History was made during this year’s beauty pageant season as black women took home the crown at the most highly sought-after awards of 3 of Ameria’s biggest pageants – Miss USA, Miss America, and Miss Teen USA. After decades of racism and segregation, this marks the first time in history that black women have won all three pageant titles in a single year. Cheslie Kryst won the 2019 Miss USA pageant, Nia Franklin won the 2019 Miss America contest, and Kaliegh Garris won the 2019 Miss Teen USA pageant. These three women will now go down as a historic trio that paved the way for black female dominance in beauty competitions.
America’s New Crown Holders
The three women who accomplished the historical first have backgrounds just as intriguing as their shocking wins. Miss USA Cheslie Kryst practices civil litigation for a law firm and is dedicated to helping reform prisoners. The 28-year old attorney from North Carolina is on a mission to help reform America’s justice system. During this week’s competition, Kryst revealed that a judge at a legal competition recommended that she wear a skirt instead of pants because judges prefer that women wear skirts. To that, she said, “Glass ceilings can be broken wearing either a skirt or pants. Don’t tell females to wear different clothes while you give the men substantive feedback on their legal arguments.” That experience inspired her to volunteer and create a blog for Dress For Success – a global nonprofit organization that provides professional attire for low-income women, to help support their job-search and interview process.
Miss America winner Nia Franklin, an opera singer, works for the nonprofit group Sing for Hope” to help people through the power of music. Franklin found her identity through music and now aims to empower children in the same way. The North Carolina native told CNN, “I grew up at a predominately Caucasian school, and there was only 5% minority, and I felt out of place so much because of the color of my skin, 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.”
Diversity and Inclusion in Beauty Pageants
Beauty pageants have been around for centuries dating back to the 1920s which was a time when black women were actually banned from even participating in the competitions. Over the last 50yrs, beauty pageants have made significant strides seeing more black women become serious competitors, and even winning the top honor at these high profile events. Vanessa Williams was the first crowned Miss America in 1983, Carole Anne-Marie Gist became the first black Miss USA contestant in 1990 and a year later, Janel Bishop became the first black women to win Miss Teen USA in 1991.
The rich and purpose-driven background of each of this year’s winners further adds to the positive impact that the recent pageant decisions have. As pageant shows become more progressive, diversity and inclusion are huge issues that are seemingly starting to be addressed in subtle yet obvious ways. The only way to make progress is by first making a change and the latest Miss USA pageants show that competitions are taking steps in the right direction. Issues of race and discrimination have always been a part of American society however with showcases like this, the days of hate are soon looking a little brighter.
Given the rather sketchy and subtly racist history of beauty pageants, the winners of the 2019 Miss USA competitions have set in motion a drastic shift for the future. With the results of the most recent competition, there is a possibility the pageant industry will see a lot more diversity injected into the fabric of its soul.