Black victory in beauty contests: the 5 ‘misses’ that break the white tradition

Black victory in beauty contests: the 5 'misses' that break the white tradition
Miss Jamaica won the Miss World 2019 contest (Reuters)

Miss Universe, World, USA, Teen USA and America: the five crowned are black women. This is the first time this has happened in the history of beauty pageants.

The canons of feminine beauty have varied greatly throughout history, from women with rounded bodies of the fifteenth century to bodies with a wasp waist (and corset, if possible) of the nineteenth century, and the maximum exuberances to the extreme thinness; although they have always had something in common: beauty had a white complexion. The figure of Naomi Campbell, however, revolutionized the fashion industry by becoming one of the most quoted and valued models. Not only that, but he even threw harsh criticism at the editors of fashion magazines like ‘Vogue’ for hiring a few black models for his cover. Other women like Beyoncé or Jennifer López they helped the beauty to stop being associated with the color of the skin and now, in 2019, five of the women crowned as maximum beauties of the planet have in common that distance from the white tradition in the contests: Miss Universe, Miss World, Miss USA, Miss USA teenager and Miss America, all black.

For the first time in history, these five beauty pageants have crowned black women as winners at the same time; a historical milestone, if one takes into account that at the beginning of this type of contest black women were forbidden to participate. The first woman to mark a turning point in beauty pageants was Janelle Penny Commissiong, the first Caribbean and of African descent to be crowned as Miss Universe, in 1977: she was not the favourite, and was discriminated against because of her skin color, but ended up being designated as the most beautiful woman in the universe. In the Miss America contest it was not until 1983 when a black woman put on the crown, Vanessa Willians; and Carole Anne-Marie Gist, the first black contestant of Miss USA, was awarded in 1990. In 2019, these are the five ‘misses’.

‘Misses’ in the struggle for women

Jamaican Toni-Ann Singh has been crowned this year as Miss World. At 23, she is a student of Psychology and Gender Studies at the Florida State University (United States), although she chose to take a sabbatical year to now enrol in Medicine. “With or without a Miss World crown, I will continue to fight for women. I believe that women are the soul of our community. I will continue to inspire them and work with them so that they understand their full potential,” she said, after receiving the crown. Jamaica sent its first representative to the Miss World pageant in 1959 and, so far, had won three times. The highlight of the 2019 contest was not the name of the winner itself, but the reaction of her partner and rival, Nyekachi Douglas ( Miss Nigeria ), who literally jumped for joy upon hearing the name of the Jamaican.

In the Miss Universe contest, the winner was Zozibini Tunzi, a 26-year-old South African, passionate activist and committed against gender-based violence. Tunzi has dedicated part of her time in leading a campaign on social networks with the aim of changing the narrative about gender stereotypes: staunch defender of natural beauty, Tunzi has encouraged all women to love themselves as they are. “I ask South Africans to be part of the fabric of my suit for Miss Universe by writing love letters that promise the support of the women of this country. I hope that these promises will start and continue a conversation about gender violence: We have to start a narrative in which those people who have good thoughts are role models for all those who believe that mistreating women is fine. ”

‘Black power’ also in America

In addition to the two major beauty contests globally, three others from the American continent have had as ‘queens of dance’ three other black women. The winner of Miss USA 2019 was Cheslie Kryst, from North Carolina, a full-time lawyer licensed to practice law in two different states of her country. Graduated in Law and with an MBA from the University of Wake Forest. Kryst works for a law firm where he specializes in helping prisoners who may have been unfairly convicted for free, but also maintains his own fight for women: in a video posted during the competition, Kryst explained that a judge in one case suggested that she dress in a skirt instead of pants because the judges preferred that dress. ” The glass ceiling can be broken, wear a skirt or pants, ” she said, in statements collected by CNN. “Don’t tell a woman to wear different clothes while making substantial comments to men about their legal arguments.”

Last May, Kaliegh Garris wore her crown of Miss Teen USA. The 18-year-old from Connecticut lived the time to pick up her crown with her natural, curly hair. “The night before the event, I riched each of my curls in the shower. It was a very long shower, but it was for a greater good,” she explained in an interview with Refinery29. “I know how my hair looks straight, with extensions and curly hair: I feel much safer and more comfortable with my natural hair” she added. Garris smoothed her hair from a very young age because all her friends had “straight and pretty”; it wasn’t until later when a schoolmate told her she had a very pretty curl. And so it ended: Miss Teen USA’s crown was placed, for the first time in 20 years, on naturally curly hair. “Being able to spread the message of diversity, of being yourself and having confidence in your natural hair is something I am looking forward to doing since my new title.”

The quintet is culminated by Nia Imani Franklin, also an American. With a Master’s degree in Fine Arts from the North Carolina University School of Arts, she received a scholarship with which she had to move to New York, where she was ‘miss’ of the city last year. What has been Miss America 2019 combined her university studies with an organization that works to find artists in public schools and help students with more needs. Since her move to New York, she has been part of Sing for Hope, a non-profit organization whose goal is “to create a better world through the power of music.” “I studied in a mostly Caucasian school: only 5% of the students belonged to minorities, and I felt out of place because of the color of my skin. But as I grew up I discovered my love for the arts and through music I managed to feel positive about myself and who I am.”