Past to Present: The change of today’s pageant world
Written by Imani Stephens
Five women of color all becoming the world’s pageants holders all in one year.
Beauty pageants have been around since the early 1900s. They symbolize beauty, brains, personality, talent and so much more than meets the eye. The first Miss America pageant was created in 1921. Since then, there has been the creation of many other pageants such as Miss USA, Miss Teen USA, Miss Universe and Miss World.
Since the pageants creation in the early 1920s, Carole Anne-Marie Gist was the first Black woman to win a pageant in 1990, followed by Kenya Moore, who won the competition in 1993. Even with the more than 60-year gap, there has never been a time where all of the contestants for such pageants were people of color at the same time… until now. 2019 marked such a historic moment in history. Miss America, Miss USA, Miss Teen USA, Miss Universe and Miss World were all women of color.
After decades of non-inclusion in the pageant industry, the world has seen more milestones at the turn each decade since the first woman of color. Changes are more present from inclusion to the change of the dress in the shows. For example, the Miss America pageant does not hold a swimsuit competition anymore in order to be swapped out for other events. According to an article in USA Today, “For the second year in a row, there will be no swimsuit or evening gown competitions,” with organizers stressing that participants are not judged on outward physical appearance. Those events were replaced by onstage interviews and opportunities for the women to discuss their personal achievements, life goals, talents and a planned ‘social impact initiative’ as the 2020 Miss America.” This is to stand in solidarity with social movements that seek to respect woman and see them for more than just their physical appearance. These pageants may be perceived as being strictly about beauty, but if we dive deeper it can be seen that these women are fighting for equality for women of all colors, economic backgrounds, etc.
The significance of these five women of color winning these pageants at the same time shows the world how far it has come from the early 1990s. One can only hope that the equality and justice we are fighting for is coming to fruition right in front of our very eyes. You can see the diversity and different backgrounds of each of these women who may share the same race. Even previous Miss America contestants shared their sentiments with how far the pageant life has progressed over the years, especially from their start in the pageant world. This includes aspects from looks, talents performed or even social impact.
In the time where we see a Black woman, Meghan Markle marry a prince and be crowned, 2019 graced us with another year where five other women of color become carriers of beautiful crowns. To start the year on a high note, Kaleigh Harris, Miss Teen USA won her pageant on April 28. Miss USA, Cheslie Kryst, won her pageant on May 2. Gracefully following the back end of the year in September, Nia Franklin brought home the trophy for Miss America. This news went viral and these three women saw covers of magazines such as Essence and the world watched as they met the one and only, icon Oprah Winfrey. The lovely ladies took the internet by storm, going viral and causing an uproar of Black women uplifting each other because they were all astonished by such an amazing feat .
For the first time many girls of color began to feel seen as they were represented in all different shades and career paths. These women are lawyers, opera singers and even teen activists. All Black and all showing the world how multifaceted woman can be. According to the article mentioned earlier from Essence, Miss USA 2019, Cheslie Kryst says, ”Pageants weren’t always welcoming to women of color. It took decades of persistence and courageous women showing the world a new kind of beauty.” The world is opening up its arms to different standards of beauty and examples of what everyday women look like and do. Miss Teen USA Kaliegh Garris feels it's important for people to know she is biracial and that her world view isn't just one way. Winning the crown of Miss Teen USA on her natural curly hair, she also tells Essence, “Holding this title has made a difference in my life and the lives of those around me, not only because I am a woman of color but also because I am biracial.”
After making history and inspiring the lives of so many other girls across the world with Miss USA, Miss Teen USA, and Miss America all being Black title holders in 2019, history happened once again. Miss Universe 2020 was a Black woman crowned Dec. 8, 2019. This occurrence was followed by Miss World winner, Toni-Ann Singh. This meant that all five title holders were women of color for the first time ever in pageant history all before the year was over. Zozibini Tunzi is the third woman from South Africa to win the title, and the first Black woman to take the title since Leila Lopes was crowned Miss Universe 2011. When asked during Sunday's contest what is most important to teach young girls today, Tunzi answered, “I grew up in a world where a woman who looks like me, with my kind of skin and my kind of hair, was never considered to be beautiful.”
In today’s society, inclusion is of utmost importance. It can be heard in speeches from these lovely women or even in their interviews how important it is for them to use their platform to show up in spaces that people that look like them never had access to before. “This crown is not mine but yours. It's for you to truly understand that no matter where you're from and the cards you're dealt in life - your dreams are valid. You have a purpose," Singh wrote on her Instagram. Just to think, women of color are winning pageants with millions of people around the country watching. This is completely different from what pageant life was like in the early 1900’s. There are a multitude of changes in the world today from having our first Black princess to having five beautiful Black women as role models for women of color across the globe. The crowns that grace their heads signify change, diversity, inclusion and so much more. We can only be eager to see what other changes the world will have years from now.