A Big First in the Beauty Pageant Arena

After Miss Jamaica wins Miss World, black women now hold titles in all 5 major beauty pageants
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 16, 2019 1:33 AM CST
A Big First in the Beauty Pageant Arena
The winner of Miss World 2019, Toni-Ann Singh of Jamaica, poses for photographers at the ExCeL center in London on Saturday.   (Photo by Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP)

This year was "historic" in the beauty pageant world, per the Washington Post, capped off by a win by Miss Jamaica Toni-Ann Singh in the Miss World contest Saturday. What Singh's victory means beyond her own event is that, for the first time ever, the titles of all five major beauty pageants—Miss World, Miss Teen USA, Miss USA, Miss America, and Miss Universe—are all held by black women: Singh, Kaliegh Garris, Cheslie Kryst, Nia Franklin, and Zozibini Tunzi, respectively. "To that little girl in St. Thomas, Jamaica and all the girls around the world - please believe in yourself," Singh wrote on Twitter after her win, adding, "This crown is not mine but yours." Pageants have long grappled with diversity issues on not just race, but also regarding sexual orientation and religious ties, the Post notes; in the US, there was a time when women of color weren't even allowed to be contestants.

A black woman won the first of the big pageants in 1970, when Grenada's Jennifer Hosten took Miss World. This latest milestone has impact beyond the catwalk: A Cornell African studies professor tells the New York Times this shift toward recognizing women of color in pageants could mark a change in attitude globally on what beauty is: "[It] really does say something about a level of comfort of black skin in the public." Still, Miss Universe winner Tunzi tells Insider she faced pressure from many to wear a wig or weave while competing, instead of her natural close-cropped locks. "I was like, 'No, you know what, I'm going to do it the way I am,'" she says. Good Morning America notes the women have a famous fan who took notice on Twitter: former first lady Michelle Obama, who last week, before the Miss World win, recognized the other four winners with the hashtag #BlackGirlMagic. (More beauty pageant stories.)

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