Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Beauty Pageants: Why There's Still Colorism and Hair Texturism

On Sunday, the latest Miss Universe competition aired on network television and 92 women competed for the Miss Universe title. Miss South Africa, Miss Colombia and Miss Jamaica, Davina Bennett made it to the final round. Based on the crowd's excitement, it was expected that Miss Jamaica would take the title - but she placed 2nd, after Miss Colombia.

Racism and Texturism in Pageantry Davina Bennett
Davina Bennett, Miss Jamaica Universe 2016
Year after year many women from predominantly black countries have made it to the Top 20, Top 15, Top 5 and Top 3 but have only won the crown once in the past decade.

Why?  Most of the beauty pageant stakeholders and fanbase are in Asia, especially the Philippines and Latin America. Both regions of the world are still very closed minded when it comes to their idea of beauty - not only towards black people but also among themselves. 

The Philippines are considered the leaders in pageantry. They definitely deserve every bit of applause for their ability to host a large scale event and produce a stage performance as extravagant as a beauty pageant. However, in terms of inclusiveness, they lack the ability to empower and elevate diversity.  

Each year, every representative from the top pageant systems give the same bullshit justifications for why the contestant won providing plausible deniability for the underlying racism that exists in pageants. Looking at many of their marketing content you’d almost miss that there were any black countries represented at all. It’s not just Miss Universe. Miss World, Miss Earth and Miss International are all such highly ranked pageant systems that many of the 1rst and 2nd place runner-ups to Miss Universe’s national preliminary pageants are sent to those competitions to represent their countries. None of them have crowned a black queen in more than a decade. Miss World crowned Miss Nigeria, Agbani Darego in 2001, Miss Earth crowned Miss Kenya, Winfred Omwakwe in 2002 ONLY after dethroning Miss Bosnia & Herzegovina, Dzejla Glavovic and Miss International has never crowned a candidate from a black country although every year many Caribbean and African countries send a representative. 

Pageantry is a very visual industry with a very insular culture. The people who pull the strings and run the preliminaries are very close-knit. Many of them come up through the ranks of being former titleholders either on the national or international level. Others have bought their way in through franchise fees and licensing arrangements leaving very little room for new ideas and perceptions of beauty. Visually 3 looks have dominated the pageant industry over the last 2 decades - Asian, Eastern European and Latin America. 

Throughout the years the candidates (including myself) who have worn their natural hair have always been mixed and/or illustrated a “digestible” grade of curls for the judges, stakeholders, and fans so that they can say they are being “inclusive” and “edgy” but that’s far from the truth. Very few of us have been able to make inroads for our sister queens who have different textures of hair and deep skin tones.

Colorism and Texturism in Pageant Deshauna baber
Deshauna Barber, Miss USA 2016

As a former competitor, I’ve straddled the middle understating that my “fairer" skin and “loose” curly hair provides a “passable" advantage in the pageant world but it hasn’t been without its hurdles. Hair type and skin color are daily topics in the pageant industry. During my years competing, I’ve witnessed directors, sponsors and organizers talk about contestants with kinky hair and being too dark skin. Some of my pageant sisters have been treated like they weren’t even present due to their darker skin. Even I have been told not to go in the sun or to wear my hair straight for my photo shoot because it looks neater.  If you happen to be fair skinned but are representing a black country, you are put on a pedal stool for being “ exceptional" - but not quite good enough because, well you’re black. 

Colorism and Texturism in Pageantry Daisi Pollard
Miss Earth 2005 - Miss Bahamas, Nadia Cash and Miss Jamaica, Daisi Pollard

If we want to see a change in pageants, for every Deshaun and Davina we really have to be proactive in providing those sponsorship dollars, voting online, following them on social media, liking their posts, and showing up at events. If we want to see changes in colorism and texturism in pageants, sponsor a girl, buy a franchise, get on a board and seed yourself into this insular industry. It’s the only way we’re guaranteed inclusiveness. Without it, they will just ignore you!


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  2. Your point about people of going not really being investors, franchise owners, directors, judges etc. is something I never thought about but is very true. It's not surprising that only a certain group of women continue to be selected when people of a similar persuasion are in positions of power. If more diversity was within the positions of power in the beauty pageantry industry, more diverse woman would be picked.

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authorHi. I’m Daisi. I’m a creative media personality (Modelpreneur) who’s helping more people understand the relationship between media and culture. My focus is on social media specifically (i.e. technology, communication, etc.); and how they impact culture and society.