Rei Germar and Say Tioco: Women of Influence
It’s a known fact: women in the ever-changing landscape of media are subject to mean-spirited criticism, even more than their male counterparts. “Kababae mong tao (You are a woman and yet)…” is a phrase abused by anonymous users who can hide behind a screen. Women, in general, are put in a box and ridiculed when they stray away from the traditional, conservative stereotype they’re “supposed” to yield to.
For women of influence—those Renaissance females who dominate social media—this is their everyday reality. OG YouTubers Rei Germar and Say Tioco, all-around creatives who have championed content for years, seem to have heard it all. Yet, they constantly reinvent themselves and evolve in their respective fields. For Rei, it’s growing as an entrepreneur and educating women on the pros of financial independence. For Say, it’s embracing pleasure and destigmatizing sexual health.
This 2023, Rei Germar is taking things slow and prioritizing her peace. After a year filled with a whirlwind of activity—working with global brands like Louis Vuitton, Burberry and H&M—she’s giving herself a break to grasp the magnitude of what she, and by extension, her whole team, has achieved. She recalls, “ was really that year. I guess, because there were so many things happening, I wasn’t able to grasp [it]…I didn’t have time to sit down and actually cherish and absorb everything. So, this year, I’ll try to take it slow. I won’t put so much pressure on myself.”
As a college student who “had so much daldal (talk) in her” and now a multi-hyphenate in her late 20s, YouTube remains an avenue to showcase Rei’s life in an unfiltered manner. Her very first video, a Black Friday haul showing off drugstore products from the US, essentially catapulted her to becoming one of the fastest-growing channels in the Philippines.
“I feel like that’s my power: I’m not afraid [of] sharing my raw heart [with] other people. I’m not afraid to be judged because I’m just being 100% myself. That’s exactly why I started YouTube,” she reveals.
This surreal success, of course, doesn’t come without a trade-off. The pressure to keep churning content and stick to her strict upload days eventually got to her. “I feel like I used to be a ‘yes person.’ I used to be that person who says, ‘Oh, you can’t say no to opportunity. Maybe this will contribute to your growth. Maybe it’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing,’” she discloses. Now, Rei allows herself to say no if it’s going to affect her physical and mental health. “I want to say I am prioritizing myself this time.”
Rei’s videos, which range from occasional life updates and detailed travel vlogs to covetable shopping hauls, are admittedly very personal. This is why some of her longtime viewers can’t seem to wrap their heads around the change that she’s gone through over the years, which was only inevitable. “I feel like the fact that they saw me grow up and transition in front of them, they feel like they have the right to comment on how I should live my life,” she shares.
They tell her: Nag-iba ka na (You’ve changed). “Parang bawal mag-change (It’s like I’m not allowed to change),” shares Rei. “I feel like it’s because, for some people, change is a bad thing—but it’s really scary when you don’t change.”
A day before our cover shoot, Rei posted a sultry Instagram photo of her in a black bikini, which she tastefully layered with a leather jacket. This drew unwarranted comments from users, objectifying her body and even comparing her to a “bold star,” which made her archive the post for a few hours. She claps back, “I really questioned [myself]…and I realized ang sexy ko d’on, ang ganda ko d’on (I’m sexy there, I’m beautiful there). And if you want to call me a bold star—I am bold and I’m a fucking star.” She adds, “In reality, I didn’t do anything wrong. I felt empowered at that moment, so I posted it…[By unarchiving it], I [got] my power and my voice back.”
Rei recalls a quote she saw on Instagram, which says, “Nudity empowers some. Modesty empowers some. Different things empower different women, and it isn't your place to tell her which one it is.” The 26-year-old is her most unapologetic self when she lives life the way she wants to. She explains, “I feel empowered, and I feel like the nasty woman that I am when I get to express myself the way that I want to without thinking about other people.”
Though there are downsides to fame, Rei has built a supportive and solid community that has grown alongside her, calling themselves “grown-ups trying to figure out life.” She notes, “I realized that I’m actually relatable. I never thought of that before…I get to validate their feelings, and they get this feeling na, ‘I’m not alone.’ I think that’s the best thing—that you get to be a companion to someone out there na wala silang kasama (who has nobody).”
As a young female entrepreneur with a number of businesses, she hopes to empower women and inspire them to strive to become financially independent. “The best thing about it is that I’m not a burden to my parents. They don’t have to think about me anymore; they don’t have to worry about me anymore. Seeing them proud is really the best thing in the world,” she reveals.
Financial freedom is something that she highlights, which helps give her peace of mind. Rei notes, “It’s really different when you get to do and buy [things] and go to places you want to because it empowers you as well. It brings you places that will even give you more knowledge and experiences that will contribute to your growth.” She adds, “I guess ‘yung peace of mind lang na kaya ko (that I can do it)—that feeling that I don’t have to worry about the next two, three, five years because I worked hard and I saved enough and I’m investing in good things.”
For young women who want to do the same, Rei Germar advises them to prioritize and save for the rainy days. At the end of the day, she says, “You are never too young to save.”
When you explore Say Tioco’s archive on YouTube, which boasts 54 million views collectively, you’ll see her very first video recreating a makeup look by the OG beauty guru, Michelle Phan. At that point in time, no one was creating makeup videos in the Philippines, so she decided to make her own even if she didn’t know anything about applying makeup. She put a spin on it and used local brands like Ever Bilena and Nichido, budget-friendly brands for the then-college student. This opened up a world of possibilities for her.
