If beauty exacts a price, Binibini Gandanghari—BB for short—is willing, and determined, to pay for it.
As everyone who follows showbiz goings—one knows by now, BB is the gorgeous gal who rose, phoenix-like, from the figurative ashes of the actor formerly known as Rustom Padilla, ex-husband of Carmina Villarroel and younger brother of uber-macho man Robin Padilla.
Nope, Rustom didn't undergo a sex-change operation, also known as gender-reassignment or sex-reassignment surgery. Nor has he gone to court to have his sex or gender legally changed to female in official documents. But he has unilaterally declared that Rustom Padilla is dead, long live Binibini Gandanghari—and BB shall therefore be referred to from here on by the pronouns she and her.
Ever since the "demise" of Rustom Padilla, the lady currently known as BB has had to work real hard to be true to her new incarnation.
Take those eyelash extensions, for example. Not only is the process of getting them laborious and time-consuming (it takes around two hours to attach, with a bonding agent, some 25 to 40 individual hair strands to one's own lashes, to achieve that gorgeous, wide-eyed look), it also has to be re-done every two weeks!
And since it's taking forever for her hair to grow long, BB has had extensions done, too, in order to enhance her mane, which she usually wears clipped in a mussed-up bun. Then, there's the—ouch!—waxing that needs to be performed on a regular basis to remove body hair as well. "All over," she reveals with a laugh.
In New York City—where she recently spent three months, including the Christmas holidays, mostly holed up in a friend's midtown condo unit—BB spent some time having dinner or drinks with friends, maybe a cute date, at some Manhattan bar; or shopping at SoHo vintage stores; or taking in a few movies one after another at a cineplex on weekdays. But most of her waking hours were really devoted to the pursuit of...beauty, what else?
For starters, she sat in at a fashion school run by another Pinoy pal, so she could pick up valuable tips as she observed and mingled with the models. She did Pilates, jogged or walked around the block in the freezing cold as Andrea Bocelli's voice boomed on her headset, suffered welts and calluses so she could be glamorous in high heels, all the while subsisting on a diet of bacon and hotdog because, despite watching Rachael Ray's culinary show on TV, she didn't know how to cook.
That hiatus in the Big Apple yielded startling results where le physique is concerned. At 5-foot-11, BB now weighs 150 pounds and boasts a 25-inch waistline, enabling her to slip into a dress-size within the 2-4 range.
Remarkably, except for fresh juice at breakfast (a concoction combining apples, tomatoes, carrots, cucumber, and sometimes celery) plus snacks of banana shake mixed with peanut butter, she doesn't really watch what she eats, even now that she's back home in her leased Makati condo and has a helper at her beck and call.
"I read somewhere na parang when your body is craving something, that's what you need," she says. "So when I crave pork, I eat pork. Medyo malakas akong kumain, e. Mga two plates. Kaya lang, with brown rice."
Of course, the daily walking routine in the morning and afternoon, along with the stretching exercises, helps considerably: "If I can't go out, maski sa bahay ko, I would walk around my dining table for three hours! Para akong loka-loka. Hahaha." Soon, though, she may have to go to the gym so she can have access to a treadmill.
Lots of sleep is an absolute must for her: "Usually, I'm asleep by 11. Mahirap 'yong walang tulog. Nakakainit ng ulo." She hardly watches TV, believe it or not, and at bedtime she would rather listen to music (Dave Matthews, say, or Sting for chilling out) or read a book (fiction like The Little Prince, if not a celeb's bio).
Before retiring, just like in the morning, BB uses Shu Uemura cleansing oil on her face. She then puts on the same brand of night cream, switching to Crème de la Mer every now and then for variety. Under the sheets, she'll be wearing pajamas from Victoria's Secret, which is her choice for panties as well. She's always bra-less, though, because she doesn't like feeling constricted.
Upon waking up, BB reaches for the Bible. Every day, she takes a verse from the book Examining the Scriptures and meditates on the passage for an hour if she does not have to rush out for work. "At least, kahit ano'ng mangyari sa maghapon, nauna na ang prayers," she says. In fact, she considers the peace of mind that this practice brings her a beauty secret in itself.
IDENTITY CRISIS. More than the physical transformation, the New York sojourn marked a complete psychic shift from the past for BB, a process that took years of agonizing self-searching to achieve.
It was sometime in 2002, after sessions with a psychiatrist not only caused him added stress but also failed to make any meaningful difference in his life, that Rustom Padilla turned to God for help as he grappled with the weight of his identity crisis. He was then in the U.S., taking a certificate course in filmmaking at UCLA, the University of California, Los Angeles: "I was, like, kailangan ko ng strength, kailangan ko ng father, kailangan ko ng mother, kailangan ko ng friend." So he started to talk directly to Jehovah (that's the Old Testament rendering of the Hebrew name for God: YHWH, or Yahweh, meaning "I am that I am") and observed that things got simpler, easier, much better from then on, as a result of the personal relationship he cultivated with his Maker.
Rustom's moment of liberation came four years later, in 2006, when he made the emotion-wracked admission on national TV that he was gay. This was when he was a participant in the celebrity edition of ABS-CBN's reality-TV show, Pinoy Big Brother (PBB). Ironically, it also was to be the beginning of the end for the then 40-year-old former matinee idol and action star.
"After PBB, he was slowly dying, slowly weakening away," BB now acknowledges. "It's also in the Bible. You have to die to live again."
