Filipina single mother walks Berlin Fashion Show, wins major beauty pageants in Europe

Catherine Valdez is no ordinary beauty queen

Jennifer Leu-Yong

In her early school years, Catherine Valdez runs with the neighborhood boys playing basketball, wearing oversized clothes. “I was called an ugly duckling because I had dark complexion, I am tall, and too thin. I was bullied,” says Catherine. “I was also called other names like walking bamboo,” she adds.

Catherine Valdez-Grede on life lessons (Photo by Leif Santosso Knobbe, Berlin Fashion Week 2021)

Born and raised in Pangasinan, Catherine was a basketball player and didn’t really think she would enter pageantry and the modelling world but this 5’9” Filipina beauty also believes that what is for you will find its way to you. After she won a beauty pageant in her university in Pangasinan at age 16, she was discovered as a model by a known hairstylist in the Philippines.

Mrs. Euro-Philippines Universe 2019 Catherine Valdez-Grede wearing a gown by Benj Leguiab IV (Marc Driessen)

But her pageant dreams were cut short when she met a successful businessman in Germany, got married, and became Mrs. Catherine Valdez Grede. “I moved to Germany in 2002. I was just 19 years old, and we started to build our family,” recalls Catherine. Back then, she was approached by several talent agents, many times, but she turned them all down out of respect for her husband’s wishes. But a career sacrifice was not enough to keep the marriage going. Almost a decade later, it ended with a divorce.

As a Catholic Filipina wife who believes that marriage is sacred, Catherine felt like a failure. She suffered depression while pregnant with her second child. “I kept my divorce process a secret from my parents because the last time I told my father I had marital problems, he had a heart attack,” says an emotional Catherine. “I was in a dark place. I came to a point when I wanted to end it all. But then I thought about my kids, and that’s how I found the strength to not give up and instead carry on. When you are a mother, your kids become your life.”

Catherine with her son, Steven, and her daughter, Stella

In her life story, the chapter called marriage may have ended but it allowed her to open a new one with fresh pages to write on. Catherine started studying again. It was challenging, to say the least. She had to bring her daughter to school a couple of times when nobody was available to babysit. To earn a living, in between studies, she accepted modelling jobs. But these challenges did not deter her from fulfilling her many roles and dreams.

As they say, the heart wants what it wants. After repeatedly turning down offers to join a beauty pageant, she finally conceded and in 2015 she said “yes” to her “suitors”, the pageant scouts. Thankfully, she did. In that same year. she won a local pageant title. Four years later, she won more major beauty titles in Europe. Catherine made it to Top 22 in the Mrs. Universe 2019 held in Guangzhou, China where she competed against 93 other beautiful ladies from different parts of the world. “It was such an honour to represent the Philippines in the Mrs. Universe pageant and I was privileged to meet wonderful people,” she fondly recalls. Now, our Pinay Beauty, Catherine Valdez Grede, holds the titles Mrs. Euro-Philippines Universe 2019 and Mrs. Beautiful Woman Universe 2019. On June 11, in the Netherlands, she will be handing over her crown to the next Mrs. Euro-Philippines and then Catherine will be off to South Korea to compete anew for the Mrs. Universe title, this time as Mrs. Central Europe Universe 2021.

Catherine's pageant titles and awards, trophies, and crowns

Truly, this once lanky Filipina, ridiculed in her youth as a “walking bamboo,” has conquered her aggressors of old and continues to win many a European heart each time she sets foot on the runway. Catherine was the only Filipina to walk in the Berlin Fashion Week 2021, gracing the stage alongside international models.

Catherine Valdez-Grede at the Berlin Fashion Week 2021 (Leif Santosso Knobbe)

Last month (from March 14 to 20) at the Berlin Fashion Week 2022, Catherine took to the catwalk again, donning creations by Fashion Designers Alona Zozulia from Ukraine, Feeyaa Solty from Indonesia, and Cornelia Lautemann from Africa.

Berlin Fashion Week 2022 -- Model: Catherine Valdez-Grede. Fashion Designer: Alona Zozulia

Berlin Fashion Week 2022 -- Model: Catherine Valdez-Grede. Fashion Designer: Feeyaa Solty. Design collection: YB17 WEAR ART

Berlin Fashion Week 2022 -- Model: Catherine Valdez-Grede. Fashion Designer: Cornelia Lautemann. Design brand: CaPaLee

When asked if she has any insecurity for being different and being compared with other models, she responded: “Not really, but if there could be a source of insecurity, perhaps my stretchmarks. But then I realized that it’s normal. After all, those marks are reminders that I gave birth to two beautiful kids,” she says proudly.

With or without a crown, this Filipina single mom is a beauty queen inside-out. She stands up for causes she believes in and feels strongly about. Catherine is with the ASEAN Youth Organization PH contributing her time to her advocacy for Women and Youth Empowerment and focusing on raising awareness on relevant issues like bullying and mental health. “We believe in nurturing the future leaders of the next generation. It is important to help motivate our youth; make them realize their power in shaping the future,” she emphatically declares.

(Photo by Walter von Blöhm)

As a public figure, Catherine has quite a number of followers in her social media accounts and has released her own music video a few years back. When asked how she feels about people looking up to her and following her online, “It is so overwhelming especially for someone like me who during marriage didn’t have a voice, who isn’t allowed to make decisions for herself, and suddenly turned into someone who inspires a lot of people,” she said.

Catherine is currently working as a hotel receptionist. Asked about her future plans, she confided that she wants to put up her own Modelling School soon saying, “I want to focus not only on women who want to be models or future beauty queens, but on all women who want to work on themselves and gain self-confidence.”

After all that she’s been through, Catherine Valdez-Grede has proven to us that it does not matter how much challenges you face, it will always pass. “Life is always like that. You make a lot of mistakes but in the end, you learn something and grow from it. Instead of whining about your situation, stand up, face it, and go after your dreams,” advises Catherine.

*Contributing writer Jennifer Leu-Yong is the owner of Jennyralized, a digital-marketing and events planning company based in Switzerland focusing on Filipino cultural events. You can follow her on Facebook @jennyyongleu and on Instagram @jennyralized. Join her advocacy in supporting Global Filipino talents and share her stories.