Having starred in the television show LUV U and being a TV and events host with a background in theater and radio, Karen Bordador is no stranger to holding attention. And we’re witness to her captivating presence when we met her as the Ms. Brightside of Makati of PBB Kumunity. From cooking for the housemates, transforming into a Barbie-esque doll clad in pink, and using her voice even in difficult situations inside the house, Karen from days 1 to 51 on PBB has shown us that to be Ms. Brightside isn’t merely niceness and charm, it’s also depth and strength of character.
Wardrobe IA COCA (left) ; JOB DACON (Right)
“PBB clearly stregthens my belief that if you share you story, you will be understood,” Karen says, looking back on how the show has influenced her outlook in life since joining. “PBB is a big platform to be understood.”
Karen has since remained connected to her former fellow housemates such as Alexa Ilacad, Jordan Andrews, and Shanaia Gomez – even celebrating her birthday with them and having them as guests on her YouTube channel with more than 100,000 of subscribers (a milestone she achieved in no less than six months that earned her a silver button). There are also brewing surprises on her channel that she’s excited about. But it’s not just vlogging that’s been keeping Karen busy lately. She hosts her own inspirational radio show on KUMU via Kstage called K-Way and Karen also hosts events and does photoshoots besides keeping up with the livestreams.
During this time that we see Karen visibly on the hustle and on the busy grind, you would think she has rarely time to be still. Getting more than 100,000 followers on TikTok, YouTube, and Facebook within the span of only six months, it would seem like life for Karen has always been on the fast lane to success. “It’s interesting how fast things are moving. I’m just at awe with everything,” she reacts. Seeing herself on a billboard that can be spotted when passing through EDSA traffic, Karen views this as history unfolding.
But even if these all look like victories in fast forward, her real momentum was during moments of stillness. Karen has appreciated the beauty of life in pause even before she has seen the victories pour.
On a two-part International Women’s Month special that aired last March on Maalaala Mo Kaya, Kaila Estrada portrayed Karen in her story and her life’s 180 degree turn during her time in prison. Finally acquitted after five years and proven not guilty, the sharing of her story isn’t only proof that there was light beyond the tunnel, it also showed the public that to walk through with faith is to also walk with strength.
She recalls Director Raz being extremely easy to work with and the several details of jail procedures and placements she was asked to make the feature closely resemble reality and be respectful of the facts as much as possible. “I got quite emotional when I saw Kaila Estrada [playing me] jumping for joy as she stepped out of jail after being released,” Karen comments. “That really got me into tears so I had to walk away because I recalled how it felt to finally step out of prison wearing my own clothes and entering my own car.” Seeing her liberation replayed on television isn’t only an empowering moment for herself, it also empowered others.
Wardrobe IA COCA (Left) ; ALISON CASTRO (Right)
She says that even much later after the show has aired, people message her to share that they too were imprisoned or have family members that are in jail, her former prisoners also found hope in the story of her life.
MMK was not the only time her story has inspired people, she has also let other people in on her story when she shared it with the housemates at PBB. “I was wondering how I’d explain to them that I was detained for 5 years,” she recalls. “[I] still contemplating as to how long it’ll take for me to share that story. However the housemates were asking me from the first day we all met and […] they were accepting of me at the start pa lang.”
And perhaps to anyone who views it, the inspiration does not only come from seeing someone rise above challenges. The inspiration is accompanied with the genuine acceptance of people surrounding her as a survivor of challenges – and it is that acceptance that makes her story not just one about being free, but also a story of being free in her own skin. A story of not just gaining freedom, but rather, a story of being welcomed back warmly.
Wardrobe ROMAN SEBASTIAN (Left)
As many of us have faced solitude during the peak of the pandemic, we may have a renewed portrait of what the words “isolation” and “freedom” mean to us. After an unprecedented era, people longed for the normal – the colors of everyday life, the lifestyle, the places to go to, and the faces we used to see fully, not behind the screen nor behind a facemask. But to Karen, with all that she has experienced, isolation isn’t punishment or a cage to escape from, to her it means a way to enlightenment. “Though I was immensely deprived,” she begins, describing her experience in jail (a place she often calls Kulongbia). “I also didn’t have excess to things that were apparently unnecessary. Therefore I was able to live without them. With that I learned to have so little with not much of property or anything really to boast about. I didn’t have a phone nor any means to contact with others so I focused on myself.”
When put into perspective, it seems that isolation to Karen is not something to escape or run away from – but rather, isolation itself is already an escape from the noise.
She continues, “Freedom is to be able to use that self-discovery on opportunities that come our way. Being able to live happily and to use all that we are because we are not deprived or binded […] sadly not a lot of people appreciate their freedom. After isolation though will a person completely understand how beautiful this concept called freedom is. Trust me…many think they’re imprisoned when they are actually not.”
Wardrobe IA COCA (Right)
It’s fascinating to witness the strength of Karen. But what makes it even more compelling is the foundation that her strength is based on. To gather courage, she doesn’t just look inward for self-motivation or around herself to be validated. Instead, she looks up.
Upwards, with faith.
Karen says, “Prayer humbles you really, it tells you that you do not control your life but at least you know you can plead to someone who can move and shake your world.”
There’s frequently a debate between an individual’s pessimism and optimism. See the glass half empty and people will call you a cynic, see the glass half full and they will say you’re a chronic idealist.
But Karen sees it as it is, not lacking but without its sugarcoat, either.
Having gone through what she had been and reaping the blessings she has now – the glass isn’t as simple as with or without. “I see the world with respect, knowing that the highs and lows are part of what makes our life meaningful,” she reflects, “Everything’s an opportunity to rise. The deeper the fall, they higher to skyrocket.
Wardrobe IA COCA (Left) ; JOB DACON (Right)
Karen has gone through the 5-year valley, but now that she’s climbing up, she recognizes that the steps she took before her ascent are not wasted. It isn’t only the climb up that matters, but even a journey at the foot of the mountain led her closer to where she is. And in a time that glamorizes the grind and the speed, Karen shares a story that encourages us to embrace our own – wholly. To embrace our darkest chapters as part of our journey as much as we embrace the chapter of our victories. To recognize that even the chapters we don’t like, God can use for the good.
Wardrobe ALISON CASTRO
Wardrobe ROMAN SEBASTIAN
Photography: Rap Yu
Styling and Creative Direction: Janno Styles
Styling Assistant: Ely Orlanes
Makeup: Steven Siao
Hair: Romel Vetuz Zausa