CULTURE

Effem and fabulous: How my birthday shoot renewed my confidence

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With a little help from her friends, PR practitioner Alvin James Carino made her top model dreams come true in a birthday photoshoot. Photos by MIGGY BRONO/Courtesy of ALVIN JAMES CARINO

Editor's note: Alvin James Carino is a PR practitioner and all-around fashion gal.

A few days ago, Twitter announced that photo cropping on mobile is gone! I was so happy about this. Finally, pwede ko na i-maximize ang mga pag-aura ko as a six-footer na nagsusuot ng boots.

I have always loved fashion, and wearing beautiful clothes and posing for the camera is how I express myself as my alter persona, sexyhotJAMES. For the past year, I’ve been dreaming of more opportunities to wear clothes, and of course, be with my friends again. Dahil wala pa yang pagkakataong yan, sinabi ko sa sarili ko na I’m going to do something that will help me channel my creativity. What better time to do that than on my birthday, diba?

Noong 2020 kasi, my birthday happened on the exact day that the government announced the Enhanced Community Quarantine because of COVID. I remember on the night of my birthday, being out with my sister and my friend at a samgyupsal restaurant in Makati. Makikita mo talaga yung pag-transition ng masayang vibe ng Makati Avenue to a ghost town. Nagsasara na yung ibang establishments in preparation for the quarantine. Nakakatakot yung feeling. Sabi ko talaga na next year, babawi ako at dapat yung next celebration ko magiging masaya with friends. Sadly di pa rin nangyayari.

That’s why I decided that the next best thing to do is to do something that’s purely for myself. Having a photoshoot was actually inspired by celebrities like Andrea Brilliantes and KZ Tandingan who would do birthday shoots for themselves. For the longest time, sobrang frustration ko yang mga photoshoot na yan, bilang lumaki tayo sa “America’s Next Top Model.” Sabi ko sa sarili ko, as a proud gay, why not me?

"Having a photoshoot was actually inspired by celebrities like Andrea Brilliantes and KZ Tandingan who would do birthday shoots for themselves," says Alvin. Photo by MIGGY BRONO/Courtesy of ALVIN JAMES CARINO

Once I decided on finally doing the shoot, I really took part in the entire process. For the pre-production, I sent the team my pegs — editorial shots from different celebrities na gusto ko. I sent photos of Jisoo and Lisa from Blackpink and yung shots ni Janine Tugonon, Miss Universe-Philippines 2012. For the first layout, we went for light and pastel colors. Very girly vibe. I wanted the opposite for the second layout: a dark, fierce, and edgy look na girl boss. As for the clothes I wore, I was so happy to finally wear the clothes that I got from an online shop. I was happy to buy from that shop because they actually have sizes for plus size people like me.

I’m really lucky that I had a good team behind the shoot to help me. They’re actually my friends who lovingly did this for free. I was so honored na si Kuya Mycke Arcano, a well-known celebrity hairstylist did my hair. He also invited me during his own 25th birthday shoot, and it’s nice that he got to be part of mine. Miggy Brono was the photographer, and Albrenn Malinao was the makeup artist for my shoot — two people that I also met for a Pride Month shoot back in 2019. I remember pa for that shoot, gusto nilang vibe was Patrick Starr with the pa-turban kasi ewan ko ba, sabi nila kamukha ko daw siya!

"Hindi ko ma-describe yung feeling when I hit the “post” button on Facebook. Basta sabi ko, it’s my birthday, and at the same time, I wanted to show the world — or the universe, rather — na I am unique and I am beautiful." Photo by MIGGY BRONO/Courtesy of ALVIN JAMES CARINO

When we finally did my shoot, we were really careful of course about the health and safety of the team. Everyone had masks on, and we were all tested before coming in. Sobrang ingat namin. I knew the risks that came with what we did, and I’m so thankful that they helped me achieve this dream. It really meant a lot to me, because when I saw the photos, I actually cried.

I was with my friends at that time when I saw the photos. I swear, for a while nasabi ko sa sarili ko na ang ganda ko. Para akong cover girl sa isang high fashion magazine. To be honest, kinakabahan ako, baka sobrang trying hard ng shoot. But it actually went so well. Sobrang ganda ng output.

Hindi ko ma-describe yung feeling when I hit the “post” button on Facebook. Basta sabi ko, it’s my birthday, and at the same time, I wanted to show the world — or the universe, rather — na I am unique and I am beautiful. I wanted to tell everyone that no one should take that away from you. Parang coming out ko sa mga utaw* kahit na alam na nilang bakla ako.

I think a lot of effeminate queer people will agree na kami yung spectrum ng LGBT community na madalas disregarded by others. Oftentimes we’re deemed as “too effem” and masyadong malambot. O di kaya masyadong loud daw kami in the community. I remember there was one time that I tried a gay dating app, and lahat ng nakuha kong remarks ay “Not interested,” “sorry, not into malambot,” or “discreet ka ba?” Sobrang disappointing. Mayroon ding times na you’ll be discriminated against because of how you express yourself based on how you dress. Napaka-backwards pa talaga ng mga tao mag-isip, at nakakalungkot.

" I was so proud when my birthday shoot went viral on Facebook dahil para sa [akin], it means that there are people who do show support for us effeminate gays who just want to show the world who we really are." Photo by MIGGY BRONO/Courtesy of ALVIN JAMES CARINO

Alam kong hindi mababago yung mga ganyang behavior at pag-iisip overnight. Malayo pa talaga tayo sa pagiging progressive pagdating sa LGBT community dito sa Pilipinas. But I was so proud when my birthday shoot went viral on Facebook dahil para sa [akin], it means that there are people who do show support for us effeminate gays who just want to show the world who we really are.

Ang wildest dream ko ay someday magkaroon ng billboard sa may Guadalupe along EDSA — isang six-footer model na uma-aura in my boots. Who knows diba? Because of my birthday shoot, I am more confident now. And may igaganda pa pala ung mukha ko!

At dahil pangarap ko rin rumampa like our beautiful Miss Universe queens, I would just like to end this with my own beauty queen statement: In a society that tries to take away your power, this is how you take it back — by celebrating and embracing your individuality.

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*another term for 'tao'