Karen Davila: Sexiest Woman Alive 2015
What makes a woman sexy? Any number of things, both physical and otherwise. A certain degree of self-possession, for one thing. Not to mention a certain quality that comes from being a certain age. A pair of red Jimmy Choo stilettos doesn’t hurt either. But what makes a woman not just sexy, but our choice this year for The Sexiest Woman Alive? Well, read on—and learn.
ESQUIRE: You’re our sexiest woman alive.
KAREN DAVILA: Am I really?
ESQ: Is it still a reality in the newsroom that a beautiful woman is not treated seriously?
KD: Well, I’m being honest when I say I grew up not believing and knowing I was beautiful. I consider myself maybe interesting, attractive, better on some days than not. When I have great hair days, yes, when I feel confident and fit or when I’m not bloated. But I really grew up not thinking I was beautiful, so I really worked on my personality more. I read more, wanted to be more articulate than the other girls, worked harder. I felt there were much prettier and more beautiful students than myself, especially in college. And I knew I wasn’t going to be chosen as a partner because I was extremely beautiful, it wasn’t going to work that way. Now is beauty an edge when you’re in the news or any other profession? The answer is yes. There are types of beauty that work in the news—it’s a beauty that looks smart, it’s a beauty that looks strong, it’s a beauty that’s not too overwhelming to the point that you’re not going to listen. Is it the one driving force to success in the news? The answer is definitely no. I think in the news, you appreciate a woman that is a bit of the total package. At least when you get her to host, to anchor, you want them smart and you want a very strong presence on air. That’s one. Are they taken seriously today? The answer is absolutely yes. Gone are the days when the news was essentially very male. You know when Diane Sawyer took over primetime of ABC solo, she was the first female to be solo in a number one network then. You have Katie Couric, who went from light to heavy, and that didn’t work out. ABC bet a lot on Diane Sawyer coming in for Peter Jennings. And now you have a whole new demographic. I mean women are in charge of the remote, there are women that earn much more money, women that are partners with their husbands, and frankly speaking, more women are empowered today, whether it's globally or even locally. Women are sexier because they do have a say in not just what to watch, but really, where their lives would go with their partner, or their husbands or their marriage. Unlike maybe many years ago wherein they just stay at home and bring up the children, I absolutely don’t believe that to be my case. It was never my destiny. You know when you’re young, pretty and cute, they tend to underestimate your intelligence.
ESQ: And they tend to put you in either showbiz or the weather.
KD: Yes, which is why you have to work harder, because, the bias exists but it does not mean that you cannot turn the bias around or prove it to be untrue.
ESQ: What do you say to the men who are intimidated by you?
KD: Are men intimidated by me? I’m not sure. I think they respect me.
ESQ: Okay, let's put it in general: What do you say to the men who are intimidated by women? Because of the qualities that you have just set out—that they are successful, intelligent and they have their own power. Some men don’t like that. They like their women…
KD: Yeah, submissive.
ESQ: As you’ve clarified to us in the first question, that no longer is the key now, but there is a sizable majority of men who still want their women to be that way. So what can you say about that?
KD: I’ve seen it, men tend to be insecure of successful women. Because the measure of their manhood is what they’ve achieved. It’s a very male thing. Achievement for women is important, but it’s second to the value of their relationships with people they love. It’s how women are built over how men are built. But I think it takes a real strong man to stand alongside, or choose a woman, or who gets turned on by a woman because of how she thinks. I think when a man chooses a woman who is mentally stimulating, and he respects the woman for her point of view and what she can bring to the table as an equal, that’s a strong man. That’s a modern man who wants a partnership. Wherein not one is above the other, but they both play certain roles to make the relationship work.
ESQ: But of course you don’t want a man who’s so under you?
KD: You don’t. And no woman would want that, I’ll be honest. A sexy empowered woman wants a man she can respect, and it’s not necessarily [because of] wealth. There are many women who choose to marry a man who is wealthy, but whom she does not really respect. You see that’s the weakness of a woman, they choose a man who can give her a good quality of life because she lacks the power to give it to herself.That is also not an empowered sexy woman. [If I were raising a daughter I would tell her:] First, take care of yourself. That’s sexy. Buy your own things! Don’t depend on the man to buy them for you. A woman has many needs. It’s a need for affection, a need for security that’s not necessarily financial, a need to be loved, to be taken care of, and you’re not able to choose the right one if the overriding need of a woman is a man who can take care of you financially. So I think a really sexy woman is one who studies, one who has achieved something for herself. It’s not necessary that she has to be rich, but with what she makes she can answer for herself, then the man has to be a plus.
