Bernadette Belle Ong is a force to be reckoned with. For someone who is ambitious and works hard to make her dreams come true, Bernadette is a great portrayal of what a modern-day Cinderella would be like.
While most iterations of Cinderella focus on finding happily ever after with a fairytale romance, Bernadette has bigger aspirations than waiting for her Prince Charming. As Miss Universe Singapore 2020, Bernadette has learnt to manage expectations – that of her own and others.
For the video, Bernadette played up the contrast with the perfect crossover between edgy and feminine chic as she sports pieces from Onitsuka Tiger and local brand Mia Zhang respectively — transforming into an empowering modern-day princess. Of course, the highlight of her look is none other than her beautiful pearlescent Onitsuka Tiger shoes, which goes with both feminine and androgynous looks.
At our meeting, she shares fondly about her experiences in the US, where this year’s pageant was held in May. In her flaming red bikini, high boots, and a long cape that garnered international recognition — which she conceptualised and designed — the 27-year-old put our Little Red Dot on the global map.
“People didn’t expect me to win,” she says good-naturedly. “There was no sponsorship, no resources and no coverage… OK, I had one story that went, ‘Singapore beauty queen braves risks to take part in Miss Universe’. While the going was difficult because I didn’t have many options, I also didn’t have many opinions to weigh, hence I didn’t need to constantly second-guess myself.”
Candid and grounded, Bernadette doesn’t shy away from difficult or awkward topics. She mentions “relatively unfortunate encounters” where “our national costume was ridiculed”, and so “it’s a lot to rectify”. She is driven by the opportunity to help others see a different side of Singapore, for example, our creative industry.
Born in the Philippines, Bernadette has lived in Singapore since the age of 11. Her family – there’s dad, mum and older sister – are Singapore citizens while her grandparents still live in the Philippines. “Everyone’s very supportive. But my grandmother took a while to wrap around her head that I’d have to wear a bikini on stage!” she lets on.
Bernadette’s sights are cast on acting, something which she’s been trying since 2019. But with a new agency in the US, she’s hoping to establish a connection with Hollywood. All this is part of her endeavour “to upskill especially now there’s downtime”. She wants to host more often because it allows her to “bring people together”, and DJ, which she picked up recently. When we mention singing, however, she pauses and quietly musters: “No.” Guess we’ll leave that for another time.
She’s become even more aware of mental health since becoming Miss Universe Singapore.
“I participated in Miss Universe Singapore in 2019, during which I began to work with It’s Raining Raincoats. It seeks to improve the lives of migrant workers in Singapore through various programmes; one example was encouraging the public to donate their SingapoRediscover Vouchers to sponsor rides on the Singapore Flyer for the workers. By bringing them out of their dorms, I felt it helped to improve their morale and mental health.
“People need to feel connected with other people, but we lost a lot of that as cities went into Covid-19 lockdowns. While it is important to be vigilant about numbers, I’ve changed the way I evaluate the success of an economy. Last year, there were 452 suicides – the highest since 2012 – in Singapore, which said a lot about our mental health distress.”
She lives in Toa Payoh – not.
“Someone wrote that I stay in Toa Payoh. That’s so funny! I don’t know how that story came about! I’ve lived in different neighbourhoods in Singapore such as Serangoon but never in Toa Payoh. For the record, I live in Upper Bukit Timah!”
She doesn’t care for those who said she looked like a man.
“It’s an opinion, which doesn’t mean anything to me. I’m not hurt by it because I don’t believe it. Let me share this quote by American educator Bill Bullard: ‘Opinion is really the lowest form of human knowledge. It requires no accountability, and no understanding.’ This is the guiding principle for my IG, which I want to make safe and positive. It’s like office culture – you don’t want to allow negativity to fester. So while I agree that we can say what we like on social media, it was intuitive for me to delete such comments and remove negativity from my platform.”
She describes social media as a “double-edged sword”.
“I find social media very challenging. There are a lot of opinions so you must find your own voice. You also must be firm in your conviction; for whatever you post, know that you can stand by it. What’s great about it is, though, everyone can have a voice. For example, through my IG (@bernadettebelle), others could follow my journey as Miss Universe Singapore and offer their support.”
She didn’t get to keep her “Stop Asian Hate” national costume.
“You know, I left it in the dressing room, and it got cleared away!”
Shop the looks here:
Director, Editor & SFX: Junz Loke
DOP & Colourist: Caden Chang
Camera Assistant: Timothy Reyes
Creative Director: Windy Aulia
Hair: Peter Lee
Makeup: Manisa Tan
Brought to you by Onitsuka Tiger