Caribbean Queens

Beauty pageants are a big deal in the Caribbean. Or at least they were when I was growing up in Trinidad.

When it came time for the annual Miss Universe pageant, the family all gathered round to root for the hometown heroine together. Trinidad and Tobago has a long and proud history of beauty pageant winners. In 1977, Janelle “Penny” Commissiong became the first Trini, and the first black woman, to win the Miss Universe pageant. I was little when Giselle Laronde won Miss World in 1986, and the whole country celebrated that victory. It was a huge deal when Wendy Fitzwilliam won Miss Universe in 1998, becoming only the third black woman to win. That was the year I moved abroad.

I didn’t realize until I moved to Miami that there were so many people who never watched beauty pageants on television, or even gave a hoot about the Miss Universe or Miss World pageants. When Trinidad hosted the Miss Universe pageant in 1999, I practically had to beg my new American friends to watch it, and some of them had never entertained the thought of watching a beauty pageant before. Over the years, I lost touch with Miss Universe. The only year I watched the whole thing was in 2004, to cheer for my childhood friend Danielle Jones. (she placed fourth runner up!) But still, it made me sad to realize that for the first time in 17 years, Trinidad and Tobago was not sending a representative to Miss Universe. It might seem superficial, but when you’re from a small place that most people don’t know anything about, it does make you feel a swell of national pride to see your country’s representative, wearing a costume meant to depict your culture, striding across a global stage.

Even though my country won’t be represented, I think I’m going to watch this year’s pageant (which will air at 9 p.m. on Monday May 28 on NBC). I’m going to support my Caribbean sisters by rooting big time for Miss Jamaica, Zahra Redwood. She’s the first Rastafarian to compete for the title, and she embodies the essence of black beauty.

Her amazing dreadlocks are getting all of the attention, but as this two-part interview with the Jamaica Observer indicates, Zahra is about much more than her hair. She’s 25, and has a degree in biotechnology and zoology. She’s mature, intelligent, classy, and completely self-possessed — exactly what the winner should be. No risk of Tara Conner embarrassment, here. And besides, Zahra’s victory will make a statement about how far natural ethnic beauty has come.

Back in the day, a girl like Zahra might have been expected to shave off those beautiful locks in order to attend school, or to be accepted in the workplace. Now her locks are her glory, and they set her apart from the rest of the straight, shiny haired pageant beauties. I’m not one to make predictions, but I will say this — that tiara is going to look just stunning on her! Go, Zahra!

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Comments

  1. As a fellow Trini, I was six when Penny won Miss Universe and I had never been so Proud. I went to school in America and told everyone that the new Miss Universe was from my country :)

    It is sad that we are not sending a contestant this year. We have a history of placing in the top ten every year and I always root for our home girls.

    That being said…I will be rooting for Zahra. Go Jamaica!!!

  2. Bella!

    Once again, you are right up my alley. I’ll explain more in when I email you today, but suffice to say I was a HUGE pageant fan as a kid. I was about 7 when Janelle “Penny” Commissiong became the first black Universe and I saved all of her pictures. I also remember seeing Giselle LaRonde in Jet. Do you recall that she beat Halle Berry for the Miss World title? Halle, as first runner-up in Miss USA, was the US contestant. See, I told you that I was a pageant girl back in the day. :)

  3. Nichelle, I had no idea! Giselle and Halle do have a kind of similar look, especially back in the day with those fab 80′s blowouts… can’t wait for your e mail!
    =)

  4. Bella,
    you really make a person think w/your post. I’ve never given pageants much thought at all, reguradless of who the person was (black/white) or what country they were representing. I know that’s sad, but when I was growing up (pageants)this was just not important to my family. When I left for college, things that were not important to my family became important to me. Now, that I have a child I’m trying hard to make the “unknown” to me as a child “known” to her. Part of me has strayed away in a sense and I must say…that sense I ran across your site I’m really learning more and more about “true beauty”.

  5. islandgirl550 says:

    As I mentioned to you in my email I love this post. I was checking Zahra’s pictures on the Miss Universe site. Fierce… http://missuniverse.exposuremanager.com/g/universe_evening_gown_portraits

  6. Pageants are fun and hard work. I participated in one at my high school. Didn’t win the title but wish I had kept going on with them in college. I hope my daughter would like to one day. Great for paying for college. I’ll watch as well on May 28th.

  7. Hey Islandgirl! And you can vote for her online to win Miss Photogenic!

    http://www.nbc.com/Miss_Universe_2007/#

  8. islandgirl550 says:

    And one more thing… Miss Barbados, Antigua & Barbuda, St. Lucia, Curacao, and Turks & Caicos are also represented as well… Don’t want to forget my other island girls…

  9. That’s a good point. So often we don’t celebrate ALL of the Caribbean islands. There are many beautiful island girls in this year’s competition!

  10. Yay Jamaica!! ;)

  11. I am an island girl myself, also attended Bishop Anstey and remember watching those pagents as a child. I sat enraptured by the screen when Wendy Fitzwilliams won and I cheered on Danielle (Danny who I also know as a childhood friend). I knew that Giselle beat Halle- infact they are good friends to this day- Halle visits Giselle especially around Carnival, seen her on a plane myself.

    I will def be voting for Ms. Jamaica, not because of her beauty, but also her intelligence. I know this first hand- she is my cousin and I believe that she can hold her own in any environment. Go Zahra, the family is all supporting you.

    And not to exclude our other island sisters, go represent and best of luck.

  12. I was inspired to do my own post on her today!! She is gorgeous and I LOVE how she’s re-defining what “pageant beauty” has traditionally been viewed.

