Beauty pageants have, over the years, usually been a breeding ground for the perpetuation of the Eurocentric concept of beauty; stick-thin women, pale skin and flowing straight hair.
Contestants the world over have had to be subject to various body modifications in order to successfully compete in and win beauty pageants.
These beauty standards have also, in part, been reiterated by advertising entities, employing the services and images of actors and models who conform to these standards in a bid to increase sales, consequently placing these Eurocentric features on a pedestal and making them an aspiration for women and girls all over the world.
In 1970, Jennifer Hosten became the first woman of African ancestry to be crowned Miss World. Seven years later, Janelle Commissiong became the first woman of African ancestry to be crowned Miss Universe.
Both women won the respective pageants and can be seen in pictures with straightened hair, in accordance with the conventions at the time. After these women, there was (and still is) a lot to be done for non-white women in the world of pageantry.
For some time now, the buzz around inclusion, diversity and political correctness in all facades of our dealings have led to open conversations on beauty standards and ideals of the socially constructed notion of physical attractiveness that all women should strive to achieve and maintain.
Women of African descent are making headway in pageantry, so to speak, wearing their natural hair in pageants unapologetically and winning crowns.
Below is a list of five of such women who won significant beauty pageants while wearing their natural hair:
Davina Bennett, Miss Universe 2017
After winning Miss Jamaica Universe 2017, Bennett represented Jamaica at the Miss Universe 2017 pageant, where she was the 2nd runner up. All through the competition, Bennett stole the show with her natural Afro and beautiful smile, causing influential people like American filmmaker Shonda Rhimes to come out and request a doll of her to be made to motivate young girls of colour to love themselves.
Dee-Ann Rodgers, Miss Universe Great Britain 2018
After it was launched in 1952, the Miss Universe Great Britain pageant had never had a black winner until 2018 when Dee-Ann Rodgers was crowned the queen. From Anguilla, a British territory, Rodgers is the first woman to walk the pageant with dreadlocks, making her not only the first black woman to win, but the first to advance in the pageant with natural hair and the first black woman to represent Great Britain in the Miss Universe pageant where she finished off in the top 20.
Cheslie Kryst, Miss USA 2019
A practising attorney by profession, Kryst is the oldest woman to be crowned queen in the 68-year history of the Miss USA pageant at 28 years old. Not only that, she is the first black woman to win the pageant wearing her natural hair. The night before the main show, Kryst is said to have spent three hours prepping her hair, finger-curling each strand and wearing a bonnet on the d-day until 30 minutes before she went on stage. “I want to do it as the most real and authentic me,” she said. And after she walked onto the stage with that hair, her life has literally not been the same.
Kaliegh Garris, Miss Teen USA 2019
Born to a Caucasian mother and a black father, Garris confesses to having straightened her hair in all the previous competitions she has been involved in, including the National American Miss circuit, Miss American Coed system, Miss Connecticut’s Outstanding Teen competition and Miss Connecticut Teen USA 2019. “I looked up to my mom a lot and she had straight blonde hair. I really wanted to embody the same characteristics…[But] I realized I can do that while being myself and still be powerful,” she said. She was crowned sporting her natural curls, something that has been an inspiration to girls around the world.
Zozibini Tunzi, Miss South Africa 2019
After its establishment in 1956 Apartheid South Africa, it was only in 1992 that the Miss South Africa pageant was open to citizens of all races. This year, Zozibini Tunzi has made history as the first black woman to win the pageant with her natural hair. After an unsuccessful bid for the crown in 2017, Tunzi returned two years later with determination and her tenacity, and she won. “Here sits the crown, beautifully so on my kinky coarse hair. I hope I make South Africa proud,” she said after winning.