Out of Print

Bea Ledesma Doesn’t Need to Be Nice

by Jonty Cruz
Photos by Joseph Pascual.

While her reputation may precede her, there’s a lot more to Bea Ledesma for those brave enough to get to know her.

Who’s afraid of Bea Ledesma? Quite a lot of people as it turns out. In the days leading up to this interview, I asked colleagues if they had any questions they’d want to ask her. “I’d be so scared,” replied one. “I’m shy kay Bea,” said another. I too had my concerns interviewing Bea. I’ve had the idea of featuring her for some time now but only built up the necessary courage to ask her a few weeks ago.

It was only Audrey Carpio, Bea’s friend and former colleague, who sent a question and told me via text, “Her candor and take-no-shit attitude might be scary to some, but [Bea] knows what she’s talking about. I would defer to her opinions on a lot of things, from fashion to feminism.”


Bea Ledesma began her career in publishing in 2003 when she was part of the original team of YStyle, The Philippine Star’s Friday fashion and style section. YStyle became an immediate must-read and captured the attention of fashion purveyors, artists, creatives, and aspiring journos alike. The team was composed of Bea along with Audrey, founding editor Celine Lopez, and assistant editor Ana Kalaw—all of whom would garner recognition in and outside of publishing in the years to come.

According to Audrey, it was Bea who was holding YStyle together. “Going to the Port Area on a Wednesday night and staying late hours was made bearable by the camaraderie, I guess you’d call it, among us girls,” Audrey says. “But the chikahan between Bea and Celine was just something else. It was probably the juiciest office in town.”

Perhaps it was that camaraderie and creative energy that, to many, made the editors of YStyle the it girls of publishing. It was a reputation that made them aspirational, collectively becoming Manila’s version of Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw. They were the arbiters of what was cool in local fashion and made lifestyle journalism fun again. If you were to look at Philippine publishing in the early aughts through the lens of a high school ecosystem, then Bea, Celine, Ana, and Audrey were the queen bees.

In 2014, Bea was hired by Hinge Inquirer to be its group publisher and rebrand all of its titles. Starting with Northern Living and Southern Living, then followed by Scout and Preen among others, Hinge’s core titles immediately became something to pay attention to. Once thought of as throwaway supplements, under Bea, they became as essential to local publishing as any big name magazine on the stands. I remember still being in Esquire Philippines during Hinge’s rebrand and gushing over Northern Living’s second issue under Bea. It was their “Water” issue and its cover was a photograph of a pool taken by the artist Charles Buenconsejo. Its seeming simplicity belied the confidence and clarity in direction that she wanted for all of Hinge’s titles. It was perhaps the first and only time during my whole stay at Esquire when I wished we could have been more like a supplement magazine.

“She scared the shit out of me,” says Nimu Muallam, who worked with Bea at Hinge Inquirer, and is now the creative director of Inquirer.net Lifestyle. She admits that Bea was “quite tough” at the beginning. But soon enough everyone realized that she was there to “raise the standards” at Hinge.

When asked about a lesson she learned from Bea, Nimu writes over email that one piece of advice she got from her was “to question everything you’re presented with.”

“Is it inclusive? Does it make you want to immerse in the subject more? Is it cliche? Is it clear enough for your audience? Has it been done already? Why would I watch this video? I can't recall the number of times she has stated to be very clear with what you are trying to say in your articles, photos, and videos. And that really forces you to raise your standards as an editor or an artist. This constant gravitational force that is Bea telling you to escape cliches and go left field.”


It’s been decades since Bea, Celine, Ana, and Audrey were all in a Port Area office together. Years since Bea made Hinge Inquirer the hottest publishing company in town. These days, her creativity can be found in the kitchen. With A Home Kewk, her veggie-based food brand, Bea is doing something new but still shares in the spirit of her previous successes.