ESQ: OK, he adds to the woman.
KD: Yes, he has to add to the woman. I believe a good partnership with a man and a woman is one that challenges you to be better, one that stimulates you not just sexually, but intellectually, stimulates your mind, your soul. I mean it does not happen in most marriages, it’s a challenge in everyday marriage and in everyday life and I need you to put that there. But you need a partner at least, that will say, you know what, my partner can stand on his own or she can stand on her own, so you know I want to be my best self in this relationship.
ESQ: You don’t want a needy man.
KD: I don’t want a needy man but I also don’t want a chauvinistic man. I don’t want an egotistical man. Men are very egotistical ah. Men are egotistical, frankly, because men want to show they’re in charge.I think the mistake that many women make is they take the role of the man. And it’s not sexy. It’s dominating, and frankly it’s a turn-off. Not even just sexually but in life in general. You have to allow a man to also be the man, it’s hard. Like for example in a relationship, you have to respect that there are roles. Have the roles shifted? Yes of course they have, in terms of, let’s say, providing for the family sometimes, even sexually they’ve shifted. Who dominates, who doesn’t? With the kids, who has the last say? Everyday they’re shifting. There’s never one set. But you also have to know that a man and a woman are built differently, so you have to allow the man to be a man and a woman to be a woman. Women sometimes equate success with losing their softness. For example, some women are really scared to look sexy and act sexy because they associate it with frivolousness or being shallow. And I want to break that mold because it is very untrue. For example, in many boardrooms today or in the World Economic Forum alone, there are so many powerful women that are afraid to look and dress like women. They won't wear a dress, they’ll wear pants or long sleeves because they feel they won’t be taken seriously. You see, that’s bias. That’s an inherent bias. Me, I feel in my 40s I’ve become very secure with myself. I love my stilettos, I love my red heels, I love sexy shoes, but do I essentially show every part of my skin? No. Because I’m not comfortable with it myself. But do I like looking sexy, let’s say in the middle of a boardroom or in the middle of interviewing? Yes, because I feel that shouldn’t be taken away from me. It should not make me less, and it shouldn’t really minimize even what I say. Because some women, because they want to be empowered, they don’t want to look like women anymore. Nothing should be taken away from the femininity of a woman. Or for example if a woman is soft or nurturing, she’s viewed as weak. In 2011 I gave this talk in Harvard, and my talk was on how Asian women judge themselves. And Hillary Clinton actually gave this speech, that when a woman is soft she’s viewed as weak. When a woman is kind, she’s viewed as meek. But when you reverse it and a woman is too strong, she’s viewed as cruel. Do you see what I’m saying? There’s always that reversal. It’s never just a woman being many things at the same time, and not taking it away.When a man is determined, it’s but right that he’s ambitious. But when a woman is determined, she’s hated, she’s vilified. And it happened when I was starting out in my career, when I was 23, my reputation was too driven, too ambitious, too this. But I'll be honest with you; the fact of the matter was I couldn’t afford to fail.
ESQ: People underestimated you in the beginning. How did you deal with that?
KD: You prove them wrong. You work double, you read more (at least in my profession), you excel more. The world can be unforgiving to women who fail. For example, one of my role models is Charo Santos. She was an actress, and yet moved to management, and was the first woman president and CEO of ABS-CBN. And people may have thought, how could she do that, it won't work, it was all men—but she proved everyone wrong. ABS-CBN is in its glory moments now. And there are many like that in the world. If you get a woman, there’s the right balance of nurture and the corporate firm hand.
ESQ: You said failure is hard on a woman. Charo Santos is a success.
KD: If you’re a woman holding a high post, and you are also the head of a home, some men may not understand this balance, but it's also inherent in a woman to take care of her children. I mean women don’t compartmentalize that way—being a wife, a sex partner, corporate partner… men do. Men will probably say I'm in the office, so I'm in my office hat. And then they separate and block the father hat—which is why men are able to be very discreet about affairs. It’s like they close a door and then they go into another box. Women don’t operate in that fashion.
