Black is Beautiful: Miss America, Miss Teen USA, and Miss USA Are All Black Women for the First Time


Aranya Doloi

Cheslie Kryst was announced Miss USA last week with Nia Franklin, winner of Miss America 2019 and recently crowned 2019 Miss Teen USA Kaliegh Garris.

Raquel Perry, Reporter

Something quite remarkable has happened in the world of pageants. For the first time in history, America’s top beauty pageants- Miss America, Miss USA, Miss Teen USA,- have crowned three black winners in the same year. Nia Franklin was crowned 2019 Miss America in September 2018. Then, Kaliegh Garris was crowned 2019 Miss Teen USA. On Thursday, Cheslie Kryst was crowned 2019 Miss US. This can become a steppingstone to change the stereotypical perception of black women in America.

Miss America, Miss USA, and Miss Teen USA are live beauty competitions that require endurance, determination, commitment and confidence from women. Dating back to the 1920s, many beauty pageants did not allow women of color to participate. Women of color were not allowed to participate until the 1940s.Cheryl Browne became the first black women to participate in 1970. Actress Vanessa Williams was the first black woman to win Miss America back in 1983, but she was forced to resign her post after earlier nude photos surfaced. The Miss USA contest didn’t have a black woman win until 1990, and a year later Miss Teen USA followed.

Cheslie Kryst, who was the last to become a part of the historic trio,  is a 27 year old lawyer  from North Carolina, who is certified to practice law in two states. She  earned both her law degree and MBA from Wake Forest University and completed her undergraduate work at the University of South Carolina.

“Mine is the first generation to have that forward-looking mindset that has inclusivity, diversity, strength and empowered women,” said Kryst, after accepting her crown. “I’m looking forward to continued progress in my generation.”

Nia Franklin, who represented New York for the Miss America competition, is an opera singer. She works with arts advocacy programs to help bring music to children. During the Miss America pageant in September, she explained why music was always important to her.

“I grew up at a predominantly Caucasian school, and there was only 5 percent minority, and I felt out of place so much because of the color of my skin,” Franklin said. “But growing up, I found my love of arts, and through music that helped me to feel positive about myself and about who I was.”

18 year old, Kaliegh Garris, who represented Connecticut, made headlines for being one of the only Miss Teen USA winners to step on the stage with her natural hair. Garris advocates for disabled people with her movement, “We Are People 1st,” and she is also a competitive dancer.

“I have all these influencers that I look up to on social media. Now I’m getting messages from moms of biracial kids, and kids themselves that are biracial. And girls that are scared to wear their hair naturally, and them saying that I have been a big influence in their lives and that they’re going to start wearing their hair naturally or that they’re more proud to just be themselves. It fills my heart with joy,” Garris said.

The three wins have become a powerful symbol of a growing shift in American views of longstanding Eurocentric beauty standards and race and gender stereotypes. Black women are severely underrepresented in many fields, such as holding important political positions. As a young African American women who grew up watching Miss America, I believe a trifecta of black queens winning a beauty pageant is an accomplishment worthy of attention. Their wins will begin to break down societal stereotypes of black femininity that have long been perpetuated in the media.

“It is important to little brown and black girls to see three strong figures, three strong women, African-American women that are doing so much great work,” Ms. Franklin said on Saturday. “People will argue that race doesn’t matter. But race does matter in America, because of the history, because of slavery.”

The three beauty pageants have implemented significant changes in recent years. The Miss Universe Organization, which oversees Miss USA and Miss Teen USA, began allowing transgender women to participate in 2012, and the Miss America organization scrapped the swimsuit segment of the competition last year.