Say ‘beauty pageant winner’ and I bet the first image that comes to mind is a blonde woman with bouncy curls with a sparkling tiara and equally sparkly dress – the kind of ‘Miss Universe’ that you’ve seen in movies, TV shows and real life stages.
If so, it isn’t your fault. In movies, women who are crowned beauty pageant queens are almost always white – from Miss Congeniality to Drop Dead Gorgeous and Little Miss Sunshine. And in real life, the same pattern exists. Most winners fit the standard white beauty standard ‘Barbie’ model, and though a handful of black women have won the Miss Universe pageant worldwide, a black women has never gone through to the final to represent the UK – until now.
This year, for the first time since its launch, a black woman has been crowned Miss Universe Great Britain. Dee-Ann Rogers, 25, will now go through to the final, representing the UK and an entire generation of women of colour.
It is a momentous win because, as Rogers herself says, it shows that the diverse make-up of the UK is finally being acknowledged on a wider level.
“It’s really humbling and I think it’s also a privilege for me to become the first black woman who is crowned Miss Universe Great Britain,” she told BuzzFeed News.
“I believe that this is the direction that the pageant has been going in for the last couple of years because Britain is a diverse nation, we are a multicultural society and it is time that that diversity is seen on a stage where other young black girls and girls of all ethnicities can see that this is something for everybody not just some of us.”
She’s right, and her words are being echoed on Twitter by “young black girls and girls of all ethnicities”.
“YES QUEEN YES,” wrote presenter, Angie Greaves, followed by the hashtags #blackgirlmagic and #gorgeous. While another woman wrote: “I loveeee when people break ‘beauty standards’, especially my fellow dark skin women. Our uniqueness should be celebrated, not merely tolerated.”
This is what’s so exciting about Rogers’ win: it proves that Britain is starting to understand that beauty is not just big blonde curls and blue eyes. For so many years, the standard of beauty in the west has been predominantly white – from the Elle Macphersons of the world to the Gisele Bundchens, Kate Mosses and Angelina Jolies. Even though women like Naomi Campbell and Lupita Nyong’o have broken through to worldwide recognition, they are still hugely underrepresented.
And in the beauty pageant world, it’s even rarer to see women of colour win – especially a woman like Rogers who won with her hair in locs. “To my knowledge, I am the first dreadlocked woman to walk across a Miss Universe Great Britain stage and that is absolutely most exciting to me,” she said.
It is exciting and important, especially at a time when black women in the UK are still facing discrimination over their hairstyles. Recently 22-year-old student Cheyanne Arnold claimed she was told by TempTribe agency that her dreadlocked hair was unprofessional. Indeed, on its website, the company said: “Hair must be short and neat; no pony tails, no braids, no dreadlocks.”
The company has since agreed to ‘shake up old rules’ to become more inclusive, but it’s by no means the only example of black women being discriminated against over natural. So while it might not seem like the biggest deal that a black woman has won a beauty pageant, for women of colour, it’s a milestone. It shows that western society is slowing adapting its perceptions of beauty, and things are changing.
Even if Rogers doesn’t make it any further in the competition, it doesn’t matter. Her win has proved to a generation that you don’t have to fit the outdated white beauty standard to be recognised as beautiful in our society.
It’s a great step, and it’s one that will hopefully pave the way for a wider spectrum of beauty standards in the future to fully represent our racially diverse, different sized and different abled society in all its natural beauty.