ESQ: What is the difference between love and affection? And is it different with sex?
KD: For women, sex is not enough. Women like touch. Women like time. Women like words.
ESQ: That can all happen in sex, I’ve been told.
KD: Not necessarily. No.
ESQ: Does marriage kill sex?
KD: Children can kill sex. Especially with mothers, there’s a sensual satisfaction with children. There’s a different bond. It’s almost like a takeover, a whole planet taking over your planet. And the satisfaction women get with a newborn is fulfilling on so many levels. It’s a whole different kind of pleasure and love and I don’t mean that in a sexual way. It’s a deep bond. Does marriage kill sex? It can. But it kills—don’t laugh—the spontaneity of it.
ESQ: Why do women have affairs?
KD: I spoke about this with a good friend of mine, Lindy, and she says that the more empowered a woman is, the more choices she has. Number two: my thinking is women have affairs because their needs are not met. Men sometimes have affairs because it’s available. I wouldn’t know if women can act in that fashion. But I think essentially if a woman decides to do it, they’re looking for something more. Or their needs are not met.
ESQ: So given the definitions that we’ve talked about, it’s more dangerous when a woman has an affair.
KD: I think so.
ESQ: To you, what’s the difference between a great love and a true love?
KD: I think a great love can be someone you were really in love with, would do anything for, but it didn’t work out. A true love could be a person that there’s just the full comfort of you. You know we’ve all loved someone because they had a certain personality—but there are those you love because it feels like 81home. I think true love feels like home. A great love may be exciting, but it doesn’t feel like home. It may or may not last. A great love is a romantic thing.
ESQ: Did you have a great love?
KD: I’m not sure, now that you’re asking me. I’ve always believed, and I mean this to be true, that DJ [Santa Ana, her husband] was my true love. The challenge for any couple is how do you grow, how do you keep that going so that it stays? Love is, even with the things that you are most ashamed about yourself, this person loves you any way. That is the definition of true love for me, because it doesn’t connote excitement each and every day. Because everyday you strive to be seen, and by seen I mean for who you really are. I mean the real side, your fears, how ordinary you really are. And you want to be loved for your ordinariness. We all strive to be attractive or special, but there’s a part of us that’s really ordinary. And you want to be seen or loved for that.
ESQ: What don’t you like in men?
KD: When men are bossy and they think they’re entitled to it. When men are lazy and let their wives bring home the bacon, I don’t like that. Some say it’s the modern method, but generally no. I like to see a man pursuing his dreams. When men are drunkards or can’t handle their drinking—I don’t like that. When men are chauvinistic and believe it’s because they’re men—they can’t. When men don’t have balls, I think that is the biggest turn-off. I think men should have balls. Men should be brought up to have boldness and courage and strength of conviction.
ESQ: What’s sexier, power or money?
KD: Me, it’s accomplishment, it’s not money. I don’t really find it sexy when you’re born into money. I don’t find it particularly attractive also when a man just has six-pack abs. An accomplished man for me is sexy. A passionate man is far sexier. The most unsexy is a man without a backbone.
ESQ: What’s the value of wearing red shoes for an interview?
KD: I just came from the World Economic Forum in Jakarta, and they asked me to moderate one of the sessions. I recently bought a pair of red Jimmy Choo stilettos which I love. And it’s not very common that women wear red stilettos to work. When I went to the World Economic Forum, I wore everything in black and red stilletos and it got so much attention because I realized that people are not used to seeing women in red shoes. And I interviewed the Indonesian president and the interpreter told me that what he found humanly interesting about me was he did notice the red shoes! Not to me, but he did say, “She’s wearing red shoes.” And I found it quite interesting that something as small as the color red, would bring so much attention because it was different. And I wasn’t even showing any skin. I just loved the statement of my red shoes. I found it to be sexy, powerful, modern. An expression of myself.
ESQ: I think what’s commonly mistaken for sexy is the baring of skin.
