In celebration of International Women's Month, Cosmopolitan Philippines presents the Women Of Influence Awards 2023.
Now in its third year, our annual list of awardees recognizes fun, fearless, and forward Filipinas who have made their mark in their respective careers and platforms. As we shift from traditional media to other forms of social interactions, the word “influence” comes to have a new meaning. Words like ‘microinfluencer’ and ‘content creator’ have led to the rise of a new form of celebrity, but at its heart, a woman of influence leads her community by example.
We are extremely proud to present this year's Women of Influence awardees. Read their incredible stories below.
When it comes to outspoken celebrities, perhaps few people come to mind other than Nadine Lustre. One of the brightest stars of her generation, Nadine pleasantly surprised fans when she announced that she was finally going to launch her YouTube channel.
Yet the actress and singer shares that her plans for her vlog will be much more intentional, going beyond simply getting to know the celebrity behind the scenes. “[My YouTube channel] is to share the advocacies and kind of all of the things that I believe in. I know that a lot of people really look up to me, and a lot of them listen to the podcasts or interviews that I do. A lot of them are really inspired and they would tweet or DM me saying ‘I’m really inspired by you and everything you’ve gone through and all of the stuff you say in your interviews’ so I think maybe it was time to share how my life is like,” she shares.
While Nadine is getting up close and personal with her vlog, fans can expect rawness and authenticity from Nadine’s YouTube channel. “I don’t only plan on showing the good side of things; I also want to share my struggles with my mental health and adult life — because those are things people don’t really see from celebrities,” she shares, adding that being in showbiz can make people think celebrities are not relatable. “But at the end of the day, we’re all real people and we also go through real things that everyone goes through. I want to show that to everyone, and hopefully, I get to inspire people and help them in any way [I can],” she explains.
It’s her rawness and authenticity that has allowed Nadine to break out of the mold she was once boxed in, going against the grain of the typical sweet artista image and the love team many knew her for. But today, Nadine has put in the work that has earned her larger creative control over her brand and artistry.
“People like what I’m doing and the stuff I’m doing — the ‘real me,’ my creative stuff. The music, the aesthetic — people like it, and I guess that’s one of the reasons why others, like brands, just allow me to do my own thing,” she explains, adding that it was important to the actress that brands who work with her allow Nadine to stay true to her identity. “To me, it’s important that brands trust my branding. They’re not trying to alter who I am… and that’s what I want. I don’t want brands to get me because I’m just this person, and [then] change [my] branding. You get artists because you like their branding and you like their personality,” she shares.
Nadine’s honesty has only earned her more fans, who call the outspoken celebrity their “President.” “Before, it was so weird to me when people started calling me President. But I guess now, it’s just fun na lang. I find it very flattering, because it makes me really happy that people appreciate me for who I really am, and not for who they think I am,” she reflects, adding, “I’m very outspoken, I say what’s on my mind, I do things that I want to do, I don’t really follow a mold anymore. For people to kind of celebrate that personality of mine is something that I’m grateful for. Not everyone can do that. Not everyone can say whatever the f**k they want on Twitter… and I’m very, very lucky. I don’t know how it got to that, I don’t know why people like it, but I guess people want to see something real, [and] that’s something I strive to be.”
And who is the real Nadine? Someone who has a huge heart for the world and uses her voice for the important, even difficult, conversations to have. “I like standing up for what I believe in because I know it’s for the good of everyone, or for the world…I just want to see the world become a better place, and whatever I can contribute, I will. But at the same time, I do know I haven’t given my 110% yet. I’m still trying to figure a lot of things out. But I’m happy with all of the things I’ve done so far when it comes to helping. To me kasi, I wouldn’t want anything else but to see everyone okay and to see the world — I mean, live in a good place with good people and everything is just good. That’s what I want in life, I don’t want anything else. It sounds so selfless, but it’s just what I want,” the actress explains.
Hence, the actress wants to do whatever she can — including using her voice and platform for the better. “My YouTube is going to be a lot of that. A lot of the things I believe in, with the environment, with mental health, and with the animals as well. I just really want to see the world become a better place. It sounds impossible and too good to be true — I know it sounds like such a cliché for a celebrity to want a better place [to live in], but I see the world and I see everyone else as myself. And wanting that for the whole world, that means wanting it for myself also. So with that selflessness comes self-love as well,” she shares.
