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2019 Beauty Pageants Celebrate More Diversity and Representation Than Ever Before

Zozibini Tunzi in photoshoot.

If there is one thing that makes me proud to live in the year 2019, it’s the fact that I witnessed a blossoming of diversity and representation in the beauty pageant industry this year. 

For the first time ever, all winners of this year’s Miss USA, Miss Teen USA, Miss America, and Miss Universe are all women of color. 

Historically speaking, beauty pageants have carried a history of discrimination dating back to the early 1920’s. The organizations’ upholding of “Eurocentric” ideals of beauty easily excluded not only people of color, but also the LGBTQ community, mothers, as well as married women. 

This year’s winners may just be the start of a new era. 

The world took notice of Swe Zin Htet, who represented Myanmar in this year’s Miss Universe pageant. Htet herself is gay and come from a country who penalizes individuals for being homosexual. 

Although she was cut from the pageant at one point, Htet was met with support from around the world, including the Miss Universe Pageant, who wrote that they were “honored” to have Htet as a contestant. 

“Miss Universe will always champion women to be proud of who they are,” wrote Paula Shugart, president of the Miss Universe Pageant.

This year’s Miss Universe winner Zozibini Tunzi catapulted into fame through her outspoken passion for fighting against gender-based violence. 

A native of South Africa, Tunzi told audiences during the pageant, “I grew up in a world where a woman who looks like me — with my kind of skin and my kind of hair — was never considered to be beautiful. I think it is time that that stops today. I want children to look at me and see my face and I want them to see their faces reflected in mine.”

Moments before Miss Universe crowns Zozibini Tunzi

Miss USA’s Cheslie Kryst grew up in North Carolina and works as an attorney who hopes to help reform the American justice system. She obtained her Bachelors at USC before completing her Masters and Law degree at Wake Forest University. 

Kryst used her personal experiences as a lawyer to highlight gender discrimination in the courtoom, where she was told by a judge to wear a skirt rather than pants. 

“Glass ceilings can be broken wearing either a skirt or pants,” she said in a video played during the pageant. “Don’t tell females to wear different clothes while you give the men substantive feedback on their legal arguments.”

Kaleigh Garris, who was crowned as Miss Teen USA, challenged expectations of appearances by going into the competition with her hair au naturale. By going product-free with her own hair, she felt more comfortable than ever with her identity as a black woman in a beauty pageant where straight hair was more celebrated than curly hair. 

“I wouldn’t change my hairstyle for the world,” Garris said.

Miss America’s Nia Franklin inspired judges with her passion for music and the arts. The contestant grew up as a classically-trained opera singer and showcased her talent in the pageant by singing Puccini’s “Quando m’en vo.”

Franklin admitted to facing pressure as part of 5% minority at a Caucasian-filled music school. But even then, it was not enough to stop her from pursuing her passion.

“I found my love of arts, and through music that helped me to feel positive about myself and about who I was,” Franklin said. 

Congratulations to all of this year’s winners, who have used their power and voice to help shed light on underrepresented communities in this world!

Vivian Wang

Vivian is a travel enthusiast and food connoisseur living in New York City. Her curiosity and passion for languages and culture has taken her across eight countries over the past year. When not working, you can find her meandering in art museums or sampling food at the street markets.

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