Last Saturday, March 18, Love, Bonito celebrated International Women’s Month with their “#LBConversationsPH: Femininity Is Power” panel at Yes Please, UPTOWN Parade. Parlon served as an event partner in an afternoon of insightful discussions, friendly banter, and pure girl power packed in one room.
Love, Bonito co-founder, Rachel Lim, welcomed everyone in attendance and gave an inspiring message that highlighted the brand’s mission.
“Here in Love Bonito, we believe that we’re not just in the business of fashion. We're ultimately in the business of women,” she shared. “And a month like International Women’s Month is so close to our hearts because fashion is just a vehicle to reach out to women. At the end of the day, what we’re truly passionate about is to really come alongside a woman in her journey to empower each other and encourage each other to come into their own.”
Part of the women-led panel were equally inspiring women in their own rights – Jessica De Mesa, Ceej Tantengco, and Antonette Aquino.
Jessica is the brilliant mind behind Kindred, a women-first, women-centered clinic that is among the pioneers in providing women (and those who identify as women) a safe, no-judgment space for their health and fitness needs. They launched just a little over a year ago, but they have already made waves in the local healthcare industry.
Ceej, on the other hand, is an award-winning writer and the host of Go Hard Girls podcast. Prior to these, she’s a sports reporter and a proud gender equality advocate. Her podcast is dedicated to sharing the inspiring stories of Filipina athletes, in hopes to make the sports scene better for women.
And with anything involving financial literacy, Antonette is one of the best people to turn to. She’s a multi-awarded financial planner and founder of Money Health Check, a social platform that strives to empower Filipinos in realizing their full aspirations in finance.
Healthcare, sports, and finance—all male-dominated industries, but these ladies are proving that women can thrive in any profession they choose, against all odds.
Admittedly, though, it wasn’t easy for any of them.
One of the struggles that Jessica faced (and continues to face) is finding investors who truly understand the struggles of women and why they have specific healthcare needs.
“I’m not going to lie, it’s very difficult and there are many barriers for women to get the same access. As a startup business, we have to make sure we manage our finances well…so that we can fund the business, fuel our growth, and put out better services faster and more aggressively,” she shared. “What I’ve noticed is, especially for venture capitalists, they don’t understand the pain points of women. They’re not used to working with women founders. At the same time, there are less women who are encouraged to take the lead and dive into entrepreneurship because we're not usually incentivized to do that.”
Still, Jessica continues to walk her own path and enjoy her femininity as she does. She used to try to blend in, wear more “serious” clothes, and deepen her naturally high-pitched voice in order to be taken seriously, “I had to blend in. And it took me far, but only to a certain extent. Now that I’ve learned a lot by discovering myself and exploring my own wants and needs, it felt freeing when I wanted to wear a pink blazer in a room of all-men investors. I didn't care.”
Because she used to be a nurse, being caring and gentle are her two strengths. But in our society, those qualities are often equated to being weak.
She added, “I think a lot of women are discouraged to show that side of themselves, the soft side, because of the negative stereotypes around being soft, which is typically perceived as weak. But now, I've learned that it's actually my strength. If I speak in a tiny voice, I don’t care; what matters is what I'm saying.”
For Ceej, it was the passive discrimination she experienced as the sole woman sitting in a male-dominated editorial room.
She said, “I was very lucky in the early days because I was surrounded by amazing female bosses. But when I got transferred to sports, it was a shock. I was the only woman on the editorial team, I was the only woman in the broadcast, and all of my bosses were men.
“And so, as a young sports reporter, that's how I knew I wanted my advocacy to be women in sports and setting things right. What I realized was that there's passive discrimination. And the moment that you start pushing, you're going to need to meet that with active persistence.”
Ceej talked more about the discrimination that revolved in her industry. “I had an editor who cut my contract because I wrote an investigative article on how women were being framed in sports,” she said. “It was only when I was able to step out and get my own platform that I was able to set my own way of doing things and prove that not only is featuring women and covering them with respect viable commercially, it’s [also] the future. It's where we have to get. We're still seeing discrimination, but we’re also seeing a lot of progress, and that’s what we're holding on to.
“I think that when you feel like you're being disempowered, one way to take back control and feel empowered is to be an active participant in doing something to change it, no matter how small. Whatever change you can make in your day-to-day life, take that as a first step.”
And when it comes to people in finance, men are undoubtedly what comes to mind for most people.
“When you watch the media and you watch finance movies like ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ or ‘The Big Short,’ you see these old white men just dominating the industry,” Antonetted shared. “It really created a lot of preconceived notions about misogyny, about how women are in the finance industry.”
She added, “As a female, I would say women have to prove themselves more than men to get the same rewards. And in my beginning, I noticed that I had to work so much harder. A lot of them would sometimes associate female success to their appearance more than their abilities.”
Antonette further shared that despite all the macho and toughness required in her job, being vulnerable is what keeps her grounded.
“In my career, we’re always highly competitive. I always have to be at my a-game most of the time. But when I'm on stage and I'm giving a talk about finance to a group of mothers or construction workers, I position myself more as a teacher rather than a thought-leader that knows everything.
“So that requires me to share stories about my financial mistakes and that puts me in a vulnerable position. But what I've learned is that people value vulnerability because it's authentic.”
When asked what helps them grow in confidence, Jessica, Ceej, and Antonette all gave different but awe-inspiring answers.
“Continuously improving and having a great support system around you,” Jessica shared. “I think being brave and bold to put yourself out there is easier said than done. It’s a journey, so you need to discover your wants and needs. Lastly, self care. Don’t forget to take care of yourself. You can help more and empower more women when you're on top of your own.”
For Ceej, it’s endurance, “I think my biggest skill is endurance. I think if you want to make it, you have to have endurance. It’s a long stretch. We're not here to sprint; we’re here to run a marathon. Endurance is having that goal in your mind and accepting that this is going to come with challenges. There [are] going to be struggles along the way, but you decide, ‘I'm going to keep going, I’m going to get up everyday, and I’m going to keep going for what I’m dreaming of.’”
Antonette gave a short but meaningful answer. “At the end of the day, it's down to us and our self-talk,” she said. “What we say to ourselves ultimately makes the difference.”
And as a beauty and wellness platform that encourages customers to prioritize self-care and self-love, we honestly couldn’t agree more.