MANILA -- Venus Raj is known among pageant fans as the Philippines' "drought breaker" in Miss Universe.
Since her fourth runner-up finish in 2010, the country has consistently made it in the Top 10, at the very least, highlighted by the title wins of Pia Wurtzbach (2015) and Catriona Gray (2018).
At the time, Raj was known for her 22-inch waistline. Fast forward to 2021, after years of being away from the limelight, Raj opened up about losing confidence to pose in front of the camera after gaining weight.
Sharing photos from her latest shoot, where she wore an intricately designed gold Filipiniana by Francis Libiran, Raj admitted being "conscious" about her body.
"You know that feeling when you can't do the things that you used to do excellently?" she began. "Let me explain to you what I mean by that. It's been a while since I did a photo shoot. Truth is I can't remember when was the last one. So recently, this shoot was organized. And we finally did it!"
"How did I feel? I felt so rusty! Lost the confidence to model in front of the camera. Was so conscious about my body because I gained weight. And a bit sad that I can't do excellently this thing that was so easy for me to do in the past," she added.
Acknowledging that what she went through is also experienced by many women, Raj used her wide social media reach to remind them that they are not defined by their bodies.
She encouraged them to eat nutritious food and exercise not to achieve a certain weight or look, but for their own health.
"Ladies, I feel you. But let us not allow others, and even our self-perception, to steal the joy in our hearts," she said.
"Let's live a healthier life. Eat healthy food. Exercise for the right reasons. Ladies, your worth is not defined by your weight!" she ended.
Raj has been busy with her studies over the past years.
After completing her master's degree in Community Development from the University of the Philippines in 2017, she graduated from the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics in England last June.