“At YStyle, we didn’t get to see what Bea was truly capable of,” says Audrey. “When she left and went on to transform the Hinge publications and more, she showed just how knowledgeable, influential, and formidable she really was. I think she’s at her happiest now as A Home Kewk, pushing veggie-forward comfort cooking and inspiring non-kewks like me to get in the kitchen.”

Over a Monday afternoon in January, I talked to Bea about her career in publishing, what she loves about A Home Kewk, and why so many are intimidated by her—myself included.

The following was conducted over Zoom and has been edited for publication.

Bea with her dogs George and Tiger.

Out of Print: Hi Bea, thanks again for doing this! I’d like to start by asking how you’d define your time in YStyle?
Bea Ledesma: Fun, chaotic. That was my first real job, I would say. I had one job previously, for a short period, but Star was really the place where I had to learn on the ground. And I got to work with a lot of people who would later become good friends: Celine, Ana, and Audrey. They were the three keepers of YStyle.

What was that first job before YStyle?
I worked for a gay men's magazine at ABS-CBN Publishing. It [wasn’t officially] a gay magazine but based on the number of men in briefs, I think it would be easy for anybody with eyes to make that assumption. So I did a few shoots where I was the only woman present and it would be my job to oil the male model. And I remember wondering, “Did I go to college to oil some guy’s abs? Sure, why not?”

One of the things I liked about what you all did at YStyle were your red carpet reviews. It felt like a symphony of takes years before Twitter and meme culture existed. And I remember thinking that I wanted to write with this level of wit one day. I’m curious, what was some of the most memorable work for you during your run?
Honestly, those red carpet reviews were very much of that time. I don’t see myself doing that again. Back then, Celine and I would have to wake up early in order to catch the livestream of the red carpet; I was half-asleep writing most of that. I remember one time I was in Boracay for my friend Frank’s milestone birthday and had to wake up at 7 a.m. to do those red carpet reviews after a late night. So yeah, looking back, I wouldn’t call it fun.

But I’d argue that that’s a testament to your skills also. Despite you saying the work was often unglamourous, it still portrayed this idea of a fun conversation with a cocktail in hand.
Sure, a cocktail in hand but—really—wrapped up in a blanket, furiously texting each other.

Did that in any way give you the confidence to own your voice as a writer?
Well, first of all, I don’t consider myself an erudite writer. My goal was never to write like the people I admired because I would never sound like them and I would hate to sound like a pissy, trying-hard wannabe. I would rather sound like a shitty version of myself.

Was that something you knew early on? Like you had an idea of what kind of writer you wanted to be and how to do it?
It’s not like I read The Bell Jar in high school and thought I could ever write like Plath. I was aware of my limitations.

One of the things I’d tell my friends who are uncomfortable being interviewed is to answer as if they’re hungover. Because when you’re hungover you’re forced to give the shortest answers. That’s how I write. The running joke we had in YStyle was that we’d write shorter and shorter articles. We called them “blurbicles.” [Laughs] I’m a lazy writer so I just assume that people read the way I read. I hate filler.

But calling yourself a “lazy writer” undercuts your level of insight or rhetoric. And being an editor has a lot to do with that as well.  So whether or not the writing was long or cut short, if it was a hit, that’s a credit to you.
As an editor, I’m a slasher. I like to cut, cut, cut. I would tell a lot of our contributors not to bother with a long preamble or an intro because that's a sign that you were just sitting in front of your laptop, taking long breaks, and watching porn, who knows? And usually, if that’s your approach then what you're going to say is not that interesting, anyway. So don't bother. That’s my motto: don't bother.

Did you ever get comments from your contributing writers about how much you cut?
Not really. When I submit a piece to someone, it's like a go-with-God approach. I’m not precious about my work. Surrender to God, you know? But sure, there are times when I'm like, “Why did you change this word, or make it something more complimentary when I did not mean it to be nice?” But in general, once you've submitted, it's done. It's gone.

“Nice is facade. Nice is foundation and I don't even wear foundation.”

