Diversity in Beauty is neither a Trend nor a Threat

For the first time in history, all of the major beauty pageant titles worldwide are held by black women. For the first time ever, young black and brown girls can see themselves represented in a space that had previously excluded them.

The women winning these pageants are being praised for embracing features that have not always been considered ‘beautiful’. During her final statement at Miss Universe 2019, South Africa’s very own Zozibini Tunzi said:

“I grew up in a world where someone who looks like me, with my kind of skin and my kind of hair, was never considered to be beautiful. I think it’s time that it stops.”

She is right, it’s time that it stops. Diversity in beauty should not be treated as a trend or as exotic or strange.

Cultural Appropriation

For years, white women have appropriated black beauty and fashion. More recently, the phenomenon has been normalised by the Kardashian-Jenner family and social media influencers. Kylie Jenner has made a billion-dollar empire from her desire to have fuller-looking lips – a feature often associated with black women. Kim Kardashian is currently accused of blackface on a magazine cover where her skin appears much darker than usual. The question is, are they to blame for the normalization of cultural appropriation?

In the influencer world, blackfishing is prevalent. Blackfishing is when white women present themselves as a mixed-race or black to gain a bigger following. It seems that most of them, as well as many of their followers, do not understand why this is problematic. For example, take the case of Rachel Dolezal. Dolezal is a white woman who, over time, morphed her appearance into that of a black person, and later held a prominent position at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Other recent incidents include ELLE Germany referring to increased numbers of black models with an article headlined “Black is Back”, and accusations of multiple forms of appropriation in Ariana Grande’s 7 Rings music video. These cases demonstrate the extent to which many people just don’t get it. The fact that they profit from appropriating black culture is even more appalling.

The Rise of Diversity

For a long time, black and brown women have had Eurocentric beauty standards imposed upon them. I have previously used damaging products to make my thick and curly hair more ‘manageable’. Now it seems that mainstream media wants to control the beauty narrative of black and brown women with kinky or curly hair.

This is what we are born with. We had to learn to love it and embrace it as a means to survive in a world that was not meant for us. So stop asking why darker skinned women are taught to hate their skin. Do not ask why a woman decides to embrace her natural hair instead of a weave or wig.

And, like Solange says: Don’t Touch My Hair.

The rise of diversity in beauty is changing what we consider ‘beautiful’. African, Asian, European, Middle Eastern and everything in between can co-exist. All are beautiful. Some of us aspire to look a certain way because no one is fully comfortable and confident in the way they look 100% of the time.

Different sizes, different skin tones, different hair textures and different face shapes can exist without one dominating the others. Diversity and inclusivity in society are not trends, and they are definitely not threats.

The Ugly Side of Beauty Contests

Photo Credit Wikimedia Commons
Photo Credit Wikimedia Commons

Recently, in two national beauty contests held on both sides of the Atlantic, the ugly side of beauty reared its racist head as online racist backlash took over the web.  Nina Davuluri, winner of the Miss America Contest, a 24-year-old North American of Indian descent and Flora Coquerel,winner of the Miss France Contest, a 19-year-old whose mother is from the West African state of Benin, both shocked a fraction of humanity as the question was posed:

How did they win when they are not white natives to their countries?

As a mixed race young woman who has grown up in the UK and exhibits the beauty of Jamaican, Ghanaian and Irish ancestry, I found the racist reactions disturbing to say the least. Here are some of the comments that circulated on Twitter:

The United States of America

I am literarily soo mad right now a ARAB won.

More like Miss Terrorist

This is America. Not India

Congratulations Al-Qaeda. Our Miss America is one of you.

Asian or indian are you kiddin this is America omg


I am sure all the monkeys in the zoo applauded the new Miss France 2014.

The mixed race is the cancer of the white race. 

If Beninese people were represented by a Scottish or a Chinese, they would feel similar discomfort.

Photo Credit @FredericLavisa
Photo Credit @FredericLavisa

First of all, these contests are open to any female citizen of any race, background or religion of the countries hence Nina and Flora had every right to win. Secondly, I just have to say this – being Indian DOES NOT make you an Arab! Finally, jury just in – the monkeys in the zoo applauded, along with the elephants, giraffes, kangaroos, most of the French population and myself of course (NOT). The hateful ridiculousness of these comments is toxic and the ignorance embedded within each racist comment is overwhelming.

What I think is most worrying is the fact that these comments were posted in a public domain for the entire world to see. The stupidity of the racists who posted the comments is highlighted in their naivety to not expect attention or to be called out for being prejudice and discriminatory. However, I think this draws our attention to an even bigger problem:

How do we combat racism in the ever growing multicultural societies that exist today?

I have thought about this in great depth and I believe that the solution lies within the question. We must continue to grow multicultural societies and tolerance. As societies diversify, people interact with one another and learn that maybe, just maybe, we’re not that different after all. United States Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. put it perfectly when he said,

We often hate each other because we fear each other; we fear each other because we don’t know each other; we don’t know each other because we cannot communicate; we cannot communicate because we are separated.”

He was speaking during the time of apartheid in the American South and during a time of great injustice for all African Americans. There is a lot to be learnt from the history of humanity and it is clear that, in order to prevent racism,we must communicate – to do so, we have to come together.

Let’s teach tolerance and understanding. Let’s educate our children to accept one another and embrace our differences. It is alarming to think that young girls watch these beauty pageants and then hear and see such racism. What message are we sending out to girls like my 11 year old mixed race niece Kya?

This brings to my mind the words one of the world’s greatest leaders, the late Nelson Madiba Mandela:

No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

Finally, I would just like to congratulate both Nina and Flora for their victories, the message they send out is loud and clear.

Cover image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons