In beauty pageant-obsessed Philippines, representatives at global competitions often face additional scrutiny by fanatical fans who follow each and every move of theirs.
Miss Philippines Celeste Cortesi learnt this when she was chosen to represent the country at Miss Earth 2018. But it was during the run-up to the Miss Universe 2022 pageant, held earlier this month in New Orleans, that the Filipina-Italian was really worked over.
Not long after she was crowned Miss Philippines 2022 in April, Cortesi, 25, was branded by some as not Filipino enough, and not the ideal candidate to represent the country. Born to an Italian father and a Filipina mother, she grew up in the Italian town of Parma and only learnt to speak English and Tagalog later in life.
"Some people told me that I'm not Filipina because I don't speak Tagalog, because I didn't grow up in the Philippines," she told beauty pageant enthusiast Luis Portelles in March last year. "I would tell them that what makes me a Filipina, first of all, is my heart. It is in my blood and I am a Filipina.
"And what makes me a Filipina are the values that my Filipina mum always gave me throughout my journey here. She always expressed the values of Filipino people, and those values have been with me up to this day. And that's what makes me a Filipina, a real Filipina."
Cortesi wasn't the first mixed-heritage Filipina to represent her country at Miss Universe. In fact, two biracial beauty queens have won the crown for the Philippines before — Pia Wurtzbach, who is German-Filipina, in 2015 and Catriona Gray, who is part Australian, in 2018.
Even newly-crowned Miss Universe 2022, Miss USA R'Bonney Gabriel, is Filipina-American.
Cortesi has said she has grown to embrace and be proud of her identity.
“Many people also try to tell me that I cannot go for Miss Universe because of my accent. And you know, for a very long time, I tried to fix my accent, I tried to remove my accent. But I cannot. I'm half-Italian, I grew up in Italy, and I'm half-Filipina as well," she told Portelles.
“So the message I really want to give is [to] embrace yourself, don't see those things as flaws or imperfections because these are what make you unique... Don't try to be someone that you're not."
Still, after failing to make it to the semifinals at the Miss Universe, the first time in 12 years the Philippines has failed to do so, Cortesi felt it necessary to reiterate her Filipino heritage following her return home this week.
"The entire year has been the most challenging, and yet most exciting time of my life. To represent my country, The Philippines, is my greatest honour," she wrote on Instagram, along with an artwork featuring her look from the national costume competition.
"I’ve always had the burning passion for my country, I was always very curious about the Philippines with its islands, people and culture and I will continue the pursuit of my Filipina Identity.
"I stand proud to be a Filipina," she added.
Miss Universe is one of the longest-running and most-watched beauty competitions in the world. The US has won the title the most number of times, with nine wins, while the Philippines has won the crown four times.
Miss USA Gabriel beat 83 other participants for the title at the 71st annual pageant earlier this month. She was crowned by the reigning Miss Universe, Harnaaz Sandhu, who was the first Indian contestant to take the title in 21 years, in 2021.
Scroll through the gallery for more pictures from the Miss Universe 2022 pageant