Before this interview, I messaged some colleagues if they had any questions for you. And most, if not all, of their reactions were that they’re too scared of you or intimidated to ask you anything. I’m guessing that that reputation goes back to your days in YStyle and how, in a way, your group was seen as the “it girls” of publishing. It’s clear some of that perception still lingers today. How do you identify with that perception of you and how close to reality is it?
It's funny, because Celine is one of the most generous people I know. She’s one of the nicest and friendliest. Audrey’s incredibly genuine and cool, Ana K is so sweet and amiable. So I don't know where that perception came from.

But even without knowing where it came from, would you say that there was that level of intimidation from the industry?
Maybe it’s my face. My mom once said I look like someone peed on my cereal.

No one ever went up to you and said something like, “You're much nicer in person!”?
Sure. I mean, do I care about being nice? Not so much. Do I want to be kind? Yes. 

So what’s the difference between being nice and being kind?
Kind is compassion and thoughtfulness. I say this while being entirely aware that kindness isn’t one of my qualities.

Nice is… being pleasant. Nice is facade. Nice is foundation and I don't even wear foundation.

Was the move to Hinge a smooth transition for you.
Yes and no. What I did at YStyle, I would say majority was editorial and then a bit of marketing. When I moved to Hinge I had to use the other side of my brain that had rotted for many years. I had to handle the business side as well as the creative side. But I would say that, based on my last job at Hinge, I would not even call myself a creative.

Because I was involved in a lot of the business/operations side. Emerging from that YStyle bubble with just three people to suddenly attending town halls and meeting with HR for large teams…

That’s interesting, because I would’ve thought coming from being a multidisciplinary editor, and being trained to form an opinion—and articulating that opinion—would’ve made some of your decision-making easy.
Opinions are cheap. I have so many of them. And yes, that was the best part of my job. If someone could just pay me to say yes, no, panget—that would be great.

Was the hard part more of just dealing with the amount of it all?
Yeah, I went from handling one brand to handling multiple brands. When I joined Hinge, we rebranded all the titles and we restaffed, we hired, and we kind of changed the structure and had to create a collaboration process.

It sounds like you had to build the foundations of Hinge.
I was hired to bring in new ideas. It was a rebranding exercise. And honestly, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the process of seeing how we can structure these brands to find an audience—how do we structure them so that they're readable, compelling, and understandable? That was the goal from the very beginning.

“I enjoy stuff that initially repulses me. I love the absurd and the ridiculous.”

When you moved on to Hinge after being an editor at YStyle, it felt like it answered this question for me of what’s next after being an editor. You were able to define that in some way, not just for yourself, but for the industry also. I’d like to ask you out of all the brands that you handled which was the most fulfilling?
Most fulfilling, I would say, Nolisoli.ph [Northern Living and Southern Living], because I was entering my older woman era. And I wanted to have a title that would address my concerns as an older person, which turned out to be concerns that many young people shared. For example, how can I live a better life without negatively impacting the environment? Merging my interests in politics, food, climate, environment, culture, fashion into a single space. And you know, we do have those conversations with our friends and family. So yeah, I think Nolisoli.ph was a response to a time in my life when I was tired of talking about perfume.

Normally these kinds of interviews are for those who want to learn from you, myself included. But I get the sense that you learned a lot from your younger teams during your time at Hinge.
I'm a very rigid person, according to my therapist. So, you know, I really love to hold on to my opinion of what's good, what's great, what's bad, what's ugly, what's not ugly. And working, I think, with young people has taught me to be flexible. And I think flexibility is one of the most important skills you need now.

I would say that most of our staffers were infinitely more creative than me by leagues and miles. A lot of young writers who could write with humor and insight.

At Hinge, working with people like Nimu Muallam, the creative director, was an exercise in painless creative collaboration. It was easy to work with someone like her because she was always open to new ideas, willing to play around. And she was incredibly hard working.

Throughout the years, we've had a lot of really good staffers who automatically knew their own voice, which—based on your question—can be difficult. The trouble with admiring a lot of people is that it makes you think that your voice is not interesting enough or intelligent enough as the people you worship.

