Recognizing Universal Beauty

Inspired by Zozibini Tunzi

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On Sunday, December 8, 2019, Zozibini Tunzi was crowned Miss Universe. And although many of us (myself included) celebrate the moment as a historic triumph for women of color with curly and short, textured hair, we sadly realize that there is still much to progress the opinions of people, especially the comments of Latinos.

Tuning in to the show

That night my family and I sat down to watch the competition. We watched the last stage of the pageant. I admit that the women of the house did not want to see the show, but thanks to my dad’s insistence we watched it. And I admit it was worth giving in and watching it.

Because we are a Hispanic, we decided to watch through Telemundo’s programming.

We tuned into the program amid the swimsuit competition. Immediately after the participants paraded in their bikinis, we started a conversation about the absurdity of this kind of competition. I agree with celebrating human beauty, but I have my reservations about the extreme level of criticism to a woman’s physical appearance. Anyway.. We watched the show while offering opinions that would not go beyond our family room.

Above the competition

Finally, it was time to ask the finalists a question. While we listened to the answers, it was obvious that there was one that stood well above the rest. In our opinion, it was the way she radiated confidence, her authenticity, her eloquence and her answers to the final questions that put her above the competition.

“I think the most important thing we should be teaching young girls today is leadership. It’s something that has been lacking in young girls and women for a very 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. And that is what we should be teaching these young girls to take up space. Nothing is as important as taking up space in society and cementing yourself, thank you.”

Zozibini Tunzi

While two finalists (Miss Puerto Rico and Miss Mexico) focused on issues that sound good (like self-acceptance and authenticity, respectively) that may prove superficial in the long run due to the focus on appearance; only one of the three finalists proposed something that has the potential to change society: Leadership for young women. And even if we had no vote in the matter, my family and I bet that Zozibini Tunzi would win.

In addition, her closing statement was very accurate and sincere:

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. I think it is time 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.”.

Zozibini Tunzi

In the world she grew up, I and many others have grown up. And as I’ve said before, it takes courage to show your natural self to the world.

As a way to take advantage of the “trending topic” of the night, Telemundo did not resist the opportunity for an after show and immediately after the Miss Universe was crowned, it began the program “Celebrating the Crown” (in Spanish). After watching for a few minutes, I was surprised and disappointed at the lack of sensitivity of the communicators, presenters, commentators, etc. when describing the new Miss Universe. Some were better than others, and I did notice the difference. And even if they did not have any bad intentions, it should be noted that they can improve their commenting on beauty and people of color in general.

The fact that she won has given much to talk about. And in an era where everyone tries to stay relevant, many reactions were made known. However, I would like to focus on two in particular.

“Very different style”

First, it was obvious that everyone danced around the winning queen’s physical appearance and none found the words “politically correct” to describe her. For me it was remarkable the fact that many seemed to think something similar and nobody dared to say it directly: That a woman of color, with short textured hair beats all the others, was surprising and unfair. I would like to celebrate those who recognized Zozibini Tunzi’s excellent eloquence because I agree with them. However, that should not distract from the fact that in addition to eloquent SHE is beautiful!

“The representative of South Africa has a very different style.” -Osmel Sousa

Osmel Sousa, the entrepreneur and beauty guru, said of the queen:

“She had a very different style. Pretty [it is clear that he refers to her style, not her] because she is thin, tall, moved very well, had a new style. Already many people must be tired [paraphrasing: the type of body and long hair ..].

Osmel Sousa, entrepreneur and beauty guru, in the after show Celebrating the Crown

Anyone can hear that and think it sounds good. But, let’s note that Osmel talks about the Queen’s STYLE. At no time does he mention that SHE herself is beautiful! It’s like when you meet a baby and you think he’s ugly! And you dare not call the baby ugly, much less in front of his mother. Therefore, you end up saying something like: “how intelligent he is,” “how awake,” “he is such a smiling baby,” “how alert are his eyes” “how big are his hands, or feet,” etc. You make your observations audibly without lying to the parents. The “effect of the ugly baby” is what I perceived in many comments about the beautiful Zozibini. Most praised something about her without actually saying how beautiful she is.

