Miss Teen USA Kaliegh Garris, Miss Universe Zozibini Tunzi, and Miss USA Cheslie Kryst Photo: ABC
For the first time in the pageant world’s history, all four major titles — Miss America, Miss USA, Miss Teen USA and Miss Universe — are held by black women.
By Joelle Goldstein, PEOPLE
It’s only been a few days since history was made in the pageant world, but Miss Teen USA Kaliegh Garris, Miss USA Cheslie Kryst, and Miss Universe Zozibini Tunzi already know the impact of their victory. As of this week, for the first time ever all four major titles — Miss America, Miss USA, Miss Teen USA and now Miss Universe — are held by black women.
Three women of the history-making four stopped by Good Morning America on Friday, where they discussed how special it was for black women to currently hold all the major titles. The fourth winner, Miss America Nia Franklin, was unable to be there due to a scheduling conflict. (She is currently in Connecticut, preparing to crown her Miss America 2020 successor on Dec. 19.)
“It’s such a great move forward as the world and as a society to say, ‘Look, women who were in the past [who] never had opportunities to do things like this are now here.’” Tunzi, 26, explained. Despite their excitement for making history and “breaking barriers,” Kryst, 28, admitted that there are still times where she experiences disappointment. “People will comment on our social media and be like, ‘Why are we talking about your race? You guys are just four, amazing women’” she said. “And I’m like, ‘Yes, we are four amazing women, but there was a time when we literally could not win!’”
Tunzi revealed that since being crowned, she’s received messages from people around the world, including parents of young girls, who have thanked her for authentically representing their race. “[I’ve had] mothers who say ‘My four-year-old daughter was so excited to see you on stage and she kept on screaming,’ ‘You look like me! She looks like me!’” Tunzi explained, noting that she received pressure to change her appearance by wearing a wig, extensions or straightening her locks but remained true to herself.
“I wanted to challenge that,” she said. “I didn’t want to fall into that pressure, I wanted to look like my authentic self.” “To say, this hair can be beautiful too because it was how I was born to look,” Tunzi added. The current Miss Universe also said she hopes her win will encourage women to be confident, far beyond their appearance. “I think we are afraid to take up space, we are afraid to be amazing. As soon as that fear leaves us, we start building that confidence of being unapologetic,” she told GMA. “I think we can get to the space of having a lot of women leaders who are fearless.”
Tunzi became the fourth black woman to currently hold a pageant title earlier this week.
After her victory on Sunday night, she and the rest of the women were commended on social media, with a number of celebrities including Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and Viola Davis voicing their praise.
“Congratulations Miss South Africa, the new Miss Universe @zozitunzi! Agree with you…leadership is the most powerful thing we should be teaching young women today. We welcome your visit to #OWLAG, our Leadership Academy for Girls” Oprah tweeted.
“#BlackGirlMagic” added Obama.
“Beautiful message! Congrats to the gorgeous #MissUniverse 2019, @zozitunzi from South Africa! #BlackGirlMagic #MondayMotivation” wrote Davis.
When Tunzi — who is also an activist against gender-based violence — discovered that Winfrey had sent her a note, she told GMA earlier this week that she nearly passed out. “I fainted for a second there because I was like, ‘Is this Oprah-Oprah?’ And they were like, ‘Yeah, it’s the real one,’” she said.
In her answer during the pageant, Tunzi touched on the misconception of women being unfit for leadership. She similarly hopes that her new role as Miss Universe helps break down other stereotypes. The new Miss Universe told GMA, “It’s something that we should be taught as young girls and grow up to be women who really want to insert themselves in spaces of power and not feel shy about wanting to be powerful and a leader.”
“Just by being on that stage and representing women who look like me… and not just women who look like me, but women who have felt that they’ve been misrepresented or haven’t seen a different kind of beauty,” she added. “[I’m] hoping to change that narrative and say look, women are multifaceted, we’re not all the same and we shouldn’t be boxed into one type of beauty.”
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