As for us, we can’t wait to see what comes out next from the one and only President.
Rain Matienzo has lit up TikTok screens with her funny and entertaining conyo girl personas — from the best friend your boyfriend told you not to worry about, to Trophy Wife and her antics with son, Iñigo. Smart and beautiful, the UP Diliman Broadcast Communication alumna (she graduated cum laude!) certainly had several bright prospects ahead of her: From pursuing medicine to becoming a news reporter.
“When I was in high school, I wanted to be a doctor. But people around me convinced me to take up [Communication] because it's something that they see that I'm good at. When I was studying [Broadcast Communication], I really enjoyed a lot of the different facets of it being behind the scenes and being on camera as well. I wanted to enter news and public affairs. That was the goal. That was the college dream, which sometimes I still wonder about,” she tells Cosmo.
But with a knack for being an on-screen talent and a passion for creating engaging content, it only seemed like the natural transition for her to enter showbiz — something she realized in her journey as a TikTok creator.
“I feel like the beauty and the secret to content creation and being good at it is to, first and foremost, entertain yourself, because that sparks joy. And that will help you churn out a lot of content if you enjoy what you're posting. When I started getting brand deals in 2020, I spoke with one of my longtime friends who manages a social media creator. And she asked me, ‘What's your goal? Why are you in this space? Why are you posting content?’ And that made me think so I thought to myself, I want to be an artista,” she shares.
With an unconventional start in showbiz, Rain admits she felt insecure at first — at 21, she was older than her batchmates at Sparkle GMA Artist Center and was a proud morena amid a sea of fair-skinned beauties.
Yet after a string of best friend roles, Rain made waves when she played Salome in GMA’s Maria Clara at Ibarra, where she was able to showcase her acting range and even provide representation to those watching her. “Being a morena, I don't see a lot of people who look like me in the industry. [Playing Salome made me realize] oo nga no, why can't I be just normal-looking on the screen? Salome was such a beautiful person but so simple.”
These days, Rain embraces her space as a dusky beauty in the industry, and one with a unique journey and a powerful voice to share. She looks at her position as an artista to influence and empower people with her individuality. “When I came to terms with the fact that that journey is unique, I looked at how I could influence people with what I already have learned and what I can add to the space. I'm someone who is called to empower people in the industry or even people who want to enter the industry and break the misconceptions about that as well,” she shares.
Samantha Lee is certainly one of the most visible filmmakers bringing queer narratives to the forefront. Her breakout film, the 2016 Baka Bukas, shed a spotlight on three-dimensional characters, complete with flaws and quirks, amidst the backdrop of a lesbian rom-com. “I wanted to make films that would make the younger version of myself feel more comfortable with who they were. But at the same time, I wanted to make films that show LGBTQ+ characters that weren’t punchlines to jokes in the background, and I wanted to show them as fully-formed, flawed individuals, because I felt that a lot of that was lacking in local media,” she tells Cosmo.
Yet even as Baka Bukas reaped accolades and led to other successful showings such as Billie and Emma (2018) and the mini-series Sleep With Me (2022), Samantha does believe that some strides have been made in LGBTQ representation, although there is room for improvement. In my first film Baka Bukas, there's this scene where [Jasmine Curtis-Smith’s character] was pitching a lesbian show. And a lot of the things that were said in that scene were things that I [heard in real life].”
Samantha shares that making films with the narratives she wants to tackle continues to be an uphill battle, even after she’s made award-winning work. “Even now, I'm trying to make my third film and I still get managers saying, ‘Oh, you can’t cast her because she's not gonna play [a gay woman]. So it’s funny, because people say, like ‘Oh things have improved.’ But that’s not my reality.”
The director honestly highlights the systemic problems that need to change in the local film industry to see more queer narratives on more platforms. “A lot of responsibility is being put on the singular creator, which is true — we should be responsible for the work that we put out. But I think that bigger pressure should be put on production companies, as well as ourselves as audiences as well. As audiences, you [also] need to put your money or your clicks or your views into things that you want to see more of.”