Five years into her vlogging career, Say was invited to fly to Japan alongside other vloggers from different countries by—you guessed it—Michelle Phan. This was a pivotal moment in her life wherein she realized that she had made it. She narrates, “It was my first time in Japan, I fell in love. Oh my god, sobrang wow. I met her and she was like an angel. I still have the vlog, super surreal experience. I feel like that’s the highest high talaga. I started because of her and meeting her in person was, like, woah.” It was truly a full-circle moment.
While Say flourished with trendy lifestyle content, at 31, she has outgrown these kinds of videos and has transitioned to content demystifying sexual health. She reveals, “During my first few years [on YouTube]…I jumped on all of those bandwagons to stay relevant. But in the long run, it was exhausting kasi some of the things that are trending are not aligned with me as a person. I was, like, ‘Do I do these things for clout?’ If something doesn’t align with you, ‘di mo talaga siya ma-e-enjoy (you won’t enjoy it) as a person.”
This started in 2020, before the pandemic. One day in February, she was faced with an existential crisis of sorts. “I randomly woke up one day and there was a voice [that said], ‘What are you doing with your life?’ I wanted to do something more meaningful, something with an impact on society,” Say recalls. “It’s not makeup for me.”
This type of lifestyle content, though she thoroughly enjoyed it, always had an expiration date for Say. “I knew talaga in my bones, it wasn’t going to be makeup content forever. Hindi na siya nag-resonate with me. Then I thought about sex ed, ‘cause years prior, may nag-offer [for me] to review a sex toy but I didn’t take it kasi—hello, sino manonood niyan?”
(“I knew in my bones, it wasn’t going to be makeup content forever. It no longer resonated with me. Then I thought about sex ed, ‘cause years prior, someone offered [me] to review a sex toy but I didn’t take it because—hello, who would watch that?”)
She began this new journey and posted a sex toy review as part of her series called Sex Ed with Say. She furthered the conversation and did a campaign with Shop Ilya and sex & relationships therapist Doc Rica Cruz. “It was so fun. When I started doing it, I felt super aligned with it. Sabi ko, ‘Ito na ‘yun, ito talaga ‘yun.’ Na-feel ko talaga ‘yung passion in doing it (I told myself, ‘This is it, this is really it.’ I really felt my passion in doing it),” she shares.
Say also branched out and championed the power of audio with Ask Say: The Podcast on Spotify, which has since grown a loyal following. Whether it’s candidly talking about the benefits of masturbation or choosing to be child-free, it opened up an avenue to discuss taboo topics. Though she found this to fulfill her, it received pushback from some of her longtime viewers. “Different platforms, different reactions,” she notes. On Facebook where older users, whom she refers to as the “boomer crowd,” are more active, they reacted aggressively.
She recalls, “Nagalit sila. Sabi nila, ‘Anong nangyari sa’yo? Bakit ka ganyan? May pinagdadaanan ka ba? (They got mad. They said, ‘What happened to you? Why are you this way? Are you going through something?’)” She adds, “But I love people on Twitter and Instagram; they’re more open-minded, more accepting of change.”
After years of dealing with this kind of criticism on a regular basis, Say chooses to reserve her energy for people who are open to a conversation and not set on misunderstanding her from the get-go. She reveals, “I’ve learned to let things go and I realized—whatever people say about you, it’s a reflection of what’s going inside them. It’s the chaos within them; it has nothing to do with you.
She notes, “The best thing is, siguro, how people relate to you and how you get to empower them. I always like to say, especially at this point in my life, pain connects people. Whatever ‘yung mga experiences ko (my experiences), I feel like it really connects people, strangers, even. It really creates an impact in their life na you don’t even know [about].”
Say recalls a striking message from a mother of four who reached out to her and candidly shared that she’s never experienced an orgasm. She recalls, “Four kids and never had an orgasm. I love that I opened up an avenue where it’s safe to send me a message and tell me about their problems. I’m not a sex therapist, but I feel like it’s fulfilling to be a safe space for people to share their most intimate secrets with.”
Say Tioco’s advocacies on female empowerment and sexual health have empowered her and the people around her. On a personal note, she feels most unapologetically herself when she’s wearing lingerie and “when I’m hubadera ‘cause I feel like I’m in my element.” She has never felt more fulfilled and more in tune with herself. Asked to describe herself in five words, she says: passionate, strong, fierce, powerful and nasty.
Rei Germar and Say Tioco have spent a chunk of their lives in the public eye. As young women in university, all they wanted was to share their lives with an audience in an unfiltered manner. They’ve now solidified their presence in media across different channels. As multi-hyphenates forging their own paths, their stories embolden the next generation of female creators, leaders and entrepreneurs. And if there’s one thing we learned—they refuse to apologize for their growth. After all, change is the only constant thing in life. These nasty women owe nobody an explanation for being their most authentic selves.
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Photography Paolo Crodua
Interview and Cover Story Elisa Aquino
Fashion Direction Nicole Blanco Ramos
Beauty Direction Elisa Aquino
Hair Justine Ocampo
Location Bulb Studios
Set Design Luis Pelo