Why I see myself in Miss America, Miss USA, Miss Teen USA and Miss Universe

By Grey Stephens
December 14, 2019

Four black women currently hold the title for Miss Universe, Miss America, Miss USA and Miss Teen USA. From left to right: Kaliegh Garris, this year’s Miss Teen USA; Nia Franklin, Miss America; Cheslie Kryst, Miss USA; and Zozibini Tunzi, Miss Universe

Never before in history have we seen black elegance surface to the top, until now. Miss America, Miss USA, Miss Teen USA and Miss Universe being the most recently crowned on Dec. 8, all hold those titles and all are women of African American descent. To see women of color in leading roles is important for me to see myself in a powerful role in my area of expertise in the future. Throughout history, women in general have always had to prove that they are capable of doing things men can do. Even though these pageants are focused on women, the women prepare to take action and give back to the world by doing work on reform and issues in our current society. 

A study called “Beauty and Body image concerns Among African American College Women” found issues related to hair, skin tone, body type and message sources. It included themes of racial body differences, micro aggressions and hyper sexualization. The finding of the study from the 31 African American women who participated in one of five focus groups concluded that specific characteristics of European descent have been prioritized in mainstream culture and history. 

Zozibini Tunzi of South Africa and current holder of the Miss Universe title said that she rarely saw any women who looked like her in the pageant itself when growing up. Not only is it rare, but it is a mark made in history. It sends a strong message that today’s beauty standards are evolving out of an era where there was only one type of skin color winning this role. It was not relevant to value black women in leadership and this can be displayed not only just in the pageant world but all over the world. 

Black women did not even have the right to vote until the 19th Amendment back in 1920, which will only be 100 years ago in 2020. To see that almost 100 years have passed and the world is still facing issues of race make the world seem underdeveloped. Our leaders have shown they can make advances in technology, immigration and education but have not shown any progress for enforcing equal opportunities for every race. The world has always been divided among races when it should be united and races should be able to recognize and support each other when one has a specific success. This is true especially because this particular race has been oppressed for so long. 

These beauty pageants represent a world where there is a wider issue. Something like four black women winning the titles simultaneously should not be a moment in history but it should be something that is regular. These pageants are not only changing beauty standards but they are changing standards for black women everywhere.

Being black and being an aspiring model, I relate to the idea that there hasn’t been enough room for enforcing black beauty. I have been turned away from multiple modeling agencies because I did not have “what they were looking for” or did not meet a specific beauty standard but every example I saw in use of their promotion were young white females models. This is why moments like this in history matter, especially now when we see progress for black women. 

There has always been a lack of black beauty being represented in mainstream media. Starting modeling at 15, this is a topic I had to think about.
Photo by Grey Stephens


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Grey Stephens

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