Black ExperienceStacy M. Brown

Women of Color Sweep 2019 Beauty Pageants

Zozibini Tunzi, who said she grew up in a world where a woman who looks like her was never considered beautiful, helped to cap an awesome year for beauty queens of color.

On Sunday, Dec. 8, the South African was crowned Miss Universe.

Tunzi’s victory means while she’s reigning as Miss Universe, each of the most recognized beauty queens will wear crowns simultaneously.

In May, African American lawyer Cheslie Kryst, 27, was crowned Miss USA in a pageant in which the three finalists were women of color.

Kaliegh Garris (Courtesy photo)
Kaliegh Garris (Courtesy photo)

Before that pageant, Kaliegh Garris, 18, won Miss Teen USA and in September, Nia Franklin, 25, was crowned as the 2019 Miss America. The victories prompted the U.K. Independent newspaper to declare that the “wins have become a powerful symbol of how much American views on beauty have evolved from a past marred by racism and gender stereotypes, even as Black women leaders are still severely under-represented in other fields, like corporate America or in Congress.”

The beauty queens have each endured stereotypes and other challenges often experienced by women of color. Kryst, who earned a law degree and an MBA at Wake Forest University, noted how she’d never forget the time a judge at a law conference told her to wear a skirt instead of pants because judges prefer skirts.

Kryst said she had a message for that judge after she won the competition where the three finalists were all women of color.

Cheslie Kryst (Courtesy photo)
Cheslie Kryst (Courtesy photo)

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

Garris, who studied theater, founded an organization called We Are People 1st to assist individuals with disabilities. She’s trained in several forms of dance, including contemporary, jazz, pointe, hip-hop and tap. Garris also has served as a hiking tour guide in the New Haven Parks and Recreation Department’s Eco Camps.

“During the contest you know you have self-doubt because there are so many great people,” Garris said in a release. “I am just happy, proud and grateful for the support system I have.”

An opera singer, Franklin earned her master’s degree in music composition from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. Later, she moved to New York after being accepted at the Kenan Fellow program at Lincoln Center Education.

During the competition, Franklin described how music helped her find her identity.

Nia Franklin (Courtesy photo)
Nia Franklin (Courtesy photo)

“I grew up at a predominately Caucasian school and there was only five percent minority, and I felt out of place so much because of the color of my skin,” Franklin said. “But growing up, I found my love of arts, and through music that helped me to feel positive about myself and about who I was.”

Tunzi, who on Sunday earned the Miss Universe crown, said she no longer wants to hear that Black women aren’t beautiful.

“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 beautiful,” she said. “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.”
The 26-year-old from Tsolo, South Africa, speaks English and Isixhosa. Her official biography notes that she’s a passionate activist and engaged in the fight against gender-based violence.

Tunzi has devoted her social media campaign to changing the narrative around gender stereotypes, and she said she’s a proud advocate for natural beauty.

She also works to encourage women to “love themselves the way they are,” she said.

“Tonight, a door was opened, and I could not be more grateful to have been the one to have walked through it,” Tunzi wrote on Twitter after being crowned Miss Universe 2019. “May every little girl who witnessed this moment forever believe in the power of her dreams, and may they see their faces reflected in mine. I am Miss Universe 2019.”

Sofia Aragón of Mexico and Madison Anderson of Puerto Rico were the two runners-up in the pageant.

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Stacy M. Brown

I’ve worked for the Daily News of Los Angeles, the L.A. Times, Gannet and the Times-Tribune and have contributed to the Pocono Record, the New York Post and the New York Times. Television news opportunities have included: NBC, MSNBC, Scarborough Country, the Abrams Report, Today, Good Morning America, NBC Nightly News, Imus in the Morning and Anderson Cooper 360. Radio programs like the Wendy Williams Experience, Tom Joyner Morning Show and the Howard Stern Show have also provided me the chance to share my views.

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