KD: Yeah if you ask me, in real life as well, because there is that model and runway life. But genuinely in real life when you’re connecting and talking to someone, I don’t find it sensual that everything is just given away, or shows. I think being sensual comes when you are comfortable with yourself. With women I think it comes after 35. It’s that inner edge that comes out because you already know your strengths and weaknesses, and how you behave and act and move, it comes out after you’ve known who you really are and you’ve accepted it.
ESQ: Who is harder to interview, men or women? In general in your experience?KD: I don’t think it’s a gender issue. I think politicians are generally hard to interview because they tend to get lost in their own PR, so it’s hard to get them authentic. It takes skill to catch a politician really saying something that he or she is not prepared to say.
ESQ: Can you cite an example?
KD: Okay. In the past, many have been asking Senator Grace Poe if she would run, and the standard answer was, “Hindi ako naghahanda,” which is just right because I believe it to be true. But in the course of our conversation I asked, “Senator Chiz and you are best friends. He wants to run for Vice President, paano yan if you will run for VP would you ever run against a best friend?” The question was would you ever run against your best friend. The answer was, “Ay dapat mag-usap kami kung anong posisyon.” The Inquirer picked it up, it was the headline the next day. And that was coming not from the typical question of “Will you run?”
ESQ: Is that a rookie mistake?
KD: No, it’s not rookie. I mean this in the best way, there’s a purity to Senator Grace Poe, that is her very strength. If she loses it, then we lose the human real part of her which is pure. It’s like asking an Aquino, ‘Does it hurt when this happens?’ The authenticity that we want to see is, ‘Yes it hurts.’ Because we are human. Most politicians, I feel, train themselves to not get into trouble. But the perfect answers that are human are those that also reveal who they really are. When the Inquirer caught it, the headline read, “Senator Grace Poe open for 2016.”
ESQ: When did you have a bad interview?
KD: You have different goals when you are interviewing. If it’s a person you wanna get down to something, I end up being absolutely non-stop on an issue. But sometimes there’s no room for that so it’s a very friendly or casual interview. I remember when Senator Bongbong Marcos was running for the Senate in 2010, I asked him, “Do you believe your father has stolen any money from the Philippine government?” and he said straight, “No, my father did not steal anything.” So I said, “You’re saying this with a straight face, you really believe your father has not stolen anything?” and he said, “Have the courts said he’s stolen?” The question is, how far do you push? You can get into an argument and stick to that issue, or you move on to other issues. What I did in that situation was I continued with a few more references. But you have to allow the audience to judge him and not you. If you end up judging him as an interviewer, it goes on a breakdown. There must be a certain detachment. This is the line of an interviewer. Some will get into arguments to insist on a point, but you have to allow a thin line for the interviewee to also stay there and still talk, and for the viewer to make the judgment. Number two, Enrile for example, in his first interview on Headstart he was very emotional about being a bastard son. But then he also revised the ambush, right, and we had asked if he was rewriting history. And he said no, so the question is how far do you push it again. Miriam Defensor Santiago, I pushed her so strongly on Enrile she hated it, that the vessel in her eye popped. She was rushed to the hospital. It could also get that way. It can be unpredictable too. In 2004, they put me on TV Patrol. I was 34 years old, I was very new, it was a controversial move, very unpopular to many, and I came from the Quezon landslide incident where I got praises for the coverage I had for going live for two weeks. ABS-CBN covered it very well, and after that I was assigned to the wake of FPJ, and we interviewed Susan Roces, and when she got to me, maybe because I was very new and inexperienced and young, she started screaming at me on live TV and saying how biased ABS-CBN was, and she just went on a rampage. But what happened after for me was a catalyst of my career. I had apologized, in Tagalog, if we had hurt her feelings in any way. I didn’t apologize that we had done wrong, I apologized for the pain that we had caused. I was vilified, criticized, for being so bad at what I did, and there were many that wanted my head. So I wrote a resignation letter to Gabby Lopez then and the president then Sito Alejandro letting them know that ABS-CBN is top priority and much has been said, and I was offering a courtesy resignation to let them know that if they take it, I was prepared. Of course what really touched me is Gabby called me then and said I would stay because they understood how new territory it was. But what happened after that, I lost confidence. I thought that I could not do tough interviews, I was not cut out for it, it’s like I was cut down to size by no less than my own colleagues. And it was a very humbling moment really, spiritually speaking I thought it was the end. But then being the trooper I am, I went to work and continued to do TV Patrol for the next six years. Come 2007, ABS-CBN Management told me they wanted to revamp the ANC morning block and they wanted me to do Headstart. And I declined because I was so petrified. I said, I’m bad at interviews, you saw it, I didn’t know how to handle myself in that situation. And they said they only way you’ll know is if you do it everyday. It’s only when you do it everyday that you will become better at it and you will grow. The irony of it all, is the very thing I dreaded the most is the one thing I am known for today. So I’ve been doing it eight years, and everyday is a learning experience. I owe so much to ABS-CBN.
