I first met Myrza Sison at an event hosted by the French Ambassador in her residence. It was media night—before we went into stricter regulations once more—and I was enjoying the conversation with the fun and fabulous woman with blunt bangs, finding so many things in common with her.
It took me a while to put two and two together as while I was quite the voracious reader growing up, devouring books and magazines that I was probably too young to read, I often failed at reading mastheads and remembering bylines. I never missed a chance to read articles in magazines geared toward women and, as it turns out, Myrza was behind most of the ones I read in the Philippines. This, having worked for one of the country’s biggest publishing houses for 25 years. She was also editor of Cosmo, the glossy that basically taught me everything they refused to in Catholic school.
It’s interesting to note that Myrza grew up defying almost every expectation society had for her. She left a parent-approved career in IT to become a model. Then, she went on to be a writer and said no to motherhood while openly talking about putting her own desires first. In a society where women are often painted as meek and self-sacrificing, is there room to be selfish?
“Damn right, I’m selfish!” Myrza said over our supposed coffee date that we moved online. “That’s why I’ve had the life I’ve had. I’m selfish with my own desires.”
Women have options
When Cosmo launched in the Philippines in 1997, Myrza set out to give women something most of us didn’t know we had a lot of—options. Being a wife, a mother, or whatever society wanted us to be was not a requirement. Women were starting to realize that yes, we have a choice and there were so many ways we can live our lives.
“The magazine’s DNA has always been about female empowerment,” she said. “It always told women to go for it, be what you want to be. Carve a life out of your own identity and don’t become a mere appendage to a man.”
Over two decades later, despite the changes that came to our society, there’s still much to be desired. “I’d like to think that the work we did for women’s magazines wasn’t for nothing,” Myrza said. “But I get very disappointed whenever I hear young women, presumably the children of women of my generation, still being faced with the same dilemmas I faced so many years ago.”
From being slut-shamed to the pressures of marrying then having kids, the list is practically endless. Myrza’s advice? To make choices that fit your lifestyle, choices that make you happy. And the most important part? Be unapologetic about it.
‘I was catatonic for a while until I started thinking about that fun and fearless female in her 20s who left her career to become a model. Whatever happened to her?’
“I always knew what I wanted in my life. I always made my own choices and if there were naysayers, I always just laughed it off,” said Myrza.
People often say women who choose differently, especially those who opt not to have children will regret it but at 54, Myrza is far from it. In a happy marriage with lots of possibilities ahead for her own career, this seems to be a very exciting time for her.
“Regret only comes when you’re not happy with your life,” she said. For Myrza, life has always been about working toward her happiness. After all, shouldn’t we be pleasing ourselves first before others?
Setting an example
That’s not to say life has always been perfect. Myrza credits her years of giving women advice to her own struggles. She’s had her fair share of relationship issues, going against what was laid out for her, and there were moments she doubted her own skills. Yet, self-reflection and time always brought clarity.
After over two decades, Myrza decided to leave publishing to pursue her other passions, proving that it’s never too late to do so. While the former model loves to joke about how models have an expiry date, it turns out there’s nothing stopping women from pursuing their dreams at any point in their life. “I want to write fiction,” she said. During the pandemic, she also found herself getting into podcasting, hosting “You Can Do This,” a podcast where she continues to give advice, helping young people navigate life.
“I learned the tech and went with it,” she said while admitting that she was intimidated by her own decision. “I was catatonic for a while until I started thinking about that fun and fearless female in her 20s who left her career to become a model. Whatever happened to her?”
When you look back, you realize how you can connect the dots. Why you chose to live your life a certain way and how that shaped your future. Myrza’s every choice only led her to happiness and achieving the goals she set for herself.
Like Myrza, I think I’ve heard practically every type of comment thrown at a woman who opts for something else, something different from what society wants her to choose. It can be a tough crowd but the more we learn how we shouldn’t be pleasing anyone but ourselves, the closer we get to achieving our own happiness, which in turn allows her to share with others what it takes to lead a happy, fulfilled life. “The more we talk about these choices, the braver other women will be to make a choice for their own happiness,” added Myrza.
Personally, I’m just so glad I read those magazines, even when I was told I was too young for them.
“I think you mentored a generation of women,” I told Myrza toward the end of our conversation. “In a way, doesn’t that mean you mothered so many of us?”