2019 has been the year of redefining beauty standards with top fashion labels promoting inclusivity with varied size options, body-positive models gracing leading magazine covers, and greater industry representation overall in a global movement championing self-acceptance and empowerment.
Although frequently criticized for perpetuating outdated stereotypes with their swimsuit category and cookie-cutter perception of beauty in the past, the annual Miss Universe competition is making strides towards embracing diversity with this year’s winner.
Amidst 90 contestants representing different countries and territories, Miss South Africa Zozibini Tunzi won the coveted Miss Universe title Sunday evening, becoming the first black woman from South Africa to be crowned and the first black woman to be victorious since 2011.
“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,” Tunzi explained in the televised final round. “I think it is time that 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.”
Born in the Eastern Cape town of Tsolo, Tunzi is a 26-year-old activist fighting against gender-based violence through the United Nations’ “HeForShe” gender equality campaign and advocating for natural beauty, using her personal social media platforms to encourage societal action.
“I think the most important thing we should be teaching young girls today is leadership,” said Tunzi during the pageant. “It is something that has been lacking in young girls and women for a 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.”
The 2018 Miss Universe, Catriona Gray from the Philippines, crowned a beaming Tunzi at an Atlanta stadium with an elaborate diadem from Lebanese jewelry house Mouawad. Named the “Power of Unity”, the 18ct-gold crown features almost 2,000 diamonds and a gold-hued centerpiece matching Tunzi’s shimmering gown displayed in an intricate nature-inspired design promoting “strength, beauty, femininity, and unity,” according to the brand.
First runner-up Miss Puerto Rico and second runner-up Miss Mexico also spoke about beauty and perseverance in their responses, supporting the theme of reinventing standards at this year’s finals.
“We celebrate beauty, all forms of it, and provide the tools that help women to feel their most beautiful: ‘Confidently Beautiful,” states the Miss Universe Organization mission statement. Time will tell if the judging committee will continue to uphold this sentiment, but if this year’s victor is any indication, the pageant industry may be on its way to encompassing the vast and varied global definitions of beauty.