Still, the filmmaker pushes on — a third film is in the works, and Samantha takes the opportunity to tell diverse stories while normalizing queer experiences. In the mini-series Sleep With Me, which starred Janine Gutierrez and Lovi Poe, she shares that she has enjoyed seeing a broader set of viewers relate to the show’s characters, reflecting the universality of their experiences. “That’s what one of the things Sleep With Me afforded me, a more general audience. If when I was growing up, kinikilig ako kay Marvin and Jolina, what’s stopping this generation from seeing Janine and Lovi on screen and not getting kilig?”
While Isabelle and Ava Daza have their beauty queen lineage and impeccable style to thank for being in the public eye, the sister act added natural wellness brand entrepreneurs to their list of accomplishments after launching Jellytime — a natural, water-based lubricant with a hypo-allergenic formula that was fragrance-free and paraben-free.
Jellytime was conceived when Ava made Belle, who was already married, try lube for the first time a couple of years back. While Belle was initially not into the idea, Ava slipped a bottle into Belle’s bag anyway. “I had never tried it before and I loved it!” Belle shared. After using it, Belle asked Ava if there was anything on the market that was made with cleaner ingredients. This led Ava and Belle to realize that there were so many other people who didn’t know how lube could do wonders for their sex lives. “Our goal for the brand was really simple: Make everyone's sexual journey more pleasurable,” Ava says. According to Belle, it took the sisters 18 months before they were able to create a formula they were proud of.
Launching a lube that was good not only for sexy times but for the body as well led the sisters to simultaneously launch The Sexytime Podcast, a safe space to talk about sex and sexual wellness so people can safely explore their desires and sexual health.
When it came to finding a co-host, Belle only had her sister in mind. On their dynamic, “Ava and I fight and argue a lot! But we also talk every day and every minute of the day so that explains a lot,” Belle quips.
“It was [Belle’s] idea to come up with the podcast about sex and pleasure. She'd asked to do a podcast before but she didn't know what to talk about and then decided it would be cool to make it about something so taboo. Initially, it was just going to be her doing the podcast but she felt it would be good to add me on because I'm more curious and open when it comes to sex and pleasure,” Ava shares. The two would crowdsource their topics for people’s most burning questions, who would then DM them, sometimes anonymously.
“It's so much fun to read through all the messages because people feel comfortable enough to open up to us, which is the whole point of the podcast, so it's a great feeling to be able to tackle real-life issues and concerns. Our goal for each episode is to always walk away with at least one key insight that can help our listeners,” Ava shares.
That said, Belle says their podcast is still constantly trying to push against the country’s stigma of talking about sex and sexual health issues openly. “I still see people squirm and get really uncomfortable and almost cringe when I say we have a podcast that talks about sexual wellness or we own a brand that falls under that. I think what people need to realize when we say sex - it's not just the ‘act of doing it’ — it's more about learning about sexual wellness and your overall sexual health, which is essentially learning about yourself. I think it's also a form of empowerment,” Belle shares.
Despite its saucy themes, Ava shares that The Sexytime Podcast talks about a lot more than just sex. “We also talk about sexuality and lots of things fall under that, sexual health, reproductive health, values like consent and respect, communicating in a relationship, it's a lot of things that are relevant to every human being but no one really wants to talk about. For us, it's important we talk about this and be more open so that we know where we stand on these matters, what we need to watch out for, and how to make more informed decisions about our bodies and our relationships. The more we know, the more empowered we are,” she says.
This also translates to how they launched Jellytime — after all, sexual wellness is still wellness, and caring for your sexual health needn’t be a dirty little secret. “We wanted the person who owned Jellytime not to have to hide it in a drawer secretly, [like] in a sock, or in their bathroom up on the top shelf! So we designed something that we thought could fit perfectly into your toiletry case or bedside table that wouldn’t be embarrassing if anyone saw it,” Belle explains.
And for two sisters to empower people to take charge of their bodies and health, we couldn’t agree more.
Like many others during the pandemic, director Antoinette Jadaone was not spared from the podcasting bug. She and filmmaker JP Habac host Ang Walang Kwentang Podcast, a humorous show where she and JP talk about filmmaking and anything under the sun.
The acclaimed director shared the podcast was born simply out of a need for a creative outlet when cinemas were closed and filmmaking was practically near impossible at the time. “When I started the podcast, it was just really another opportunity to be creative. When we started the podcast during the pandemic, walang way gumawa ng pelikula, hindi pwedeng magshoot, walang sine…parang nasa loob lang ng bahay, no way para ilabas yung creative juices mo, yung podcast yung avenue to do that.”