And I think, for a lot of young people who are constantly online, I can see how that can translate to a monotony of ideas because we’re all looking at the same thing.

So when everyone is looking at the same thing, how does one develop insight?
Listen to your first instinct. Take a break from the internet.

Often when I see something and I think, “Oh my God, it’s so ugly,” I know it’s going to be good. I enjoy stuff that initially repulses me. I love the absurd and the ridiculous. It’s why I watch Real Housewives. It’s why I love Mariah.

I guess my worry is more on the state of things, and thinking what would be required of me to succeed as a creative today. A lot of it is finding your own voice at a time when it seems like we’re all just reacting to the same thing at the same time over and over again.
That's why we should all die now.

Okay, kidding or not, why do you think it's good for all of us to die now?
I personally would not like to be the last person at the party.

Did you ever feel like—whether it's in publishing or outside of it—that you were lingering a little too long?
Not really. It's a question of whether you feel you belong. Whether you think you still have something to add to the conversation.

Anyway, I like to leave a dinner party if I'm not in the mood anymore. “I don’t want to be in a situation for even an hour when I’m not enjoying myself,” etc.

But you can feel excited and also worry that you can’t channel that excitement into something worthwhile or productive.
You know, I hear a lot of people rail about the state of media, or the state of content consumption. And to a certain extent, if you're looking for clicks, then sure, I can understand the sentiment. But if you're creating for yourself, or creating for a certain niche, then there is no one singular path to creation.

Not to make this too meta, but if I can share how Out of Print started—it was basically wanting to create something new or something I felt I needed to do. So I do get the sentiment that there’s no one singular path to creation. But I guess the concern now, which I think other independent publications are facing as well, is when people ask what’s next and whether it can be financially sustainable or not, there’s a sense that, when it comes to surviving, there is only one singular path to take.
I think what's interesting for me, as I've gotten older, is redefining growth. Recalibrating my understanding of success. And for many, growth means more, more, more, more. Sometimes to the detriment of the environment and their mental health.

So how would you define growth?
Finding a path that does not make you lose sleep, does not make you unhappy with the moral decisions you have to make every day. Growth is finding peace with what you've accomplished and what you hope to accomplish.

What would your advice be for young writers or just writers in general who feel overwhelmed?
Like in terms of the volume?

Yes, but also there’s this sense of burden or responsibility to everything they write. Like how even aggregated content can feel like a heavy op-ed. That’s not a bad thing per se, but there’s this sense of pagod.
Take a shower or a nap. I used to stare at my screen for hours before writing a “blurbicle.” (What a stupid waste of time.) It's when I'm stressing over what I have to write that I am least creative. So take a shower, take a nap, and then go back to it.

“I think what people are interested in now is that feeling of discovery. When you're faced with so many similar faces you kind of lose that excitement.”

Do you feel like, if you started out today, you could still succeed in the industry the way it is now?
I think so. I was super excited to be in publishing. Actually, it was my dream job. And I know it's not kosher to say “dream job” anymore, but honestly, when I was in high school, I contributed to the school paper. I joined the debate team; I wasn’t great. I used to spend so much money on magazines. I think the state of media has embittered a lot of people and with good reason. I think the question is, would I have lasted?

Do you think you would have lasted?
Maybe not. Maybe not.

Because of?
Well, the luxury of writing for a newspaper that time was that I would only come to the office twice a week. And the rest of the week I’d be juggling interviews, shoots, events, sourcing. And also, I had side projects. I had a jewelry line with a friend. I made bags, lol. I had other creative pursuits.

Okay, just to address the elephant in the room: what was your reaction when they announced Vogue Philippines?

In a good way?

How so?
I thought, “Wow, what a brave move.” I mean, considering the state of print. I'm also curious about the decision like, “Why Vogue?” And what kind of Vogue are we getting? So I'm curious to see how they’ll translate it to the Philippines.