  13. Em.Kay.Aarrh says:

    Check out Flabiana Matata! AWesome! From tanzania and BALD! Absolutely beautiful and interesting. I love the diversity of afro bellas in the pagent this year. I may watch to see the competitione. :) Thanks for the post! I would have paid it no mind otherwise. Its about time we see natural beauties rep!

  14. jerseybred says:

    ^^ I agree, all of the Bellas are stunning and have great bios!

  15. Miss Barbados jewel Garner is a lawyer and speaks 3 languages.For anyone who knows about West Indies cricket her father is the great fast bowler Joel Garner.

  16. You are right a lot of people in the states don’t watch beauty pagents. A lot of women view them as sexist.

    I on the other hand love love love beauty pagents. I belive that beauty is another gift from God just as Einstein(sp) intelliegence is.

  17. Hey, I thought that vanessa williams was the first black Miss Universe, but the crown was stripped from her because of the Playboy incident… anyways, I think that it is pretty cool to see black women celebrating their beauty and virtue. I am so tired of hearing about women starving themselves and burning their scalps in the name of “beauty”.

  18. I remeber when Wendy F. won the Miss Universe title. I was so happy because a beautiful chocolate girl had won a beauty pagent while competing against women from all over the world.
    My next door neighbors were Jamican at the time, and I remember hearing them screaming with joy when I shut up after 2 minutes of non stop screaming at the top of my lungs. Although neither they or I are from Trinidad all of us could be proud of a sister like Wendy(regal,educated beautiful,elegantetc) winning such a title.

  19. Hey, I thought that vanessa williams was the first black Miss Universe, but the crown was stripped from her because of the Playboy incident

    @ RJ- Vanessa Williams won the Miss America pagent. The Miss Usa pagent feeds into the Miss Universe pagent.

  20. thank you, my queen! you know i really be off sometimes LOL

  21. Sue Le Vent says:

    I will sometimes look to see the black faces on one of those shows but I couldn’t care less about pageants.

  22. You’re right..
    Her dreadlocks are her USP.. They look perfectly cool and give her an edge over all the other contestants.

    Plus I know many of my friends who’re rooting for her just becasue of her dreadlocks!

    Dreadlocks rule! :-)

  23. Bridgette says:

    I am an American-born woman and I have always watched the beauty pageants…with my father. He has always been a huge fan; I guess he likes to look at all the pretty women. Anyway, I’m so excited to see the afrobellas representing without conforming to the European beauty standards. I can’t wait to watch the pageant this year.

  24. Hey bella, Penny is my cousin on my dad’s side! (big up to the Commissiong fam. Val you reading, lol!) Even though I was born in Trinidad I grew up in the US Virgin Islands and I must say that I am rooting for my girl Renata Christian! She is a cool chick and an excellent volleyball player…plus she is super smart and pretty!

  25. Robyn Long says:

    Miss Jamaica’s dreadlocks might make some people feel good but they will eliminate any chance of her winning. Entering a dreadlocked contestant represents typical Jamaican arrogance. That stuff is just too way out there.

  26. Why is it arrogant?

  27. Dutch Pot says:

    Robyn Long,

    May I ask you – why are you THIS site. Sorry bella it is your site but if this fool thinks that a rastafarian intelligent woman is “way out there” – he, she or it needs to be reading Cosmo that magazine that is “way out there”!!!!!

    Robyn you have rendered all future commenst of yours irrelevant!

  28. The last time I checked this is 2007. Dreadlocks (locks cause ain’t nothing dreadful about them)arrogant? Wow. That means I have A LOT of arrogant people in my family. Jamaicans are not arrogant they are just proud. Anyone that can’t tell the difference is ignorant. Robyn, sweety, I think you need to THINK about that comment again. As the Jamaicans say “wheel and come again”.

  29. Hi everyone, apparently I am the youngest to place a comment on this page. All of you all are old, very old. Lol.
    Anyway, I supported Jamaica this year at Miss Universe, although she did not make a place, she still represented what I call true beauty. Nowadays girls going for horse tail and donkey tail to put in their hair, Miss Jamaica had it all natural. Good going there Miss Jamaica 2007.

    Jamaicans are the sweetest people, took me a long time to know that.

  30. oooooooooooooo. and by the way people. There is a girl to root for at Miss World 2007.
    Vivian Brukhart, Miss Grenada 2007. First Grenadian girl to go up after so many years, people you do the math.
    So vote for she nah
    Vivian Brukhart
    http://www.missgrenadaworld.com

  31. Rodney,

    Vivian Burkhardt does not deserve the crown of Miss Grenada World, she’s not a true representation of a typical Grenadian woman. She was only given the crown through favouritism due to her high social background. She is a German national and has no place representing Grenada. This site is to pay tribute to our BLACK SISTAS not some fake who knows nothing about Grenadian history or culture. I beleive Renne’ Moses, who won 1st runner up should have been crowned as she is more of a typical looking Grenadian girl and a true native of the Spice Isle. Check out the site and see all the other beauties guys.

  32. Please visit our site we are offering young women a chance of a lifetime to participate in our pageant. Visit our site and see how simple it is to enter.
    God bless we love our people and please be sure to visit our site.

  33. Wow, that would be a lot of fun to see on vacation, too bad there isn’t more information about it for travellers.

  34. Joan Miller says:

    I could tell where Lobyn Long is from, I saw the rock that she cralled from under. Though I am from the USA I meet a lot of Jamaicans when I lived in Brooklyn years ago and they are the most inclusive people I know. Him She or it needs to read up on Marcus Garvey!

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