The roles that came Rustom's way post-PBB hewed to the new image created by his coming out. The most significant of these roles, the character of Ada, an effeminate beauty-parlor owner in a small town who is transformed into a super-heroine in the 2006 Metro Manila Filmfest entry Zsazsa Zaturnnah: Ze Moveeh, got him the Gawad Urian best-actor trophy, given by the elite critics' group, the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino. It was Rustom Padilla's first and only acting award in a movie career that started in the early '90s.
In October 2008, as if presaging the total turn his life was about to take, Rustom appeared as presentor at the Gawad Urian looking daintily, beautifully female in a long gown. "Parang laro lang, you know," BB relates. "But I was very happy doing it."
While Rustom was a God-fearing, courageous, and all-around good person, he was also—unknown to many—very private, very shy, and, worst of all, a stressed-out worry wart. By contrast, the outgoing BB enjoys life by simply going with the flow: "I take each day at a time, I don't look too far ahead. Sabi naman ni Jesus, don't think about tomorrow because today has its own worries."
The biggest lesson that BB says she has learned from Rustom is to, as the Beatles song goes, let it be.
"Everything is for a reason so as long as you learn from it," BB says.
"Whether it's good or bad, you welcome it, and hopefully you become a better person. Just pray to God na tama ang desisyon mo, or pray to God to make you wiser so you can make the right decision."
Because of that relaxed attitude, the critics and gossipmongers don't faze BB anymore.
"Why pay attention to those people? I mean, there's so much in life, like, for example, 'yong mga positive. E, di, 'yon ang bigyan mo ng attention, di ba? So at least good energy lahat. What matters to me is how God sees me. As long as wala akong sinasaktang tao, wala kang inaapakan, wala kang niloloko. I think, dapat hindi ka naba-bother."
And so, one night, as BB tells it, Rustom let go of his material possessions, packing all of his clothes in suitcases and throwing away photographs—and quietly passed away in his sleep.
"He left peacefully because—alam mo 'yon?—nakita na niya 'yong sarili niya, and he just wants to rest, he just wants to mag-chill."
Even though there was a little bit of sadness, BB felt happy for Rustom at the same time, because she saw that this was what Rustom needed.
"What made it easier, I think, is parang nagawa na naman ni Rustom what he has to do. I think he did well also as far as kung anuman 'yong mga dapat niyang ginawa. Okey naman, wala namang regrets, nothing to look back to."
Thus did Binibini Gandanghari come to be.
She explains that the nickname BB stands for her motto: "Be all that you can be." It also happens to be, in the form Bb., the abbreviation of Binibini, the Tagalog word for the courtesy title Miss, besides constituting the famous initials of the "sex kitten" of the 1950s, BB, or Brigitte Bardot, the French answer to America's MM, or Marilyn Monroe.
Gandanghari, on the other hand, is the family name of a real person, a beauty queen from the University of Santo Tomas. BB says she took a fancy to the name because she felt it suited her perfectly: "Parang beauty king, di ba? So I thought of using it. I thought it's a good name."
HEART-TO-HEART TALK. In terms of psychological (as opposed to chronological) age, BB, according to herself, is very young. Why, she has not even turned 18 yet.
This, in BB's own words, is the girl's biography: "Born in the Philippines, raised by a single mom na very strong ang personality but very beautiful. Parang in-idolize niya 'yong mom niya. But she went to New York, parang rebelde, and tried modeling there, until she was able to do something for herself. And so now she's back, and now she's trying to make amends with her mother. Like that."
As a matter of fact, BB did have a heart-to-heart talk with her mother, the former movie actress Eva Cariño, widow of the assassinated labor leader and politician Roy Padilla Sr.
BB and Eva recently talked on the phone after she came back from a short trip to Hong Kong for an interview with the Asian Human Rights Commission for Gender Equality. The half-hour telephone conversation reportedly ended on a happy note, with her mother expressing support for her "sixth" child and both of them saying "I love you" to each other. And although, except for the older Rommel, BB has yet to talk to her other siblings—Robin, Royette, Richie, Roda, and, Rema—she thinks they, too, understand.
How about love?
BB went out on dates while in New York, true, but there's nobody special—yet.
"I'm not ready. I'm really just, parang—alam mo 'yon?—meeting people. Parang feeling ko kasi, commitment din 'yon, e... Alam kong it will take a lot of time, effort on your end. E, Diyos ko, my goodness, it's so hard. Minsan, hindi ka makapagtrabaho because in-love na in-love ka, di ba? I hope hindi sa akin mangyari 'yon."
So will she want to ever marry? If she loves the man, why not, she quips. And she ticks off the qualities she wants in her Mr. Right: someone tall, someone she can chat intelligently with, someone who can inspire her and whom she can inspire back, someone who can make her feel beautiful because he truly loves her. Rich, too? Not necessarily. But he should at least be able to support himself. And Mr. Right can be any nationality. What's important is what we Pinoys call dating, a.k.a. arrive, which can be loosely equated with charisma. So looks can be secondary.
Basically, a good, God-fearing man.
And does BB see herself as a mom with children? But definitely. She wants a family, a big one if they can afford it. "I don't wanna grow old alone, that's for sure," says BB.
Her plan for the immediate future is to continue acting as well as to try her luck at modeling. Towards this end, she did a fashion shoot with the Filipino fotog Xander Angeles in New York and is starting to compile photos for a portfolio. Writing her memoir or directing can wait. After all, BB's not even 18 yet! She can take her own sweet time.
It's an imperfect world, all right, with its constant challenges, but BB is in a happy place right this moment.
"When I was talking to my mom, I said, 'Ma, I've never been happier, so you should be happy for me.' I'm very at peace. I've never been at peace with myself, so now I'm seeking peace with my God."
To Binibini Gandanghari, most of us can only fervently say: You go, girl!