Staying in one place has never been customary among fashion models—who, when it came to their glamor-adorned career, would travel every now and then to where the opportunity was. Filipino-German model Kirk Bondad, Clint Bondad's younger brother, for one, has been in and out of the Philippines since six years ago, and because of his job, has seen and been to places once difficult to even dream of. Last year, Kirk modeled for an international designer at the Grand Prix in Singapore, his biggest international gig yet. This year, he was scheduled to fly to Bangkok for another major modeling project.
But spoiling Kirk's travels among other perks of the job, COVID-19 happened.
"It was a bummer at first. Much worse, I quickly realized that it will be only temporary and not in my control. Just like bad weather. Everybody is affected from it. And you can't take bad weather as a personal insult, right?" the up-and-coming model, currently based in Manila, tells ABS-CBN Lifestyle. "So, after I accepted that fact there, I pretty much went neutral on everything."
While towering at 6'2" and weighing almost 200 lbs, Kirk, 22, possesses this sweet disposition ("gentle giant" might work, too, if only he wasn't much of a goofball) that has helped him glide through the tough world of modeling and, perhaps, dare we say, the difficulty the fashion world in general has encountered since the pandemic happened.
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The pandemic impediment
Social distancing has been strictly enforced to prevent further coronavirus outbreak, inadvertently closing shops, reducing workforces, and disallowing social gatherings. Such policies have since affected many businesses including modeling, which would draw people in the occurrences it supposedly thrived, like shoots, events, and runway shows. "Jobs have dried up as advertising budgets have been slashed, runway shows have been canceled, and traditional photo shoots have become impossible under social-distancing and stay-at-home orders," as the New York Times reported. It also mentioned models saying clients and agencies owed them money as they further sank in housing and health insurance problems.
But here Kirk is, born and raised elsewhere, trying to chase his modeling dreams in Manila with even more gusto while staying calm and candid. With nothing to explore in his native Frankfurt modeling wise, Kirk returned to the country early this year to join the much-publicized biyearly fitness and physique competition—Century Tuna Superbods. The competition over time has become a major career catapult, having launched the names of John Spainhour, Angel Jones, Jules Aquino, Mauro Lumba, and Culver Padilla among other fitness industry idols. The contest was supposed to kick off in March and wrap up in April. Amid the then-ooser GCQ, it relaunched in June changing its theme "Everybody Can Be A Superbod" to "Stay Strong Pilipinas" as to better fit the times. The competition also became a digital-only campaign, from what was a well-attended on-ground event in the past.
"From live events plus audiences in beautiful venues to Zoom meetings, do-it-yourself shoots, and post-production edits!" Kirk details the ongoing contest, with a laugh. "But all jokes aside, I'm super grateful that the campaign continued! And I believe by pursuing the digital approach, it is more accessible than before!"
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Yet, Kirk admits being his nothing short of competitive—"This contest is made for me! Everything that this contest is known for is everything I stand for!"
He adds, "This is the opportunity to show the real me, my personality, my brain, my advocacy, (and my way) to inspire people to cultivate a healthier and more active lifestyle, like c'mon that's the goal right there. It literally feels like my Instagram feed turned into a competition."
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His modeling story
On Instagram featuring his picture-perfect musculature, Kirk might just come off just like any other hunky AFAM (Filipino slang for "a foreigner assigned in Manila") enjoying being pretty in the very Western-friendly tropics. Not many people know though that he's got an advanced technical college certificate in sales and customer services to add more to the interesting background story that has backed his modeling career up.
Kirk has been active all his life, starting with judo, tennis, and running as his first sports. He is simply competitive to the point that, in his youth, he would take on a table tennis or foosball match with his kuya to settle who got to wash the dishes. He loved how sports and fitness have given him "a sense of meaning to my life, more confidence in myself, and a higher self-esteem." He saw it rise to a whole new level once he hit the gym in his teens back in 2014—"probably one of the reasons why never stopped since then," he says.
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But he also muses over 2014 as something else. "Easy to remember. It was the most influential year of my entire life—the year Germany won the soccer World Cup," he narrates. "Long story short. Back then, Germany had extremely bad influence over me. Substance abuse, gang fights, wrong circle, and much worse."
Kirk recounts failing school "big time," with his mother eventually deciding to send him to the Philippines over that summer so he could stay with his brother Clint for distraction. Kirk only found out later that he was booked a one-way ticket, and so being the easygoing person that he is, "I was reasonable enough to go with the flow and stay." He would follow in his brother's modeling footsteps and even joined his then-agency Reco (with which he is still "happily signed"). He gladly calls everything that moment he stayed put in Manila to be his "life's best decision."
"After that I turned my life around and the rest is history," he beams.
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Meet the (role) model
Kirk stands mighty proud of his 2.0 version to this date—at the tail-end of Superbods, he likes to believe he is at his fittest. From supposedly appearing only for a short pageant stint to participating in a prolonged, metaphor-heavy campaign, he harbors no regret over the past months' turnarounds. He is, in fact, very grateful to how the pandemic made him appreciate the competition more. Beyond that, he loves how it accidentally introduced him to previously foreign hobbies and skills he's now seemingly mastered. Yes, vlogging, video editing, and badminton, included.
"The modeling or, in general, the creative business took a massive hit due to the pandemic. So, not much work at the moment for me," he opens up.
"The first three months felt like an emotional rollercoaster. Diving from one extreme to the other extreme. I had nobody, no family I could see, no friends I could meet, nothing. I lived completely alone so my social interaction was limited to the hello's and salamats and ingats and goodbyes with the cashier at the groceries. 'Rollercoaster' because I've been alone most my adult life, so I had to learn how to entertain myself. But this is a whole another level of loneliness."
"And around the third month, depression kicked in. But long story short, I got out of my bed_literally—and told myself, 'Enough is enough. This misery stops now. Because misery has no limit. And the longer you are stuck in the rabbit hole the harder it will get to get out.' So I asked myself, 'How do I want to remember myself. What will I tell my kids and my kids' kids? That I was a coward who gave up? No freaking way. And since then I don't allow myself to suffer. I forbid it to happen to me. I know it's a super hardcore mentality, but it works for me."
To be specific, Kirk recommends "reading books, listening to podcasts and E-lectures, sleeping longer, watching videos, working out more frequently, getting better at cooking, taking walks outside, mediating, learning how to juggle, everything to kill time" as ways to to help cradle any worn out soul amid a pandemic.
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Thanks to his previous modeling work, Kirk has earned enough to put himself through the current crisis. In the meantime, as he awaits the results of the celebrity-veiled Superbods, he does online coaching for fitness and health as additional income. Yes, he's that serious about the industry that he dreams of being able to be "in a financial position in which I can fond my own independent studies in the nutritional and health sector."
"This may seem super random for some, but I like to know my stuff and evaluate studies in my free time. And once you read some studies and dig a little bit deeper in the science, you notice how much personal bias companies try to hide in their trials to strong-arm. For example, their product in favor for their financial gain," he explains. "This is the exact reason why everyone is so confused about nutrition. I want to end this over a millennial old debate once and for all. We people deserve to know what keeps us healthy and fit. Simple as that."
That, and meeting his family again, Kirk is dead set on realizing once this is all over.
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Photos taken from Kirk Bondad's Instagram account