Living a glamorous life as a national beauty queen can come with it’s fair share of challenges. One being the constant critique on one’s appearance whether it comes during competition or while out on appearances like New York Fashion Week. Being a titleholder who’s Black adds on more scrutiny. Those familiar with this is none other than the women making history right now holding some of the highest titles in pageantry.
Zozibini Tunzi (Miss Universe), Chelsie Kryst (Miss USA), Kaleigh Garris, (Miss Teen USA) and Nia Franklin (Miss America 2019) recently sat down with IMG and Endeavor’s CMO (Chief marketing officer), Bozoma Saint John during an open discussion on beauty standards at a panel during New York Fashion Week to share the hardships and backlash they faced since winning their titles while also redefining beauty standards.
“My journey started with Miss South Africa,” Zozibini shared with John the backlash began when she first told people of her decision to compete for Miss South Africa Universe. The first thing people would ask her after she announced the news if she was going to do it with her short hair or wear a wig. The current Miss Universe says she was appalled by this question because she felt it said her natural 4C hair was not good enough.
Nonetheless, Zozibini decided not only to compete for Miss South Africa Universe in her natural hair, but keep the same look at Miss Universe. She explained how winning the crown with her natural hair was everything, “If I listened to them I would believe everything they were saying. We are supposed to be breaking beauty boundaries.”
On the other hand during her year as Miss America Nia says she had the opposite problem of Zozi,“I would get upset by people saying I wasn’t wearing my natural hair enough,” she said. Throughout her reign, Nia says she was criticized for not wearing her natural hair enough. However, she was unfazed by the criticism she received.
“How I choose to wear my hair is my personal choice. Wearing my hair as braids while I crowned my successor was my personal choice.”-Nia Franklin
Nia spoke out about how she also faced problems with her initial Miss America 2.0 contract. As the 92nd Miss America competition, she felt as if she was just a stepping-stone, “I wanted to make sure the contract had my best interest.” Upon receiving the document, Nia reached out to her attorney and close pageant friend, Chelsie who was able to help out with her contract dispute. Nia shared that Chelsie “got me everything I ever wanted.”
Chelsie faced her fair share of hardships (before winning Miss USA) first in the courtroom as an attorney. She shared, “many times I was the youngest person, only woman and person of color,” saying it can be a frightening experience at times. However, she believes it was important for her to be represented in the courtroom as example for young black children to follow.
It was this same model, watching people before her that motivated her to compete for Miss South Carolina. She watched her mother compete in pageants and inspired her a a child, “I could do something because I saw it happen.” After Chelsie saw her mom don a crown and sash, she felt inspired to enter and signed up, now she’s making history.
Miss Teen USA, Kaleigh, shared she has not quite grasped her impact on society yet, however, she does see the changes, “I’m a part of history and that’s really cool.” Despite the backlash all the queens have dealt with, Kaleigh is still amazed by the tremendous amount of love and support they all receive, “I see these pictures or videos of little girls reenacting our crowning.”
These powerful queens are living, breathing, proof all women of color are beautiful. Miss Universe Zozibini explained, “We can be what they can’t see [in the media]. When they look at us they too can do something for themselves.”
We dig deeper into this topic on the episode of Pageants & Prosecco below. Be sure to grab a glass and tune in!