LOOK BACK: Beauty queens who’ve become Filipinas at heart

Voltaire E. Tayag
LOOK BACK: Beauty queens who’ve become Filipinas at heart
These foreign beauty queens captured the Filipino hearts during – and even after – their respective reigns

The Filipino obsession with beauty pageants is known all over the world.

In the past decade, the victories of Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach, Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray,  Miss World 2013 Megan Young, and many others have solidified the country’s status as a pageant powerhouse. But the love affair between the Filipinos and beauty queens is nothing new. One can even say that it is as old as the Miss Universe pageant itself. 

With an entire nation bewitched, bothered, and bewildered by beautiful women, Filipino pageant fans unabashedly show their admiration and hospitality for international beauty queens visiting the country. It’s no wonder that international beauty queens who have either competed in the country or visited are enthralled by Manila. These queens have called the Philippines their home at one point or to this today. Some say they are lucky to have found love and a life here. But it is also the Philippines that is lucky for having such amazing human beings, who happen to be physically beautiful, call our country their second home. 

Miss Universe 1952 Armi Kuusela, Finland

Miss Universe 1952 Armi Kuusela of Finland married Filipino businessman Virgilio Hilario after her reign. Photo from Miss Universe Organization

On June 28, 1952, 17-year-old Armi Kuusela of FInland was crowned Miss Universe 1952. To many, she is known as the first ever Miss Universe. During her reign, she visited the Philippines where she met Virgilio “Gil” Hilario.

It was a meeting that would change her life. 

What many forget or don’t know is that she is the first Miss Universe to resign. In what is a favorite Q&A question of choosing between crown or love life, Armi resoundingly chose love. A couple of months before she was set to relinquish her title, she resigned in order to marry Virgilio Hilario.

On August 20, 1953, she married Gil in a ceremony in Tokyo, Japan. They had five children. Unfornately, their love story abruptly ended in 1975 when Gil suffered a hear attack. Armi remarried 3 years later to American Albert Williams and moved to San Diego, California. 

The former Gilarmi Building (where Discovery Primea Makati now stands) is named after Gil and Armi. To honor this past, the lounge of Discovery Primea is named the Gilarmi Lounge.


Miss International 1960, Stella Marquez Zawadski, Colombia

BELOVED CHAIRWOMAN. Miss International 1960 Stella Marquez Zawadski would later marry Jorge Araneta and be in charge of Bb Pilipinas Charities Inc. File photo by Jory Rivera

The world now knows her as Madame Stella Marquez Araneta, the founder and matriarch of the Bb. Pilipinas Charities Inc.

Without her, the Filipino obsession with pageantry may not have escalated into the level it is at now. It is through her leadership that BPCI has produced 4 Miss Universe winners, 6 Miss International, 9 miscellaneous titles and numerous placements. Through thick and thin and the highs and lows of the Philippines’ participation since 1964, Mrs. Araneta has been steadfast in her dedication. It is probably the same loyalty and heart that’s the secret behind such a lasting marriage to her husband, Jorge Araneta.


Stella Marquez Zawadski of Colombia is the first ever Miss International winner in 1960. During her reign, Stella met a tall and handsome Jorge Araneta, who swept her off her feet. She finished her reign but did not waste time. Shortly after, she married her love and has since called the Philippines her home.

In the case of Madame Stella Araneta, maybe she has it all. As Miss Colombia, she was a semifinalist in Miss Universe 1960, won Miss International, and later found the love of her life. To this day, she is married to Jorge Araneta, has done extensive charity work through BPCI, and has helped empower and champion the Filipina since the 1960s. Maybe with Stella and Jorge, we can still believe in the saying “Happily ever afer.”


Miss Universe 1993, Dayanara Torres, Puerto Rico 

ADOPTED DAUGHTER. Miss Universe 1993 Dayanara Torres would become one of the beauty queens the Filipinos came to love. Photo from Miss Universe Organization

1994 was the second time Philippines hosted the Miss Universe pageant. But more than any of the delegates and winners from the pageant, it was outgoing Miss Universe 1993 Dayanara Torres who made an impact in the hearts of the Filipinos. She had a very successful showbiz career in Manila that spanned television shows showcasing her hosting and dancing skills. She even starred in blockbuster movies with the country’s top leading men. One of those on-screen romances translated into real life – a 4-year relationship with actor Aga Muhlach.

During Miss Universe 2016, Torres returned to Manila as one of the judges in the pageant, to the delight of many Filipino fans. Many were hoping that she would do a comeback in Philippine showbiz but nothing has materialized since that time.


Miss Universe Australia 1994 Michelle van Eimeren


She was definitely one of the fan favorites during Miss Universe 1994 despite narrowly missing the Top 10. She placed 11th overall. However, it wasn’t all a loss for this Aussie beauty. She lost the crown but won in love. Her future husband, singer Ogie Alcasid, was one of the talents featured during the pre-recorded segments of the Miss Universe pageant.

Two years later, they married and had two children. She also appeared in several movies while she was living in Manila.

Michelle’s marriage to Ogie has since been annulled and the two remain on good terms. She is now married to Mark Morrow. 


Miss Earth 2004 Priscilla Meirelles, Brazil


Priscilla Meirelles of Brazil possess a universal kind of beauty. So it is no wonder that she is a two-time international crown winner – Miss Globe 2003 and Miss Earth 2004. But beyond her physical beauty is a warm and charming personality that makes people fall in love with her – just ask Filipino actor John Estrada whom she has been married to since 2011. Based on her Instagram account, the title that Priscilla probably cherishes the most is being mother to their daughter, Samantha Anechka. 

Certainly, there are many more beauty queens who have done work in the Philippines or may have had a shortlived love affair with the country. But these queens will forever be a part of Philippine pageant history, having secured a place in the hearts of the Filipinos. – Rappler.com


Voltaire has 10 years experience in the fashion industry. He previously worked with a luxury clothing and accessories brand in Los Angeles, CA. He graduated magna cum laude from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, major in Fashion Design. He also holds a BS in Applied Economics and BS in Marketing from DLSU. He is now doing real estate but finds ample spare time to pursue his passions.

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