Can I ask how you'd translate Vogue for the Philippine market?
I haven’t really thought about it. I mean, who would you put on the first cover?

I think the first cover, you won’t have to think about much. For me, it’s who's gonna be on the fourth or the fifth or the sixth. The cynical argument feels like, if there’s a sense that I might not have enough, then why do it in the first place?
That's so interesting. Because you're coming from a place of scarcity, right? I come from a place of maybe there are new people who should be on the cover.

In an ideal world, yes, that is the way to go. But there is a sense that these big franchises are a double-edged sword. That while, yes, you’re able to capitalize on the brand recognition, at the same time there’s a potential risk that working under franchise brands can be very restricting creatively.
I think people operate between two schools: choosing A-listers who are sure to sell—and that way you take the least or the fewest monetary risks—and then there are people who are just like, let's try something new. I think what people are interested in now is that feeling of discovery. When you're faced with so many similar faces, you kind of lose that excitement. Which is not to say that a popular face cannot be made new again. But maybe the question people should be asking is, what's new? Are we seeking out new things that would be compelling to the reader? And I think if you're coming from a place of scarcity—we only have four faces to choose from—then sure your options are limited. But if you're coming from a place of discovery, then I think you could take interesting risks.

Bea Ledesma on A Home Kewk: “I wanted to embrace food and not be gross about ‘my healing journey with food.’”

There was this article recently that talked about the plot of And Just Like That... and how Carrie Bradshaw was struggling to pivot from being a famous columnist to a podcaster. And I wanted to talk to you about A Home Kewk first in relation to the idea of pivoting.
I think I was interested in the challenge. You know, when you're doing something for so long, you kind of lose that feeling of being challenged. So it was that mix of fear, excitement, uncertainty.

I've cooked my whole life. I cook for myself. l entertain. I’m not a professional trained cook. And so the challenge for me was, how can I make food that’s plant-based interesting and compelling? It's the same challenge as before, right? How do I make vegetables compelling and interesting to the consumer?

What about making vegetable-based dishes was compelling for you?
I listened to a podcast on climate anxiety. And one of the insights was that if you feel like you're doing something to help ease the burden on climate change, no matter how small, then that can help with your anxiety. And so a lot of my concerns, as I've gotten older, is that a lot of the work I did was maybe unnecessary and also bad for the environment. A lot of it is about consumption. And my pivot to Hinge was all about being better and living a better life that's about, I don’t know, making change, healing.

I feel like that was one path to help with climate anxiety. And so when I was going to do A Home Kewk, my challenge was, how can I do work that’s good for me, and good for other people? I was interested in how we can make this kind of food something people would like to eat. I don't put food in this binary of bad/good, but the goal was really to use veg as the linchpin of A Home Kewk.

When did that change come about, in terms of you realizing that the way you were operating—whether in your career or life—was becoming a little too harmful?
I mean at some point, you realize that there are some things that you do not want to do. Like at Hinge, for example, we had policies about products we didn’t want to promote. We didn't want to sell weight loss products or feminine wash. Even the NHS says, “If nature had intended the vagina to smell like roses or lavender, it would have made the vagina smell like roses or lavender."

The goal for me when I moved to Hinge was, I'd like to be part of something that was progressive and wanted to see that across the board when it came to health, environment, fashion, culture. So those are just some of the harmful messages that I no longer wanted to be a part of. And I grew up in this industry, having worked in media for years. I was also part of the diet industry complex, for example, and I participated in it. So I am also to blame as someone in the media who participated and encouraged it.

I’m so glad I grew out of that mindset. Took me long enough.

In relation to dealing with climate anxiety, what was so comforting for you about starting A Home Kewk?
You know, a lot of people demonize food. Like food is something that you need to be punished for enjoying. “I had a burger so now I need to run for an hour or I need to do burpees.” I wanted to embrace food and not be gross about “my healing journey with food.”

Was there a different sense of fulfillment compared to what you did before in your career?
It’s a practice grounded in tangibles. I'm working with my hands. I'm tasting and I’m creating versus scanning reports, editing.

