Rafieya Husain who represented Guyana at last Sunday’s Miss Universe pageant.

Over the last two years my interest in pageants has dwindled. I have found them to be terribly Eurocentric and disempowering to women in general. Think about it; do we really need to see a bunch of girls parade in bikinis, with the supposedly best flowing hair in a quest to end world hunger or whatever their platform may be? I think not.

Pageants pressure women and suggest that there is an ideal beauty standard in a world where women often struggle to find appreciation as it relates to their bodies and general appearance. They are almost as disturbing as the idea that finding a husband and having children are the ultimate factors that determine womanhood, that society still cons women into believing. The world would be a better place without them.

However, this year by hook or by crook I had to tune in to watch Miss Universe and for me that meant watching it through a video call via my little sister’s television. I was desperate to see if Miss Guyana was going to end the drought of this country not placing at Miss Universe, as has happened in the Miss World pageant – it was the nationalist in me. I also felt that given the controversial beauty standards that surround pageants, Miss Jamaica with her striking and authentic self is perhaps the change we desperately need to see in pageantry.

Miss Jamaica Davina Bennett wears her Afro centric hairstyle on the Miss Universe stage.

While Guyana didn’t place, the afro-rocking Miss Jamaica did manage to secure the second runner-up position. Given the fact that women and in particular black women face so much scrutiny over their hair in the workplace and in the beauty industry, for a brief moment I appreciated the slight positivity of a visible platform that could demonstrate what beauty really is.

I thought about the many young girls who are told that relaxer or straight hair extensions are the cure to their supposedly flawed beauty and I could only imagine what seeing beauty traits that they could identify with meant to them.

Miss Universe’s popular tagline ‘Confidently Beautiful’ together with seeing Miss Jamaica’s dominance in articles online made me reflect on some of the reasons why some countries may end up in decades-old droughts.

Notwithstanding the subjectivity of the popular notion that beauty can be achieved through plastic surgery and makeup, in a world where everyone tries to focus on looking the same, the idea of a young woman representing a type previously shunned, creates a new ideal of beauty. It creates something special.

A look back at former representatives from Jamaica like Saneeta Myrie and Kaci Fennell from Miss World and Miss Universe respectively are good examples how the culture wasn’t whitewashed to conform. They both proudly used their Jamaican patois throughout their journey and didn’t assimilate to popular culture in the hope of being noticed. With over 80 women competing in some of these pageants, clinging to one’s culture in every sense is compulsory. Given the exhaustion of beauty ideals through digital media, pageant bodies are also looking for the extraordinary to add interest to the mundane. I read somewhere that beauty is entertaining, but depth is impressive, and this is true in its entirety.

I have found that local contestants always try to assimilate foreign culture, and while it may seem extraordinary and ‘proper’ locally, sadly they end up swimming in an ocean of similar identities. Confidently beautiful means to not assimilate but rather embrace whatever makes you special and while you might not walk away with the crown, you would have changed and challenged how beauty pageants are viewed, even though we shouldn’t raise girls to think recognition is necessary to do good or for self-validation.

The secret really is to be truly confidently beautiful in every sense.

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