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Miss Jamaica
courtesy of Instagram/@missjamaicaworld

History is made as five black women now hold top beauty pageant titles

TextAlex Peters

Miss Jamaica Toni-Ann Singh was crowned Miss World 2019 this weekend

Over the weekend, the 69th Miss World pageant was held in London. This year saw 23-year-old medical student Toni-Ann Singh from St Thomas, Jamaica crowned the winner. 

The win marks the first time in history that black women hold the titles for Miss USA, Miss Teen USA, Miss America, Miss Universe, and Miss World.

For decades, beauty pageants have struggled with racism and segregation, traditionally reinforcing whitewashed Western beauty ideals of light skin and straight hair. In 1970, Jennifer Hosten was the first black woman to be crowned Miss World, while in 1977, Janelle Commissiong became the first black Miss Universe, 25 years after the pageant was founded. Vanessa Williams was the first black Miss America in 1983, 63 years after it was founded and 13 years after the first black contestant participated in the event. In 1990, Carole Anne-Marie Gist became the first black Miss USA, while the following year Janel Bishop was the first black winner of Miss Teen USA.  

The significance of the moment has not been lost on the contestants. Earlier this month, Miss South Africa Zozibini Tunzi won the Miss Universe 2019 title. In a powerful speech, Tunzi, who wore her hair natural and cropped despite being advised by many to wear a wig, told the crowd, “I grew up in a world where a woman who looks like me, with my kind of skin and my kind of hair, was never considered beautiful. I think it is time that stops today. I want children to look at me and see my face. And I want them to see their faces reflected in mine.”

This speech was celebrated by many including Naomi Campbell who shared it across her social media platforms and Oprah Winfrey who congratulated Tunzi on Twitter. The milestone was also praised by Noliwe Rooks, professor of Africana studies at Cornell University, who told the New York Times that the fact that the winners of these beauty pageants are “identifiably black women really does say something about a level of comfort of black skin in the public.”

Toni-Ann Singh’s Miss World win also caught people’s for another heart-warming reason. The moment went viral after Miss Nigeria, who placed fifth in the competition, reacted to her friend’s win with absolute joy. Nyekachi Douglas jumped, danced, and screamed when Singh was announced as the winner, before embracing her friend. Many people on social media praised the support she showed. 

“Absolutely amazing in all my years of watching never seen another queen this excited about someone else's win. #MissNigeria you are simply the best,” user @millibrown1 tweeted, while @jaicabajar commented, “Everyone needs a friend like Miss Nigeria.” 

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