on fitness, but also on fashion, something she admits she wasn’t exactly an expert of.

But Zapata pulled through, and even won.

“I was probably the only one that wasn't a model, singer, performer or celebrity,” she narrates. “The biggest thing I’ve learned? That I’m limitless. I'm in control of my happiness and I'm in control of the trajectory of my life.”

Zapata learned most that diet and living a healthy lifestyle all contribute to one’s well-being, “having that energy to do whatever you want to do whether it's fitness, running that marathon, or if it's the ability to get through your work and to sit at your desk without feeling sleepy. Whatever it is, healthy living is a fuel for happiness. It's a mind and body connection.”

Zapata also picked up the correlation of fitness and fashion, which she thinks is something people don’t always see but they get to live by everyday.

“Body awareness also translates to the outfits I wear. I now try to be fashionable in the gym because that's a way of building confidence, I'm expressing myself in the way I move my body and also express myself in the way I dress.”

Modern lady
There’s another learning Zapata had from the show—that it’s okay to be who you are and being not afraid to show it. She’s especially particular about women, Filipinas especially, being under the double standard of revealing too much of themselves—where women dressing too “sexy” for their own good should be faulted for assaults that come to themselves.

“As long as it's not infringing on somebody else's values or offending anybody else then you have the right to celebrate yourself as a woman, as a person, or whatever your identity is,” she says.

Zapata stresses the importance of gaining self-confidence through fitness. So, if this is one’s source of self-belief, nobody should be telling you off about it.

“We as a culture and as a society have created barriers for self-expression. Strength and beauty comes in different forms, let people explore it and it is their right. If you're happy and you've achieved something wonderful in life then you should be able to express it.”

“So many people go through that in life trying to find that balance, trying to find their voice and trying to find their greatness. If it's muscles, if it's skin, if it's elegance, if it's grace, you should be able to express it no matter what.”

For this, Zapata suggests taking care of your temple of a body. After all, the entire point of fitness, she says, is finding that “mind and body connection to look and feel good.”

“When I look at myself in the mirror and checking out my form, I'm making sure my posture is good. It helps to see also that I am looking my best and that I'm presenting my best self.”

“This is my ‘fight song’—it’s about muscles and physique. Somebody else's fight song might be a different tone but I'm not going to silence that.”


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