Black women currently hold five of the biggest beauty pageant titles in the United States, and the world.
When Miss Jamaica, Toni-Ann Singh, was crowned Miss World in London on Saturday, she joined an impressive roster of black women who hold some of the world’s most prestigious pageant titles: Zozibini Tunzi as Miss Universe, Cheslie Kryst as Miss USA, Kaliegh Garris as Miss Teen USA, and Nia Franklin as Miss America (who is scheduled to crown her successor on Dec. 19). It is the first time that black women have held all of these five titles at once.
The reigning Miss Earth is Nellys Pimentel of Puerto Rico, and reigning Miss International is Sireethorn Leearamwat of Thailand.
These wins are particularly significant because of the beauty pageant industry’s troubled history with race. For decades, women of color were banned from participating in some of the biggest pageants, including Miss America and Miss USA. No African American women participated in Miss America until Cheryl Browne represented Iowa in 1970, and a black woman didn’t take the top title until Vanessa Williams‘ victory in 1983.
Kryst, the current Miss USA (and a top 10 finalist at Miss Universe), said on Good Morning America before Singh’s victory that she’s sometimes frustrated that people don’t understand why the group’s victories are such a big deal.
“I think there are times when I am disappointed, because people will sometime comment on our social media and be like, ‘Why are we talking about your race? You guys are just four, amazing women,'” Kryst said. And I’m like, ‘Yes, we are four amazing women, but there was a time when we literally could not win!’”
In the same interview, Tunzi also said that she’s heard from mothers who have told her, “’My 4-year-old daughter was so excited to see you on stage. And she kept on screaming, ‘You look like me. She looks like me.’”
Singh, who aspires to become a doctor, addressed little girls in her home country and elsewhere on Twitter, encouraging them to believe in themselves.
“Please know that you are worthy and capable of achieving your dreams. This crown is not mine but yours. You have a PURPOSE,” Singh wrote.