What was simply another way for the director to be creative ended up resonating with many as the podcast’s community, Ang Walang Kwentang Podcast After-Podcast Tsikahan, racked up over 75,000 members on Facebook. The group even has its own Discord channel, where members have grown beyond meme-sharing and humorous postings to providing real community support and shedding light on important issues.
“Nagulat kami ganoon yung naging effect ng podcast, admittedly, hindi naman ganito yung objective namin. But I guess ganito yung naging natural tendency ng mga bagay, when people find something in common and they feel like they have found a community, they become more open to sharing their problems,” Antoinette shares. “Sa Discord namin, merong nagwoworkshop about SOGIE, merong lawyer na nagbibigay ng advice… it becomes more rewarding when things go that way na hindi pinlano.”
This has inspired Antoinette and JP to create a series called Ang May Kakwenta Kwentang Chika — if the Ang Walang Kwentang Podcast discussed anything and everything that kept people entertained, this series shed light on pressing everyday concerns such as mental health and LGBTQIA+ issues. The director shares that they now acknowledge the influence and reach the podcast has. “Akala namin dati, ‘ay, walang kwenta lang talaga ito.’ So ngayon nagiisip na kami ng mga ways na…alam namin may influence na yung podcast eh. So it starts with self-awareness of that and acknowledging that kind of influence na may kaakibat na responsibility,” she shares.
This effortless self-awareness is also seen in Antoinette’s work as a director, where her films have all featured strong, independent women in the lead, a decision she said she made unconsciously. “I grew up in a family na alam kong babae, strong [and] independent women. ‘Yun yung picture ko lagi ng isang babae — nanay ko, mga tita ko, mga barkada ko noong high school, college…mga umiibig, mga tanga din sa pag-ibig, pero strong and empowered women...ganoon yung environment ko, so unconsciously ganoon yung nasusulat ko kasi sila yung babaeng alam ko. Hindi nageexist sa world ko yung weak women.”
It’s also through her films that Antoinette is able to challenge the notions of being a woman especially around the tropes of love, heartbreak, and romance. “Sino ba yung weak women? Kapag umiyak ba weak na? Kapag ginago ka ng lalaki weak ka ba? Hindi naman diba? Nagmahal ka lang pero di lang naman yun yung facet mo as a woman,” she asserts.
Miss Trans Global 2020 Mela Habijan is today one of the most visible figures not only of the Filipino trans community but of the LGBTQIA+ sector, as she continues to shed light on LGBTQIA+ rights and welfare.
The content creator and public speaker is not one to give up even when the world says no to her. Joining the Miss Trans Global pageant was born out of a long-held dream. “I’ve always wanted to be Miss Universe. That’s basically it — a trans woman dreaming of becoming a pageant queen. I tried out joining Miss International Queen, submitted entries, failed to get in, but when I came across Miss Trans Global, I just told myself, ‘Submit.’ Firm believer ako that you need to try for it to happen,” she tells Cosmo.
When Mela was accepted into the pageant, she knew this was her chance to break the barriers and compete her way to the crown. “When I got in [the pageant], I just told myself, this an opportunity for you [to let the world see] what a beautiful trans Pinay can do. After all, I’m representing trans Filipinas who do not fall into the mold of a beautiful trans woman. I transitioned late, and to some I’m not soft enough, I’m not feminine enough. [They say] I need to go through surgery — my voice is different and sounds like a man. I carry these things with me during the competition so that there’s another dimension of what a trans woman is and should be,” she shares.
Today, Mela is making waves as a content creator — but she does so in order to speak to LGBTQIA+ kids and give them a role model that she did not have growing up. “Growing up, I looked for role models that could help me appreciate my life even more. Identifying as a gay man, it was so hard to be feminine and to embrace that femininity. Sabi ko, ‘Hindi ako bakla eh.’ I am a woman within. So when I saw my friends transitioning, Janlee [Dungca] and Lui [Castaneda], they were my role models. I tapped into their strength. And I held onto it and said, ‘I can be happy if I’m true to myself.’ And if I had Janlee and Lui, other kids can have Mela. And I’ll take that crown to be that role model for them.”
