Joining beauty pageants was never part of her plan, but that soon changed when 17-year-old Mariah Queen "Aiah" Arceta won the title of Miss Silka Philippines 2018 last November 30, at Market! Market!, Taguig City.
The experience of joining a national beauty pageant alone was enough for the Cebu-based teen to reconsider her views about pageantry.
But was it enough to convince her to dream bigger and join Bb. Pilipinas next?
Aiah quickly answered, "One step at a time siguro.
"Pero marami sa friends ko nag-ask, 'Wow, for sure in the future, step up na game mo. Hindi na lang regional. National, 'tapos international na!'
"Sabi ko, 'Ay, teka lang, guys. Step by step muna.'"
The Miss Silka Philippines competition was Aiah's fifth pageant experience, but it was her first taste of what can be considered a major national pageant.
"I never knew that I would even be here, especially in Manila, kasi I thought about pageants, but I never thought that I would go big," she told PEP.ph (Philippine Entertainment Portal) early this month at the Summit Media Studio.
"I sometimes look at pageants for experience or a good way to boost your confidence. I'm very, very happy, thankful, and blessed."
When her name was called during the coronation night, Aiah could not believe it.
She continued, "When we were done sa pageant, 'tapos pumunta na kami sa hotel, super hindi pa rin ako makapaniwala.
"Super excited pa rin ako, overwhelmed kasi hindi ako makapaniwala, nakuha ko yung crown."
With the title, Aiah felt proud to give Cebu its first win.
"I am representing my city, Cebu, and it's the first for Cebu.
"Before puro runner-up daw, so ako daw yung una nakakuha ng crown.
"It feels so great."
Aiah is fully aware that some people still regard beauty pageants as nothing more than a superficial pursuit.
But the young beauty queen wants others to know that these competitions could also be a valid platform for them to voice out their own advocacies.
She remarked, "Yung iba kasi, basta marinig nila yung beauty pageants, parang plastik-plastikan lang.
"But sometimes, hindi naman nila nakikita, there are women who join pageants because they are truly advocating something or they want to inspire others.
"I don't think pageants are puchu-puchu lang or easy lang. Kahit anong mga pageants, you have to work hard for it."
Aiah is a proud advocate of breast cancer awareness.
She found her inspiration after personally witnessing people from her hometown mounting their own personal crusades, keeping their heads up despite their struggles.
She narrated, "I know people in Cebu. They inspire me. They are people I look up to kasi.
"They are very positive. Kahit ganun yung experience nila, they still manage to rise up above all things.
"Kahit marami na mga challenges and hardships na-exeperience nila, some of the women I know that have breast cancer still manage to be positive.
"That inspired me to advocate it."
Pageantry also helped boost Aiah's self-esteem.
She related, "Before, parang hindi pa ako marunong mag-present ng self ko to others. Hindi ko pa alam kung paano mag-act ng ganito kasi nahihiya pa ako mag-face ng crowd before.
"Ngayon, nade-develop naman. Minsan hindi na ako nagiging nervous and nag-e-enjoy lang ako sa stage.
"Before may stage fright din kasi ako. Nakikita ko lang yung stage na nginginig na ako. Ngayon, super enjoy na ako maging on stage.
"I feel more of a woman basta nagpe-perform ako sa stage. Feel ko I'm the boss of my own world... This is my time to prove to people what I can do."