South African contestant Zozibini Tunzi was crowned Miss Universe at this year’s pageant after taking part alongside more than 90 women in Atlanta, GA. Her eloquent and informed answers on social issues propelled her to the winning title followed by Madison Anderson from Puerto Rico and Sofia Aragon from Mexico as runners up.
And, this is the first time in history that Miss Universe, Miss America, Miss USA, and Miss Teen USA are all black women. Tunzi’s win in particular is a vital moment for representation for all women.
During the program, contestants are asked questions on a variety of topics ranging from social media to climate change to what they hope the future holds. Tunzi’s answer stood out when she was asked what young girls should be taught today. Her answer was leadership — she encouraged people to give women opportunities and to teach girls the importance of taking up space.
“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,” she said in her last response. “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.”
So, who is the powerful new voice crowned Miss Universe 2019? Tunzi is a public relations specialist and model who grew up on the East Cape of South Africa. Before entering the Miss Universe pageant, she was working on her masters degree in public relations and passionately campaigning against gender-based violence.
As part of her campaign for Miss Universe, Tunzi partnered with HeForShe, a United Nations-run organization that encourages men to get involved in the fight for gender equality. Tunzi asked men from South Africa to write messages of support to women which were later printed on pieces of ribbon and made into her national costume for Miss Universe. Tunzi is only the third woman from South Africa to ever win Miss Universe. She is also the first black woman to be awarded the title since Leila Lopes in 2011.
Despite this major victory, Miss Universe has received criticism over the years for what people believe are outdated practices. Many question whether Miss Universe, and pageants in general, have a place in today’s society. Attempting to assume a more modern position, Miss Universe places more focus on the contestants’ achievements. This year, the panel of judges was made up of seven women.
But Tunzi hopes to reinvent this title, not only encouraging representation, but fully embodying it. Tunzi reflected on her award saying she felt a door has been opened adding, “May every little girl who witnessed this moment forever believe in the power of her dreams and may they see their faces reflected in mine.”
Written by SARAH MIDKIFF