Dr. Vicki Belo Did It First

The bold and brave beauty doctor who put the Philippines on the map in the world of aesthetics, Dr. Vicki Belo. What else is there to know about her?
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Anyone remotely curious about Dr. Belo knows her beginnings. If she were beautiful, her biological parents wouldn’t have given her away. A mean taunt of those around her and the logic of a wee little Vicki Belo that set her off on a life’s mission to become the beauty that no one can look down on, someone who everyone wanted. A chubby and dark-skinned girl beset with acne, one could say that this realization is a canon event that sets the wheels in motion. 

Without the painful teasing and bullying she endured early on, there would be no Dr. Vicki Belo, no one “Belofied,” and no “Belo Babies.” The landscape of the local beauty industry would look starkly different if it were devoid of Dr. Belo–her intuition, know-how, discipline, and competitiveness to be the first, always. 

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“I read this book when I was 16—it was a marketing book about how to give your market a brand that will occupy their mind. The way to occupy the space is to be the first. Because it’s subjective when you say you’re the best. But if I asked you, ‘Who’s the first man who landed on the moon? How about the second? You don’t know, right? It’s the first one who makes an impact. So here, I’m always the first as much as I can be for work.”

Dr. Belo may have faced the worst of critics and the biggest of accolades. She is, inarguably, the one who made the brave, bold step and put the Philippines on the map of aesthetic advancements.

Belo Medical has been around for over 30 years. Upon reflection, the good doctor was one of the first medical practitioners to be recognized as a celebrity in her own right—and the only doctor to have her last name turned into a verb—”Pa-Belo ka!” or “Belofied” still sneaks into regular conversations so naturally, proving how ingrained Belo is into the local lexicon. 

Belo is the standard, and the bar was set so high that perhaps she is now untouchable. On the contrary, the higher she flies, the more people want to pull her down. But Dr. Belo, as someone who knows how ugly the business of beauty is, isn’t as bothered as she used to be about it now. She can finally put her guard down because she knows she has nothing else to prove. 

On this day, she looked remarkably relaxed, calm, collected. She happily agreed to show us this not-often-seen side of her—still glam and gorgeous because that’s who she is, but less the steely businesswoman and more of an off-duty glamazon at home. 

It was also in the home where her entrepreneurial spirit took its first flight. Dr. Belo’s parents were the first to witness their daughter’s business inclinations when a young Vicki sold cupcakes to her schoolmates, for no other reason or no one prodding her to do so but just because Vicki felt the urge to do it, and she always wanted to do something different than what others were doing.

“I think the one thing about me is I’m very disciplined. Always been. I think I was five or seven years old, I’d sell cupcakes in school. Nobody else was doing it back then. Yes, sure, a part of me did it to make people happy, but I was always trying to figure out how to make money with what I can do. My parents would buy me all the ingredients, teach me how to price it. They wanted me to enjoy the process of selling, to feel like an entrepreneur.”

That’s always how I’ve been. I don’t want to be like everyone else. I have to be different. Luckily for me, God chose me to be that way.” 

The present-day generation might start whispering that Dr. Belo is a Nepo-baby. After all, she has always been comfortable. Her adoptive father was a lawyer who gifted the doctor her first clinic and laser equipment when she was in her thirties, advantages that others, even back then, frowned upon. But would a Nepo-baby survive as long as Dr. Belo has in the beauty industry if she didn’t have the chops to back it up? If she was all fluff and PR, if it was all a smokescreen, wouldn’t her empire have crumbled in the first few years? 

So here, Dr. Belo is—her empire still stands and continues to expand, her detractors silenced (but never entirely gone), and her competitors are watching her for her next move. Having the first mover advantage has its—well, advantages—but being a leader can be lonely and puts you up to more criticism. What does one do when that happens? 

“What I do is cry,” she says with a mix of seriousness, jest, and matter-of-fact. “I don’t know how I became strong, because you know, the world can be so cruel, that’s what I learned. Even if you have the best intentions, they will really hit you. I don’t know why. I wasn’t even doing anything. I mean, I knew what I was doing, but the pushback I got was crazy. Like ‘Don’t go to her, she’s going to burn your brain!’ ‘She’s so crazy, she’s injecting stuff to stop the wrinkles!’ It’s like I said the world is flat. For 10 years it was like that, people were just on my case. But you know, I think I’m very close with the Lord, He’s my best friend, so at night I’d sometimes pray, ‘Jesus, bakit ganon, and it helps so much! When you follow the Christian way, you’re safe. You might suffer a little because you’re not having so much fun, but you’re always on the right path.”

At home with Dr. Belo as she looks back at her storied career with heart and humor.

Considering the vastness of Dr. Belo’s beauty empire, protecting her legacy, and a proper line of succession must be in place. “I told Hayden, what if I die, what are you going to call the clinic? Kho clinic? It’s not going to work. Belo is so nice na kasi. Legacy-wise, I’m more conscious nowadays because I have a Belo kid. And I don’t want to embarrass her. Because in my mind, eh, who cares what they’re going to do with the clinic? When I was younger, I decided I would retire at 55, because when people were transferring to me when I was 31, I’d ask them why they were transferring to me and they’d say their previous doctor was too old. I was like, ‘ay I don’t want that for myself.’ But at the beginning of every year, on my birthday, which is in January, I take a picture of myself to see how I look objectively, and I’m like, okay, I still look good, pwede pa!” 

Beyond Dr. Belo aging well, it’s the joy she finds in her work that keeps her going. “I’m so happy when I go to the clinic. So why would I deprive myself of being happy, if this is the happiest place for me?”

The persona of the powerful, successful woman will always be the first impression that Dr. Belo will give, or the assumption that most have of her. After all, lasting and thriving in her chosen profession for the last three decades could not have been possible without her business acumen and expertise. But when asked about her secret to success, she sighs and says, “I got braver because of my parents. They let me explore. I remember they would always be behind me but not so near. They’d let me fall, I would be crying, and I would always look back to see if they were there. That act of support makes you brave. I also knew I was doing the right thing, and I pray hard. I think because I pray so much, I feel I hear things from God. Like some, I’ll hear things and think oh, this is stupid, or I hear two lines of something and know it’s the next big thing. I don’t know how I got to that conclusion, but it’s usually right. I just kept going and you know, my why is to help people be the best versions of themselves to be happier, and I cry when I say that because it comes from the heart. Right now? I feel vindicated. Now that everybody’s doing what I’m doing, I feel vindicated. I feel I’m getting the respect that I deserve.”

Photographs by Joseph Pascual

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