By Kay-Lee Dramat
On November 27th, Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters (Miss South Africa) won the international Miss Universe pageant. This may have been a major win for South Africa, but not for the black and brown bodies within the country. Historically, beauty pageants only celebrated Eurocentric beauty standards and this has been prevalent in South Africa as well. Spaces such as these have previously been known to be non-inclusive.
Many people held their breath in the hopes that the new Miss Universe would be coloured, but much to their dismay, she is not. It is no secret that Miss South Africa is white and that white people are a minority within the country. This shows that she is not a true representation of the women within the country, but it does not mean that South Africans are not proud of her.
It is evident that Miss SA comes from privilege, and has had years to practice for this critical moment in her life. It is also noteworthy to mention that when Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters won the Miss SA pageant, many of the other contestants claimed that she had an advantage being the only contestant with an entourage consisting of a private pageant coach and personal make-up artist. She had also formed close relationships with Cindy Nel, Miss SA 2003, and allegedly with two of the judges. Miss SA responded to the allegations denying foul play, saying: “The only interactions I had with the judges were during the official judging sessions and all the girls were present.”
In the history of the Miss Universe pageant there has only been five black winners. However these previous winners have assimilated into white beauty standards by relaxing their hair and wearing weaves. This makes Miss Jamaica 2017, who wore her natural hair, even more notable. It is important for young black and brown girls to know that they could also be standing on one of the biggest stages in the world and be proud of their dark skin and natural hair. Black people worldwide put their hopes on Davina Bennet, Miss Jamaica. Issa Rae, producer, director and actress in the hit series, Insecure, also proudly stated that she was indeed “rooting for everybody black”. This statement resonated with many black people, who felt the need to throw their weight behind one of their own, because so often, many others don’t. When one comes from an underrepresented demographic, rooting for your own is warranted. With her brown skin and afro, Bennet clearly falls outside of the idea of traditional beauty as defined by white culture. Bearing that in mind, it is safe to say that Bennet had to conquere more to become second princess, which is often the case for black people within white spaces.
There has only been five previous black Miss SA’s, which may seem ironic for a country like South Africa. This may teach young black girls to aspire to whiteness. However this year it was clearly evident that more of the contestants sported their natural hair. Miss Jamaica, Miss Brazil and Miss USA being among these ladies. Black people regard this as step towards embracing their own beauty.
It is important for people to realise that these pageants are unfair towards black people on many grounds. But for now, black people will continue to root for their own. Wanting black and brown bodies in these spaces are necessary to empower young children to embrace their own beauty without conforming to white beauty standards.