Anyway, Osmel keeps talking. And of the competition in general, he said the following:

But it seems to me that today we learned that when we bring candidates to this pageant they have to be great communicators. If not, it does not work no matter how beautiful she may be… Things have changed. It is no longer the pretty face, and the aesthetic body, and walking pretty. Notice that they ask them five times. They speak five times on stage. That is not easy.”

Osmel Sousa, entrepreneur and beauty guru, in the after show Celebrating the Crown

Somehow, what Osmel says is very true. But there is one word that catches my attention: TODAY. He says they learned a lesson “today.” And I wonder, how could it take so long to learn this? I mean, until the day Zozibini Tunzi was crowned, it was not understood that universal beauty goes beyond a fair complexion and long hair?

In spite of everything, bravo for Zozibini Tunzi that was recognized as a universal beauty!! Bravo on behalf of every person of color!!

The “usual format”

Just before Osmel commented, there was another gentleman who said it differently but with the same message. This was Luis Alfonso Borrego, presenter for “Suelta la Sopa,” which is a gossipy show about celebrity news, who answers the question if the top 5 were among his favorites:

“I must say that Miss South Africa was never [among my favorites] from the beginning, nor in the middle, nor at the end […] When I saw her holding hands with [Miss] Puerto Rico, I was one hundred percent sure that Puerto Rico would win [.. .] Now, what about Miss South Africa? As Dayana Mendoza [former Miss Universe] is saying, [Miss South Africa] gets out of the stereotype of the traditional queen, of the typical queen. Years ago, South Africa, Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters, also won, but it was the format beauty queens that we are accustomed to. Here I just arrived precisely from Atlanta and one of the things that I learned that the organization of Miss Universe was pursuing was more than just seeing a lot of what we are recognizing as being typically beautiful that it is a product of brands, cosmetics, etc., etc., it is a girl who knows how to communicate a message, a message of inclusion, a message of education. And in this particular case seemed very beautiful the message that [Miss South Africa] put at the beginning was a song she sang as a child. “

Luis Alfonso Borrego, presenter of “Suelta la Sopa” (Spanish celebry news show), en Celebrando la Corona

Among everything he said, I reserve the right to feel annoyance and even a little offense for the expression: “The format of beauty queens we are used to.” And from there the word I didn’t like was: FORMAT!

What the presenter said means that custom has maintained that women of color with short and textured hair are not beautiful. This is an indisputable reality, and not just because the presenter said it.

Every person with some trace of similarity to Zozibini (myself included) at some point have felt how others reject the beauty of individuals of color (both men and women). Sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly. Due to customs such as these it is necessary to celebrate the appointment of Zozibini Tunzi as a universal beauty. Because besides the fact that she won, the important thing is that everyone gets used to recognizing that quality of beauty.

Conclusions about beauty

The point is that people celebrate and comment that Zozibini Tunzi won because of being different, or by having a different “format,” or by being a good communicator. Very few celebrated HER for being just beautiful. Many people find it hard to recognize that she is universally beautiful, both physically and how she carries herself.

I think the lesson that everyone should learn is how to express oneself about the beauty of colored individuals.

And here allow me to give you some tips: 1) To start, say it out loud: People of color are beautiful. It’s not that they have good or beautiful things, it’s that they are truly beautiful! 2a) Then, you repeat it every time you have an opportunity. 2b) Direct your compliment or praise to someone specific. Tell that person that they are beautiful. 3a) Be sincere. 3b) And give yourself time. There are things that are not learned overnight, but remember that you can do it.

I know that the problem lies in the mentality of people and how they have been acculturated. However, now everyone has the opportunity to learn how to best refer to people of color. The beautiful Zozibini Tunzi is giving everyone a year to learn and to practice and to get used to recognize this quality of beauty.

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