There's something pleasurable and gratifying about the act of making food. So the sense of satisfaction is a little bit different. I'm also working in a field I'm not as familiar with and that makes it exciting. But there are also more chances for me to fuck up here. I could kill someone with my food, you know? Nobody's gonna die from a stupid red carpet review.

Do you feel pressure in terms of like, how you want A Home Kewk to go?
A lot of people ask me, what's your next step? I think I'm old enough to say that my path to growth is going to take what it's going to take. I'm not necessarily looking to make billions—although financial security would be great.

But yeah, when people say, “oh, you're a cook,” I always have to clarify that I'm untrained. I'm not professional. Which is weird. Why do I always have to clarify that? So I think the pressure is the pressure I put on myself, like, how will I measure up to many of my friends and peers who are credible and talented professional cooks? And then I remember that it's just a fucking burger. And then I get over myself.

“A lot of people demonize food. Like food is something that you need to be punished for enjoying.”

So this question comes from Audrey. She wants to know—
Was Audrey the only one who sent a question?

Yup! Like I said, everyone else was/is really intimidated by you. [Laughs] Anyway, she wanted to know what’s the one thing that would make you return to publishing?
A challenge. I think a challenge would make me return. And it's not like I'm holding out for something. I think I would enjoy a challenge.

What is a challenge that is interesting for you to take on?
Not to get into specifics, but I think it's clear to us that media is a challenged space. Because of Facebook and its ilk. So for me, the interesting challenge would be seeing a brand take risks.

So in your opinion, what’s the biggest threat facing the media today? Because if you ask someone from Rappler, for them they’d probably say it's fake news. If you ask other creatives or old school editors, they’d say publishers are still the biggest threat.
What is the biggest problem? I don't think that there’s just one problem. But I think for sure the weaponization of propaganda and fake news. And I think leading up to the elections, whenever I talk to people from all walks of life, and I ask them who they're voting for and why, a lot of that is shaped by the content they find online. Much of it from questionable sources.

What for you would be a good solution, or where should we start first in dealing with this problem?
Education, right? Critical thinking, problem solving, digital literacy. It's all rooted in education. If we invested in education, invested in kids and even adults, I think it starts there. I was teaching a digital literacy module to kids recently and I was asking them, what do you do when you're online? And for the majority, it's passively consuming content. And all these kids are really clever and smart but a lot of them are still unable to articulate how to decipher the content that they're consuming.

Before we wrap up, one thing I wanted to touch on is when you said before that you were in debate in school and you were writing for the school paper. It seems to me that, growing up, you were able to articulate your opinions well. I'm curious how you developed that skill.
First of all, I wasn't a great debater. I was too emotional, too all over the place. No cogent arguments on my side of the debate floor. But for me, it goes back to the dining table. Luckily, I have a mom who is always open to discussion. We argued a lot. But I think what's good about having those discussions at the dinner table is when someone lets you speak. A lot of people growing up tell you to be quiet. But I think being given the space to articulate your thoughts and speak your mind, even if they don’t agree with you, is important.

So for you, having an opinion is… rooted in questioning authority? Like it's a show of strength in a way.
It comes from asking questions and coming to your own realizations. I mean, everyone has an opinion. That's why I deleted my Facebook. The last thing I want to see is other people's dumb opinions.

What makes a good opinion?
An opinion that's rooted in knowledge.

Shouldn’t that be the bare minimum instead of being an exemplary thing?
I mean, who am I to say? I have a lot of stupid opinions. And honestly, sometimes I enjoy my stupid opinions more than I do any other kind. I'm just a stupid woman with a lot of opinions.

But that belittles who you are and how your career went. Because “a stupid woman with a lot of opinions” is the opposite of someone who headed YStyle, rebranded Hinge, navigated board meetings, and helped foster young creatives.
I contain multitudes. I also have a master's degree in Real Housewives.︎

Jonty Cruz is a writer and creative consultant based in Manila.