Quite recently, the Philippine social media scene was abuzz again on a controversy surrounding a popular celebrity. This time, however, former De La Salle University (DLSU) volleybelle Michele Gumabao was at the eye of the storm as pictures she posted on her Instagram® account raised many eyebrows and made many believe—initially, and for some until now—that she was heading to the dark corner of show business by allegedly baring her naked body in a campaign for Toby’s Sports, one the country’s leading sports retail establishments.
The photos, shot by celebrated photographer Jojit Lorenzo, showed the 21-year-old daughter of former public servant and actor turned pastor Dennis Roldan apparently clad in nothing trying to spike a volleyball while being splashed in water; her arm conveniently covering her breasts in the movement. Several local news agencies sensationalized the story and widely-read men’s magazine FHM even posted a headline in their website which went: “FHM to Michele Gumabao: So Kelan Ka Magpo-Pose?”
Michele told me that she took a snapshot of the unveiled campaign during Toby’s Sports’ press conference last September 18th at the SM Aura Convention Center and promptly posted it with pride on her Instagram account, oblivious that it would create a huge stir. The campaign also includes iconic Filipino athletes James Yap of the San Mig Coffee Mixers in the PBA and goalkeeper Neil Etheridge of the Philippine Azkals.
I had a chance to open the topic up with Michele—who is my regular Tuesday date as co-broadcaster of the ongoing Shakey’s V-League for GMA News TV—and she was more than willing to talk to me in length about it. She giggled in amazement of how fast the picture has gone viral and how quickly fans have made judgments on it, but is unfazed by the hoopla and insists she loves how the photo turned out.
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“When they (Toby’s Sports) first approached me, they blatantly said that they wanted something like he Greek Olympics,” Michele recalls. “I agreed as long as it was artistic and wholesome.”
Even as a little girl who was beginning to fall in love with sports, Michele made frequent trips to Toby’s—as have many of us involved in the sports world. Having been selected as one of its endorsers, she claims, is one of the best things that have happened to her as an athlete.
“I am honored that I am one of the endorsers of Toby’s Sports; a brand I've looked up to since I was a little girl who loved sports,” she says.
The magic of digital editing has not only enhanced an already brilliant shot by Lorenzo, but has also helped achieve the goal the company aimed for in its new campaign.
“I may have looked nude in the pictures, but when I first looked at them what registered in my mind was the very essence of why I love the sports because these pictures show women empowerment and strength and any person with a broad mind and sound judgement would see that,” Michele expounds. “This sense of nakedness is like me starting from nothing, humbling myself before God and explaining how I love playing even beyond fame, popularity and it's much more than just my school, last name or jersey number. It's about raw passion that keeps me going.”
Raw passion—as she put it—is what made Michele emerge from a mere walk-on in the DLSU volleyball program to one of the most recognizable faces—and now, bodies—in the sport. During her days in being a major catalyst in the Lady Spikers’ four consecutive finals appearances and three straight championships, Michele was the vocal leader and the team’s primary source of spunk and inspiration. During the 2013 titular series, it was her grit and will-power that helped power DLSU past the strongest Ateneo de Manila University (AdMU) squads ever assembled and enabled her to cop the Finals MVP trophy. She has since declared that she will not be returning for her final year of eligibility and is now delving into the many opportunities that are available for a vibrant young woman like herself.
“I know that it would be controversial knowing how a lot of people think but I really wanted to share this one of a kind piece,” Michele continues. “So I allowed Toby’s to use the photo—with the permission of my parents, yes my dad's a pastor—and if there's one thing I learned from my faith is that you can't judge something by just looking at it.
“Perversion is a product of the mind and we have to train our minds to look beyond the naked body that you can see in the picture.”
During the photo shoot itself, Michele says that it was a closed set wherein only Lorenzo and a select few which included her sister, her manager and the person tasked to douse her being the only ones allowed in the studio.
“I admire sir Jojit (Lorenzo) for doing a very good job making me look naked,” Michele reveals. “But I was actually wearing nude underwear and a lot of Leucoplast tape to just secure them while jumping—yes Leucoplast. It's something you've never seen before and for me it's something to be proud of.”
She even shared that her bra had to be snipped and it was the elastic tape that held everything together. The water effect, however, was a masterfully timed event that coincided flawlessly with the shots. They were not edited in.
“I was so wet,” Michele recounted. “The tape did the job and I’m really happy about how it came out.”
Michele did sign a contract for the campaign that included a clause for any promotional material to be used as billboards and print ads. Don’t be surprised if Toby’s Sports carries this out very soon.
I hope this dispels any allegation that Michele is veering away from the wholesome image she portrays, because it is not a portrayal. I’ve known Michele long enough to say that she is a loving and caring Christian who does her best to bring joy to the world in her own little way everyday. Tuesday is the day she services volleyball fans and I’m quite fortunate to be part of that portion of her devotion to the sport in my own little way.
She’s evolving into a brave and persevering woman whose ambitions are slowly being realized. Let’s be part of her growth and help her take those baby steps to realizing her full potential. Congratulations to Toby’s Sports for choosing the one of the best female athletes in the archipelago as its one of its newest spokesmodels and congratulations to Michele for her impending successes.
Nice one, partner!
Follow Noel Zarate on Twitter (@NoelZarate) and email firstname.lastname@example.org