One would not imagine that before professional make-up artist and stylist Myra Bendaña went country-hopping in Asia with Louis Vuitton on her shoulders, the FHM Salon owner used to be a maid who was once denied of food when the family she was serving dined at a fast food restaurant.
At a coffee shop in Manila, I sat down with Myra, clad in a chic chiffon top and leggings from Forever 21. With humble disposition and cheery eyes, she told me the story of her life, about how she surpassed a life of pain scrubbing other people’s houses, not having the means to study college, of surviving on pan de sal the whole day while washing strangers’ clothes, of not experiencing basic amenities when she was growing up in Bicol, of serving as a maid for four years—and not surrendering.
“Minsan kumain mga amo ko sa Jollibee. Sila lang kumakain. Ang sabi, sa bahay na lang ako kumain. Nakaupo lang ako dun, di ako inorderan kahit softdrinks. Napaiyak ako sa restroom nun,” Myra says with no trace of hatred or grudge in her voice. “Paglabas ko ng restroom may 10 pesos pala ko sa bulsa ko. Lumabas ako, bumili ako ng mani. Pagbalik ko, inalok ko sila.”
Myra’s self-sacrifices started when she tried her luck in Manila after graduating from high school, working as a maid for 1000 pesos a month. “Malaki na para sa ‘ken yun!” says Myra who is now 32. What’s on her mind all the time was: “Unti-unti mapapagawa ko na bahay namen. Makakatulong na ko sa pag-aaral ni kuya para ‘pag natapos siya, ako naman.”
“Gigising ka nang maaga, maglalaba ka ng sandamakmak, gamit ang kamay na nagkanda-sugat-sugat. Sobrang laki ng [bahay na] lilinisan,” she narrates. Fatigue and homesickness troubled her, but she did’t let her family know about this. “Ayoko ng nag-aalala sila. Ang lagi ko na lang iniisip, matapos ang isang buwan para makuha ko sahod ko at makapagpadala ako.”
The life she left in the province wasn’t kind to her either.
She says she barely used bath soap and shampoo when she was a kid because they used detergent soap in bathing. When she was in high school, she had to walk a kilometer to reach the school and she only had one set of uniform and a pair of old shoes from relatives in Manila. The make-up artist adds, her mother could not afford to buy her a complete set of notebooks, let alone talc powder.
She recalls, “walang kuryente, walang banyo, wala pang sasakyan gaano noon. Buhay probinsya. Bundok, dagat, bukid at gubat— yan ang mundo ko.”
As the only daughter among four siblings, Myra was expected to enter a married life instead of work. “Di ako sang-ayon sa tatay ko, kasi alam ko ang babae dapat nagtatrabaho din.” And so off she went to “greener pastures,” landing as a maid in different households including that of a relative.
Driven away by extreme labor conditions, she left her job as a maid and spent countless hours applying and training at an agency that sends workers to Japan, with high hopes of giving herself and her family a shot at a better life.
In 2002, she went home eventually. “Umuwi ako sa Pilipinas na walang-wala.” She had to live on 100 pesos weekly, eating pan de sal for breakfast and lunch every day, and doing others’ laundry to earn a little. That time, she had a child out of wedlock.
She went back to Bicol to give birth to her angel, further draining the little money she had. Thus, three weeks after, she was on her way back to Manila in search of ways to earn, like serving as a billiard spotter at Bugsy and doing RTW buy-and-sell. Her sleepless nights and penniless days drove her to constantly look for countless menial jobs for the sake of additional income and new experiences that will change the course of her life.
One day, in 2004, she met somebody who learned about her struggles in life and who was willing to lend her a capital, at a time when her network was starting to grow.
Myra is a quick learner. With a leap of faith, the keen observer enrolled in a marketing course, and scouted for the right business that will give her a much-deserved break. The beauty industry eventually lured her.
In 2006 she opened her own salon in Cubao. How did she pull this off? Keen observation and hard work. She went to different salons to have foot spa or hot oil treatment to “survey” the best brands and practices. She read books and observed businesses. Then she found a spot along Aurora Boulevard and put together what she researched. When FHM Salon opened, it was an instant hit. Customer after customer came and whenever they would lack manpower, Myra would get down to her knees and scrub the customers’ feet or do their hair herself while chatting merrily with them.
Six months after the opening, she was able to buy a second-hand car. Now, the salon is 7 years old, and she has opened another, called Hairport@metro, in Metrowalk.
For someone who grew up in rural poverty and has nothing but perseverance, Myra is lucky to be gifted with people skills. Her PR is natural; people like to befriend her because of her pleasant personality, sincerity, and positive outlook in life. She can quickly pick up the ways and lifestyle of the wealthy and the influential, even being friends with those in business and politics, scrutinizing every detail where secrets to honest success may lie.
She expanded her network not because of greedy ambitions stereotypical of rags to riches stories, but because she is immensely interested and willing to learn from everyone, whoever you are.
“They teach me,” she says, “They are amazed where I came from, and I’m not ashamed of it.”
She’s travelled to Singapore, Macau, Thailand, Malaysia, Japan, Bali and Hongkong for leisure and business, but her feet remain on the ground, joking every now and then, and celebrating small successes and self-improvement. “Dati Secosana lang yung bag ko. Tapos naging Guess. Ngayon, Louis Vuitton na! (laughs)” she says.
Years ago, she was invited to teach personality development, she says with a shy smile: “nung una, nanginginig pa ako, hindi pa ako magaling mag-English.”
How did she overcome those years of zero resources and lack of education?
“Siguro natural na sa ‘ken yung mabilis matuto, matapang, at hindi sensitive, na kahit murahin, laitin at pagtawanan, di natitinag, di sumusuko,” Myra says. “Malakas ang loob ko, kahit di ko alam, inaalam ko yan. Di ko rin kinakahiya kung saan ako galing kasi marami ako natutunan.”
“Kailangan galingan para maraming reward. Dapat may commitment. May focus. ‘Yung pagod di ko iniinda,” says Myra who is sleepless from back to back projects these days. Asked what’s her formula for success, she thinks it over and says: sipag, abilidad at malasakit sa kapwa.
Myra’s own Before and After in photos:
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Written by: Ai Macalintal. Ai couldn’t stay in one place for too long, so she’s always walking, traveling or changing address. She’s been an editor in Singapore and has written for Aussie magazines, but penning stories about the Philippines delights her most.