Meet Manisa Phongphrot. At 37, she’s no ordinary beauty pageant contestant. She’s had a career as a TV newscaster and model, she’s a single mom, and has made TV commercials for major Asian companies.
Now the Thailand native is a finalist in the Mrs. Universe Thailand competition, the final round of which is slated for May 30th. If she wins, she’ll go on to compete in Mrs. Universe 2017 in South Africa, receive 1 million baht (around US $29,000), as well as the longest shawl ever recorded.
But make no mistake, getting to this point has not been easy for Manisa, and the single mom has had her share of hardship.
The contest highlights the beauty, talent and achievements of women ages 25 to 45 who have families and careers. It also underscores a global trend of women able to maintain jaw-dropping physiques and beauty standards well into their 40s. The competition reflects a world where information shared through the Internet –like advanced workout routines and nutrition science –allows women over 40 to look even better, at times, than their college-aged daughters.
A few years ago, Manisa found herself divorced, with a 1-year old child to support and without an income.
Early on in her separation from her now ex-husband, her mother did not want to take care of Manisa’s daughter, so Manisa could not go back to work and was forced to live off her savings.
“That was a difficult time for me, because I quit my job since I had a baby. And I didn’t have any job or activities, and I just stayed home and took care of my kid. I had to think about how I would survive, so I started a business,” she tells Borderless News Online.
So she decided to start a business importing baby products from the United States.
“I didn’t know anything about doing business. None of my family does business. So I started reading books about how to do business online,” she says, adding that she imported baby products that were not available in Thailand.
Around two years ago someone asked her if she wanted to go back to work in TV news in Bangkok, as she had previously been a television newscaster.
“At first I was not sure if I wanted to go back or not….I wanted to go back to work on TV but I know working on TV I don’t have time for anybody, even myself,” she says, adding that her main concern was her daughter. “I didn’t trust anyone to take care of my daughter as well as I could,” she says.
She eventually realized, through the advice of a friend, that if she wanted to get back into the spotlight, she needed to just go for it and not wrack herself with worry over her daughter. Her friend told her “’Your baby will be ok, she has her grandmother to take care of her,’” she says, adding that finally Manisa’s mother had agreed to help care for Manisa’s small child.
But just when she went to work, her daughter fell ill and had to be hospitalized.
“In the morning I went see her in the hospital and I went to work and unfortunately the TV channel was very far from the hospital. And everything seemed sad and difficult, so I told my producer I could not continue, because I didn’t want to leave my daughter,” she says, adding that she decided to continue her online business and take care of her daughter until the girl was old enough to attend school.
During that time Manisa did some part time television work and modeling. But opportunity knocked once again when she found out about and entered the Mrs. Universe Thailand competition. Now she’s busy night and day preparing for the pageant.
That means she had to get in shape – and fast.
“When I first had my baby I was so out of shape. And I did not take care of myself so much. And I always hated exercise. In school my least favorite subject was gym. I always hated gym. But when I wanted to get in shape I realized I needed to exercise. So I started to Google about how to get in shape, what kind of diet to eat.”
She was able to get a six-pack in a three month period.
How did she do it?
Her primary motivation was her daughter, she says, explaining that around a year ago she got so sick that she couldn’t get out of bed and it was hard to take care of her daughter.
“So I realized, for my baby, I need to be strong in the head and also in the body,” she says.
When asked how she prepared mentally to get in shape, she says: “I had to have a goal. Without a goal, we don’t have motivation.”
So she announced on Facebook that her goal was to have a six pack within a three-month period.
Manisa has 4,000 followers on Facebook, and she felt she had to follow through with the plan, “or I would lose face.”
But that was not easy, and she had to be dedicated, eating mostly protein – such as pork, chicken and Greek yogurt — doing weights a few times a week and cardio every day, and not eating carbs after 6pm. She would allow herself a small treat, such as a piece of cake, once a week.
“Getting a six pack was not that easy,” she says. She added that many people get a six pack in six months, but her goal was to do it in half that time. Most important was eating healthy. “A six pack is made in the kitchen, not in the gym,” she says. She added that it’s ok to eat in the evening, but only protein, not carbs.
When asked her advice to single mothers who are having a difficult time, she says have a plan, but don’t worry too much about the future. And especially don’t worry so much that you are paralyzed with fear to the point where you won’t carry out your plan.
“Having a baby makes you change. Makes you have responsibility. Being strong in the mind and body is important,” she says.
At the same time, think positive, and continue to look straight ahead, she says.
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