On Thursday, February 6th, Spring Studios hosted “NYFW: The Talks, The Evolving Standard of Beauty.” in their Sunken Living room. Moderated by Bozoma Saint, the history-making, Miss Universe, Zozibini Tzuni; Chelsie Kryst, Miss USA; Kaleigh Garris, Miss Teen USA; and Nia Franklin, Miss America 2019 spoke about the excitement in being a part of history, and what’s next.
For the first time history, all four major beauty pageant titles, (Miss Universe, Miss USA, Miss Teen USA, and Miss America) are held by four black women simultaneously. Representation in the beauty industry is so incredibly important for young girls of color across the globe, that see little variation in what is defined as beauty. In the last few years, the conversation about representation has become more relevant in the beauty world. We are seeing more diversity in media, fashion, film etc…and these four incredible women’s achievements, has pushed the conversation one huge step forward for black girls around the world. To see four black women in different shades and, textured hair all crowned in major beauty pageants titles, sitting in front of me was a monumental moment that I won’t forget.
Bozoma Saint started the conversation by asking how if felt from their “perspective to join the sisterhood”. Zozibini Tzuni, Miss Universe, expressed “I always speak about growing up and watching T.V, opening magazines, and not being able to see myself reflected in the media…” she continued, “It really does something to someone, especially a young girl who doesn’t get to see themselves out there. So, I do believe that we can be what we see, and so with all of us here it’s possible for young girls to finally see their faces reflected in ours; they can see that they too can do something for themselves.” Chelsie Kryst shared how exciting it was to be apart of everything but also how “tokenism” in black beauty standards led her to be shocked by her win. “When Kaleigh won I thought to myself, oh there’s no way I could win. There’s this light skin, beautiful women of color with curly hair…why would they crown another? Then they did. It’s so exciting to see that there could be more than one of us.”Miss Teen USA, Kaleigh Garris, was as humble as she gorgeous and shared that she’s just still grasping it all. Kaleigh, who is just starting college shared that ” seeing myself have all this impact, seeing little girls re-create the crowning moments on Instagram, knowing that my voice is out there to spread positivity and show that face of beauty is changing, and can look different is amazing to me.” Nia Franklin, Miss America 2019, has just recently passed her crown but still remembers what it meant to her when she was first crowned in September of 2018. “This is a significant moment in history as a girl who went to a predominately caucasian school and never felt beautiful. I never thought that I could be Miss America, I didn’t dream of that. To have this is so symbolic to all the little boys and girls who feel as though being of color, means that they’re not enough or can’t achieve certain dreams; now they can see a physical representation in us.”
All four pageant titleholders are so much more than beauty queens. Miss Teen USA, Kaleigh who majors in communications, has begun a social movement called “We are people first” which she started in honor of her older sister. Kaleigh’s older sister is described by Kaleigh as one of the “happiest people in the world” and has multiple disabilities. Kaleigh’s realization that not everyone has a personal relationship with someone who has a disability, led her to create a platform to teach people to leave the bias towards people with disabilities behind. Miss USA, Chelsie also has worked to help those who may not always have a voice. Prior to her Miss USA crowning, Chelsie was a practicing attorney in the state of North Carolina. Chelsie shared that it’s important that she utilizes her platform to “Let people know how the justice system affects people who need help. The time is now, we don’t have time to waste, and we need to make sure that people who need help receive it.” Nia Franklin, the Miss America 2019 alumn, has been working to advocate for the arts. Nia is not just a performer but has been working with Sing for Hope, an organization that places pianos in hospitals, and schools to raise awareness about music in under-resourced places. Nia has also started an initiative to empower female composers, you can find more about at Composeher.org. Miss Universe, Zobini shared “I’m still just figuring it out myself but, what I always say is whatever my future is going to be bright and successful. I truly believe in the power of my dreams so, I’m hoping that I get to learn more about myself this year.”
There were moments during this talk where I was in tears and overcome with inspiration listening to these women speak. A lot of their personal stories resonated with myself and I’m certain many other young women of color as well. This was talk was the highlight of my NYFW AW20 experience.