Mela knows being a role model and a content creator for LGBTQIA+ kids to look up to is a huge responsibility, but it is one she readily accepts. “Every time I create content, I just want to make sure that I ignite hope in their hearts. ‘Pag napanood nila ako, sasabihin nila, ‘Pwede pala akong mangarap. Pwede palang matupad yung mga pangarap, gaano man sila kalaki. At pwede pala akong maging mabuting tao.’ Because I think the very first question any LGBTQIA kid thinks is, ‘Kasalanan ba ako?’ Because ‘yun yung sinasabi ng mundo. But as I create these videos, as I post on my socials and tell my journey and showcase the love of my family to me, sana makita nila na hindi. At maraming magagawa ang isang Filipino LGBTQIA and that includes fulfilling our dreams,” she shares.
Home Buddies founder Frances Cabatuando, best known to her three million-strong community members as “Mayora,” has had her life turned upside down after her Facebook group, initially meant for DIY lovers and home renovation enthusiasts, has grown far beyond that what she has expected. She shares a funny story that made her realize the impact and reach of the Facebook group she began during the pandemic. “Bumibili ako ng gamot, tapos credit card ‘yung ginamit kong pambayad. Tapos ‘yung pharmacist, parang biglang nahihiyang lumapit so nagtataka ako. Mamaya, binalik niya ‘yung credit card tapos tinanong, ‘Kayo po ba si Mayora?’” She tells Cosmo.
Indeed, being “Mayora” to a virtual community can be amusing and challenging, but at the same time — she recalls being asked by a member to sponsor a birthday cake for her child (“Akala ‘yata nila totoo akong mayora!”). But Frances recognizes that being a founder of a highly influential group comes with enormous responsibility, especially when millions of people look to you as an authority.
“Before, I thought influence was power because people come to you, give you gifts, invite you to events… but I realized it’s a responsibility. Some people will message me, ‘Mayora, nabasa ko ‘to, sabi ng kapitbahay natin nagwowork ‘to, hindi naman totoo. Nabudol ako.’ Now, I’m more careful. Everything that I will share — before kasi at the very beginning, basta may bago akong binili, post ko kaagad — now when I buy things, I will test it out first. If it’s really wrong, I’ll have to correct myself and make another post,” she shares.
Frances has also made it a point to make sure every question at Home Buddies does not go unanswered — even if it means she’s the only one responding to a post. “I really take time every day to answer questions. Find the posts na walang sumasagot, kailangan at least one sagot, kahit si Mayora lang nagreply, someone has to reply to someone’s question. Even if there are questions I don’t know the answer to, I will research or ask experts, or I will ask somebody — basta kailangan may sagot kasi these people took the time to ask [via] your platform. The least I can do is return the favor. I guess that’s why people stay in Home Buddies, because they know someone cares. Because you took the time to post or comment in the group, I will make sure you are included and heard,” she says.
Although Frances says she doesn’t let her group’s large following get to her head, she does recognize the power of having attracted and nurtured a thriving community. “What [the large membership] means is that people really want to improve their homes, because it means something to them. You only join a community of something you’re passionate about — either may kailangan kang malaman na sagot, or you like the people, or may nakukuha kang benefit out of it. What I’m proud of is that it’s not just a surge and [then] people left. I was able to sustain engagement. It’s not hype; it’s a real community,” she proudly states.
Home Buddies has certainly grown since its early pandemic beginnings, and Frances is proud to have ushered that growth. “[Home Buddies’ purpose] has evolved but it did not change. So there are just more add-ons. When I started it, it was more of a community for home enthusiasts to come together, discuss, share knowledge, budol finds, and tipid times. But now it has evolved into more than just the aesthetic part of it. Now you get questions on family, relationships, parenting styles, financing your dream home…it has gotten deeper, and there are a lot of different questions or topics, but one thing that I realized is that it’s not just you wanting a comfortable place. When you improve a home, you improve the lives of people. When you have an organized or clean home, hindi nagaaway yung family….people who are able to work comfortably at home, they are also more productive. It always has a bigger impact now that it’s a bigger community,” she explains.
*Answers have been edited for clarity.
CO-PRODUCED BY: Patricia Melliza
ASSISTED BY: Yssa Cardona
PHOTOGRAPHY: Andrea Genota
ART DIRECTION: Pau Moyano
WORDS BY: Sam Beltran