Association for Free Research and International Cooperation

2019, the year of black power in beauty competitions.

Article from AFRIC Editorial
2019 was the year of black power in major beauty contests. Far from the usual, young black women have successfully taken part in prestigious competitions such as Miss World and Miss Universe. At a country level, Miss France, Miss Algeria, Miss America, Miss United States and Miss teen USA were added to the list of contests by young black women who have stolen the show by being crowned the beauty contest winner for their respective countries. In a rapidly changing world, these competitions are full of lessons, in particular - the skin colour barrier which seems to have fallen for the Miss competitions. This new wave of having black women topping the list is a new phenomenon and evidence the dynamics at play in this field. Back then, in the 1920s, women of colour had challenges participating in such contests.

Zozibini Tunzi, the Miss Universe with frizzy hair.

With the coronation of the South African Zozibini Tunzi at the Miss Universe contest, the Nappy Movement that supports “natural hair” were the biggest winners. The 26 year old young woman, among 80 candidates in this competition with her hair cut short and curly and her ebony skin, stood bold, unmoved and confident leading to her crowning. She managed to break all labels by becoming the 68th winner of this beauty contest and virtually the only winner from the creation of the show in 1952 to wear such hair texture.

In addition to her style that marked the feelings on December 08, 2019, in Atlanta, Zozibini Tunzi distinguished herself by her charisma and her speech on the leadership of young girls as well as her commitment for the rights of women. Her African origin is not, in any case, the reason why her coronation is extraordinary but her hairdo. Long before her, four other young African women preceded her on the highest step of the podium, the South African duo of Margaret Gardiner (1978) and Demi Leight Nel-Peters (2017), the Namibian Michèle Mc Lean (1992), the Botswanan Mpule Kwelalobe (1999) and the Angolan Leila Lopez (2011).

What distinguishes Zozibini Tunzi from the other four African winners before her in the Miss Universe competition is her short afro hair. Powered designers on fire following the decision in her favour, she took advantage of this moment of glory to launch a strong message lambasting the world in which she grew up, hence the term “beautiful” is not awarded women with her skin type let alone their hairstyle.

The first sacred black woman, Miss Universe, however, Trinidadian Janelle Commissiong, during the same competition in 1977, was designated as the most photogenic Miss. Janelle Commissiong during her reign advocated for the rights of blacks and people of African descent victims of racial exclusion. In her country, Trinidad and Tobago three postage stamps were issued in her likeness.

Miss World 2019, two black candidates on the podium.

Miss World 2019: two black candidates on the podium, nothing, however, destined the Guadeloupean Ophely Mezino candidate from France for this glowing passage to Miss World. Being only the first runner-up in the national competition won by Vaimalama Chavez (Miss Polynesia 2018), she represented France at Miss World and Miss Universe following the absence of the latter, who was called to take part in the preparations for Miss France 2020 election scheduled in Polynesia. Following on the podium, Ophélie Mezino became the second Frenchwoman to occupy this position after Marine Lorphelin in 2013. Her place on the podium with the Jamaican Toni-Ann Singh, is a small revolution for the followers of black is beautiful thrilled with this advance in the prestigious beauty contests, which often put forward the standards of Caucasian and Latin American beauty.


Miss America, Miss USA and Miss Teen USA, a revolution in conservative white America.

On September 09, 2019, New York representative Nia Franklin lives a waking dream. The wonderful young dark-skinned woman from Winston-Salem in North Carolina, crowned Miss America, becomes the 3rd black woman to assent to the throne in 92 editions. More than an individual victory, it is a strong message which testified to the change of mentality for this event forbidden in the 1930s to women of colour. A discriminatory measure which is also behind the creation in the United States of Miss Black America and Miss Black USA.

Actress Vanessa William famous for her role in the Desperate Housewives series is the first black woman to win the 1983 Miss America contest. A coronation was unfortunately short-lived due to the controversy born from the colour of her skin. It was a sad development in the beauty pageant contest. As a result, Vanessa William eventually handed over her crown to her second runner-up Suzette Charles also African American. The irony of it, Vanessa William became a member of the Miss USA jury 32 years later. She received a public apology and her crown was returned. Contrary to the reign of these first two black beauty queens, Nia Franklin obeys the fashion effect of ≠ blackgirlmagic.

Miss France 2020 and Miss Algeria 2019, beauty queens victims of racism.

France and Algeria have not escaped the fashion effect of black beauty queens. On the evening of December 14, 2019, the Guadeloupean Clémence Botino became the 90th Miss France, at 22. But just hours after her victory, she was targeted by racist and hateful comments on the web from Internet users unhappy with the results of the final vote. Guadeloupe is not, however, first black or mestizo woman to be named the most beautiful woman in France. Long before her, two other Guadeloupeans Véronique de la Cruz and Corine Coman have been crowned Miss France in 1993 and 2003. The Franco-Rwandan Sonia Rolland (Miss France 2000), the Franco-American Cloé Mortaud (Miss France 2009), the Franco – Beninese Flora Coquerel (Miss France 2014) and more recently Alicia Aylies (Miss France 2017) from Guyana and Martinique are all young women of colour who have had the privilege of wearing the precious crown on their hair. Despite their dream plastic, being a Miss France black or mixed has never been a reign with easy in France yet multicultural. On Facebook, the Rwandan Franco Sonia Rolland affirmed years after her coronation, to have received more than 2000 letters of hate speech and even death threats from supporters of the Fron National for whom she was not worthy of representing France.

“On my carpet, I found dog poop as well as on the wrist of my apartment… I decided at the time not to talk about it because it was to offer a forum for this minority of haters”. Sonia Rolland Miss France 1999

Corine Coman (Miss France 2003) according to Geneviève de Fontenay, ex-director of the Miss France committee was snubbed by the famous magazine Paris Match as it did not give her front page after her election for the simple reason that a black woman is playing it, is not catchy. Despite criticism after her election by public vote, admirers of the new Miss France were pleased that in addition to her attractive physique, she was a beauty with brains as she was a master’s student at Sorbonne when she assumed the throne.

The racism that targets the queens of beauty in France has not spared Khadjidja Benhamou elected Miss Algeria 2019. The lovely young lady from the South of the country, whose dark skin is not to the taste of all Algerian Internet users, has received many insults because of her skin deemed too dark. According to some analysts, this surge of hatred on social networks testifies to the existence of anti-black racism in the mentalities of North Africans, but especially to the problem of African identity in Algeria. Khadjidja Benhamou, who has decided to ignore these critics, can count on the support of numerous solidarity movements who have decided to defend her.

Distinguished in major beauty contests at the start of 2019, women of colour, as pointed out by the New York Times, have never shone so brightly in a single calendar year to this magnitude for beauty pageant contests. As we enter a new decade, their place on the top of the poster is proof that beyond the prejudices that have often characterized the contests of Miss promoters of standardized beauty, a big step has been taken, a new chapter has been ushered.

Article from AFRIC Editorial

Photo Credit : google image/illustration

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