Miss Universe Zozibini Tunzi | Representing Changing Beauty Ideals and Empowered Women

It was a historical moment when a dark-skinned woman with short natural hair became Miss Universe, Zozibini Tunzi hailing from eSidwadweni, a village in Tsolo in the Eastern Cape was crowned the title last Monday, and is the third black Miss Universe hailing from the African continent. Mpule Kwelagobe from Botswana was the first black African woman to win Miss Universe in 1999 and Leila Lopes from Angola won the title in 2011.

Tunzi is the first to adorn the new crown, titled “The Power of Unity”, celebrating women and their strength. Quite fitting since Tunzi represents strength in her advocacy for women and inclusive beauty ideals, she represents women who embody features that haven't always been celebrated or regarded as beautiful and is a reminder that in fact dark skin and short kinky hair are beautiful; “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 to be beautiful. And I think that it's 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,” she stated on the pageant platform.

Colourism, a product of Western beauty ideals still affects many societies around the world and dark-skinned women have rarely been positioned as the standard of beauty in mainstream media and platforms, so for one of the biggest beauty platforms to acknowledge a dark-skinned woman with short natural hair, is a step in the right direction for wider representation of beauty ideals for women.

Tunzi's crowning as Miss Universe comes at a prolific time for black women in beauty pageants. For the first time in history, black women hold crowns in five major pageants, Miss USA is Cheslie Kryst, Miss Teen USA is Kaliegh Garris, Miss America is Nia Franklin and Toni-Ann Singh of Jamaica was crowned Miss World.

This year these titles have become symbolic in the representation of different variations of black beauty and highlighting intelligent women who aim to impact the world in meaningful ways.

Tunzi is an advocate for the eradication of gender-based violence and believes that leadership is the most important skill that young girls should be taught, she said in the pageant's question and answer segment, “leadership...it’s something that has been lacking in young girls and women for a very long time, not because we don’t want to but because of what society has labelled women to be. I think we are the most powerful beings in the world and that we should be given every opportunity. That is what we should be teaching these young girls, to take up space.”

As a woman in a world that is still dominated by patriarchal leadership across industries; promoting and supporting female leadership is a crucial step towards a more equal society.

As the decade comes to an end, a decade of several prolific moments and firsts for people of colour and women across many industries, I hope that the movement towards a more inclusive society grows considerably and consistently so that its not just one or two brown-skinned women representing others in leadership roles, may there be more spaces for us to fill in positions of leadership across diverse industries, so that we too can know, we are worthy of occupying any role or space.

Illustration: Ndumiso Nyoni Words: Phendu Kuta