ESQ: How would you have responded to Susan Roces today?
KD: I would’ve listened to her. I would’ve said, “I’m sure they’re watching,” and then moved to another topic completely. But everything in hindsight is easier to do.
ESQ: Of all the presidents that you’ve interviewed, who was the most memorable?
KD: I’ve interviewed all ha. But I’ll give you insights into all of them. Cory, I interviewed in her home and she was showing me her paintings. But I’d known former president Aquino when I was a student because Kris and I were classmates and we were friends. So I’d spend some time in Malacañang, I would see Cory in her duster. I saw that side of Cory. The thing with her when you talk to her is you sense the purity of her existence. There’s no ego that comes out.
ESQ: Can we jump to the next woman president, GMA?
KD: GMA is very calculated. When I interviewed her at the palace, she was the sitting president then, very simple in real life and I mean this really. Doesn’t wear an expensive watch, everything she wears is local, doesn’t really pay much attention to her looks. She looks like all she really wanted was to get the job done. But GMA is very transactional. When you talk to her, she’s very political. She doesn’t make very hard statements on anything, because she’s a politician. That’s my thinking. It’s not negative or positive its just an observation. Erap when he was president didn’t like me very much. I did go to him when he was in Tanay, Rizal when he was in jail, and what struck me about him then was he genuinely has a soft heart. It’s funny to hear because he seems like a thug. But Erap really is very kind. Now his leadership values are a whole other story. What did strike me with Erap when I interviewed him was he chose to forgive everybody who betrayed him. FVR is funny. He’s quirky, kooky, hilarious. If you ask me, the guy is sharp. And very wise. I feel that politicians make fun sometimes of what he stands for, but there’s also a lot of wisdom to his decisions. President Noynoy Aquino is the only president I have not interviewed yet.
ESQ: What’s the one thing you would ask President Aquino if you were given the chance to interview him?
KD: Why do you still trust General Alan Purisima. He’s never said why.
ESQ: You’ve met all these presidents, but what is the role of a first lady or the first gentleman in a presidency, as you’ve seen it?
KD: I think if you thrust someone into a presidency, the role of the spouse is really to lift one up. I mean that in a way wherein it’s support in every fashion, it’s being in activities wherein you’re not intruding in governance or any kind of policy making in government or business dealings in government. But you’re able to help strengthen your partner’s administration or branding or communication. I think it’s more of goodwill if you ask me.
ESQ: Is it better for a president to be unmarried?
KD: No, I don’t think so. But I think generally that the president, be it a man or woman, is still human. And as a person you have needs, and you’re expected to run the country as a human being. And I think that if you have a spouse that helps you through the day and through the hard times, it will make you a good leader.
ESQ: Should we take into consideration a spouse when we’re electing somebody?
KD: I’ll be honest, I don’t think you should make the spouse a deciding factor in choosing a president. But I do believe it’s a factor to some voters. That’s why a spouse should be an asset to a candidate.
ESQ: I just want to round off this interview. Since we were talking a lot about sex, should the president have sex? Would they make better leaders if they had sex regularly?
KD: Queen Elizabeth I, they called her the Virgin Queen because at some point she was always distracted by a man that she loved who was married, said, “I refuse to be handled by any man any more, and I wed myself to England.” And she brought England to the most prosperous years. So the answer, is it necessary for any leader to be having sex? The answer is I don’t think so. As a person it may help him be happier. But as a leader, there’s also a kind of commitment, focus and self-sacrifice that goes into it.
ESQ: Are we ready for another woman president?
KD: Absolutely. I think the Philippines has already overcome its gender issues with women.
This piece originally appeared in our October 2015 issue.