Thursday, 26 March 2020

Centuries Old Beauty Ideals Finally Changing As This Year’s Major Beauty Pageants Show!

Four hundred years after the first Africans were brought from Angola to Virginia, beauty pageants nationally and internationally are heralding the beauty of women of African ancestry. 

As we observe Women’s History Month, it is fitting to shine a light on this history-making turn of events.

In 2019, every winner crowned by the five major beauty pageants was of African descent: Miss Universe Zozibini Tunzi; Miss America Nia Franklin; Miss USA Cheslie Kryst; Miss Teen USA Kaleigh Garris; and Miss World Toni-Ann Singh.

The recognition of these beautiful women, whose complexions represent every hue, was historic. For decades black women were denied the opportunity to compete in mainstream beauty pageants. And, when the door finally swung open, they were not expected to prevail. European standards used to measure beauty did not value darker skin, full lips, wide noses, nor curvy figures — physical features that have been synonymous with African women.

Recognizing that like flowers, beauty comes in all shapes, sizes and colours, Miss Universe 2019 Zozibini Tunzi, who is South African, is using her platform to advocate self-worth, self-love and other issues affecting women and people of colour.

“For the longest time, the assumption of beauty has been one-dimensional and westernized. There hadn’t been a wide range of representation in the beauty industry for women. It has taken a while for the world to recognize being African as beautiful.” she said in a February interview with Forbes Africa.
Centuries Old Beauty Ideals Finally Changing As This Year’s Major Beauty Pageants Show!
Centuries Old Beauty Ideals Finally Changing As This Year’s Major Beauty Pageants Show!
Moreover, Tunzi’s victory struck a heavy blow to colourism and the long-held adage that “light, bright, damn near white” is the beauty standard for women of colour. Colourism in the U.S. is rooted in 17th-century slavery practices. Darker complexioned slaves were routinely sent to the fields for the labour-intensive work of growing and harvesting tobacco, cotton and crops, while lighter complexioned, slaves who were often fathered by slave owners, worked in the plantation’s “Big House” in closer proximity to the slave owner and his family.

Award-winning author Alex Haley brilliantly depicted this cruel slavery norm in his factual historical novel and television miniseries, “Queen: The Story of An American Family.” Released in 1993, “Queen” chronicled the life of Haley’s mulatto (biracial) grandmother, who was fathered by her slave owner. Although enslaved Queen, who could pass for white, was brought into the “Big House” to serve as a companion for her father’s white daughter. Beautifully clothed, Queen slept on a wooden trundle bed in her half sister’s lavishly decorated bedroom, while the darker hued slaves were scantily dressed and slept in one-room wooden cabins with dirt floors.

In more modern times, we witnessed the destructive impact of colourism in the iconic movie “Dreamgirls,” where the more talented singer Effie, masterfully played by Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson, was pushed out of her singing group in favour of light-complexioned Deena, played by Beyonce Knowles, because their manager deemed Deena’s voice and European-like appearance more appealing to white audiences.

In 2019, former U.S. first lady Michelle Obama was voted the Most Admired Woman in the World in a poll by Gallup. Yet, she was not spared from the harmful effects of racism and colourism. A Princeton University and Harvard Law School graduate and attorney, she was repeatedly subjected to disparaging remarks about her dark brown skin and African features. During a 2017 interview, Michelle Obama said that racist comments she received during her eight years as first lady “cut me the deepest.” Furthermore, she painfully recalled denigrating jokes that were made about her appearance.

Fortunately, racial reconciliation, cultural diversity and inclusion efforts are rapidly gaining momentum causing centuries-old beauty ideals to lose traction, thereby freeing our minds to redefine our beauty standards. In the U.S. and globally millions of people and institutions are embracing a paradigm shift; African beauty is being acknowledged and celebrated!

In 2014, People magazine named Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o the World’s Most Beautiful Woman. In 2011, African Leila Lopes was crowned Miss Universe becoming the first Angolan woman to win a major pageant title. In 2013, Ethiopian born Yityish Titi Aynaw was crowned the first African Miss Israel. Currently Miss France 2020, Clemence Botino and Miss London 2019, Vimbai Chapungu, have African ancestry.

Fifty-two years after the success of R&B legend James Brown’s powerful soul anthem, women of African ancestry are rising to “Say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud.”

Laura Hill is the Leader of the Virginia Historic Triangle chapter of Coming to the Table, a national racial reconciliation organization, that helps people acknowledge and heal from racial wounds that are a legacy of slavery, and to dismantle systems or racial inequality, injustices and oppression.

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