Iza Calzado on empowering herself and others

Published October 16, 2020, 7:12 AM

by Nikki H. Huang

It is in vulnerability that this passionate actor and Covid survivor advocates body acceptance, mental health, and self-expression.

In this edition of Alpas Filipinas, I sit down with a woman I’ve admired since the day we met and we had all but a few moments to say hello before going on stage to host WWF Philippines’ Earth Hour. A renowned actress, host, self- proclaimed dance enthusiast, and fellow WWF member, Iza Calzado spent precious time with me to discuss passion, self-expression, feminism, mental health, the many pressures women face in today’s world, and the love she never wants to forget. 

How do you describe yourself? 

Well, I am a human being, a woman, a loving wife and sister (or I try to be). One day I hope to add mother to that. I am an actress. Apart from that, I’d like to think I am a health and wellness enthusiast and body love/body acceptance advocate. 

What are you passionate about?

What am I passionate about? Food. Hahaha. I am passionate about expressing myself, hence I’m in showbusiness. As an actor, I’m always expressing, sometimes a little too much. I’m passionate about dancing, expressing myself through movement. I’m passionate about my loved ones. The things I care about also include nature. I’m still at baby steps there, we’re both with WWF and I still feel like I need to walk the talk. I need to do a lot more work for the environment to deserve that title. But then I have to catch myself and wonder, where does that feeling of not-enoughness come from? And yes, I’m passionate about body love and acceptance, and the root cause of that is mental health. They go hand in hand. 

Iza Calzado

I think so much of what you care about has to do with feminism, but not radical feminism, which is what so many people associate the term with. It’s a stereotype that should be corrected, and you do a great job of showing that women’s experience in the world is colored by a lot of policing. People are always telling us we should be less of ourselves, or more, that it’s impossible to keep up. You do a great job of balancing all these expectations and being your true self. It’s inspiring. It’s very central to who you are. 

I grew up with a mother who had mental health issues. The impact of that is very strong. It stays with you. I guess that is why mental health is very close to my heart. There are also personal things I go through myself. I recognize everyone has to grapple with something in their minds. You touched on feminism. When I first got in touch with SheTalksAsia, which is this women’s empowerment platform, it was a bit scary. When I thought of feminism, I would think about all these activists and I felt like I’m not that. I don’t see myself there. Maybe I’ll get there, but I’m a baby feminist. If you think about it, I could still consider myself a feminist. With my work on body acceptance, I still empower women in this aspect of their lives.

‘If I leave this world, I’d like to remember the love. Not the love of one particular person, but the love I’ve received from so many people. That is what I’d choose to remember.’

What have your biggest challenges been and how have you overcome them? 

We are shaped by society. A lot of the programming we have is passed on to us from generation to generation. As women, we are programmed and conditioned to be perfect. To be perfect, and pretty, and everything. From when we are young, we want to be everything. The number one thing we want to be is pretty, because it is the number one adjective that people dish out to girls. People praise a girl for being pretty more than for other things, like being athletic or smart. Guys are taught to be brave. Theirs is a different kind of pressure. For them it is to be strong, brave, and macho, and just not show emotion. Women, like us, we get so caught up in having to look good. Your weight and physical appearance can hinder you from being your best self.  Right?

The celebrity would usually do outdoor activities such as hiking before the pandemic (Photo by Hazel Olayres)

Absolutely. That’s so true. You make such an important point. Another woman in my life told me, “imagine how much time and energy you would have to pursue the things and people you love if you didn’t spend so much of it worrying about how you look, or how much you weigh?” And that stuck with me. You know how it is, as you’ve grown up with such a spotlight on you. Everyone has their own idea of perfect and wants you so badly to fit into their own definition of perfection. People forget we have a right to be whoever we want to be in the way we see fit. 

It’s so true, Nikki. And I have to tell you, to this day, I still sometimes catch myself. When I was younger, it would take days, weeks, months for me to pull myself out of the spiral. I spent too much time worrying about these things. We also have that fear of judgement. Of being judged for the way we look, dress…just a lot of things. My guru, Sarah Black, told me that: Where are you judging yourself from? How is that internal judgement a projection of how you think others are judging you? So basically, a lot of judgement comes from self-loathing. When you’re judging others, perhaps it’s because you judge yourself a lot. That’s something we definitely need to address. It’s a lightbulb moment, really, when you realize these things about appearance. But it takes time, and it’s okay if you’re not there yet. Catch yourself when you have your moments and know that you’re going to bounce back. 

What advice would you give to your 18-year-old self and other young people? 

To be honest, my 18-year-old self was far from who I am today. Not that I didn’t have a single dream or ambition, but I was a party girl. I had no drive to achieve anything, and it took an earth-shattering experience to snap me out of that. It took my mother leaving this world for me to wake up and realize, “What am I doing with my life?” I think my advice for my 18-year-old, insecure self is that you can dream. Hakuna matata, it means don’t worry. When you are young, you worry about the most minute things in life that you think everybody cares about and will judge you about. But no, everybody is busy doing their own thing. No worries. As long as you put in the work, including the inner work, you’ll be good. 

Iza does yoga for her mental and physical health

I like to look at the world and see that most people have good intentions. There are exceptions, but what is not so great on social media right now is that a lot of different groups are making it so hard for each other. We are going through such a hard time. There is so much uncertainty and doubt that I feel the internet has become a space where people feel they can’t speak up about causes they care about because they won’t do it in a correct way. Of course, it’s important to be correct, but right now, cancel culture is hard. But that’s why I was inspired to work on this series, to add something uplifiting and inspiring to the conversation.

Yes, you want to throw some positivity into the mix. It’s hard. I got canceled, before I got Covid! Did you know that? There was a post Ms. Lea Salonga made on Covid. It was relatively new in the Philippines, and I was sick in bed. I think my Covid was already starting. But I saw the post and it seemed very hopeful, so I wanted to view it from the lens of hope. How would this virus be a catalyst for change? But people misconstrued it. As someone explained to me, Twitter’s interpretation of what I said was the worst possible one. To the point that when I got Covid, people were happy. It was heartbreaking. I felt that people missed my heart, but to hear that people were celebrating because I was ill and down—I could’ve died—I just couldn’t imagine where all the hate was coming from. But that’s what made me realize, that this is the work we’re doing, all the light creators, all the people coming from a place of empathy and passion. This is the work we have to do. Engaging with haters from a negative place won’t do anything. We need to come from a place of love and understanding, and I had to try to understand and let go. But as a director friend of mine said. It’s a privilege to have hope.

Banner image by Hazel Olayres

Video by Noel Pabalate