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In the year 2019, Miss America (Nia Franklin), Miss Teen USA (Kaleigh Garris), Miss USA (Chelsea Cryst), Miss World (Toni-Ann Singh), and Miss Universe (Zozibini Tunzi) are all black women, for the latter two, from around the world. Not only are they black, they are brown-to-dark skinned. Finally, these beauty pageants have acknowledged what we’ve known for thousands of years but have been ignoring for the last 500: that black women meet and surpass any standard of beauty set before them.
I always have a conflicting attitude when it comes to these beauty pageants. They are rooted in the false concept that a woman’s worth is in society’s opinion of her aesthetic appearance. You never see a larger woman or a woman with a physical disability in these pageants. Transwomen have only been allowed to compete in these mainstream pageants in 2012. Sure, there is a question and answer round and a “talent” round to put on the façade that these competitions are about more than how pretty the competitors are, but we are lying to ourselves if we say that beauty pageants are nothing more than objectification expositions. Despite all that, I always like to see a Sister win.
“Black women meet and surpass any standard of beauty set before them”
So why should we care about the results of five beauty pageants?
- They are a small indicator that the social “standard” of beauty is changing, for one.
- Ninety of prior beauty contestant winners were white women, and I’d wager a good 75% of them were blond. Despite a successful 500+ year old marketing campaign, that is not the standard of the world.
- There are more people who would be considered black and brown in this world than those considered white, yet one would think, from cinema, commercials, news, and legal doctrine, that “white” is the standard, and black and brown people are a rarity. We’re called “minorities”, after all.
- Evolving beauty competitions are not an attempt to seek approval of the white male “majority” either. The judges of the contests have also become browner, blacker, more female, and queerer. That they are setting the rules for who is “beautiful” changes these competitions just as much as prevailing attitudes about beauty does.
Besides the demographic changes on and behind the stage, beauty competitions are tools for advancement for many who participate. Getting past the rigor of parading around in an evening gown and playing a flute while juggling, many contestants launch or continue careers with the public exposure they get. Vanessa Williams, the first black Miss America still has a lucrative acting career. Others use the time with their titles to bring attention and aid to the communities from whence they came. Some just use the reward money to continue their studies to eventually become engineers, doctors, lawyers, artists, etc. Black folks in general know a lot about succeeding through survival. We use the tools available to us to get ahead. I am sure that a lot of these women saw their respective beauty pageants as means to an end, and they succeeded before the world.
We all know the truth: there is no such thing as “objective beauty”, so these contests are problematic at their heart. We are going by rules and opinions that are always subject to change. It is “Pollyannaish” to think that the idea of a beauty “standard” will be null and void soon. I may not be into beauty competitions, but there is nothing wrong with celebrating these five black women who competed and won. After all, I am not that into gymnastics, but I am over the moon that Simone Biles is beating her own records in her effort to prove she would be a better Spider-Man than anyone else. Let them and us have a little joy.
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About Chris Thompson
Chris Thompson is an engineer, writer, comedian, and activist who made Rochester, New York his home in 2008. In addition to his role as Contributor for 540Blog , he currently writes the Chronicles of Nonsense segment for the Almost Tuesday show on WAYO-FM 104.3, and regularly posts and writes on his own on Instagram and Twitter at @ChronsOfNon.Additionally , Chris is a Food Writer for Rochester City Newspaper. His blog is www.chroniclesofnonesense.com