Toni-Ann Singh of Jamaica was crowned Miss World on Saturday, marking the first time that black women have simultaneously held the titles of five of the world’s top beauty pageants.
Her victory underscored what was already a watershed year in pageantry, which for decades struggled with racism, segregation and gender stereotyping.
Last week, when Zozibini Tunzi of South Africa was named Miss Universe, it was the first time four major pageant crowns were held by black women. And when Kaliegh Garris won Miss Teen USA in April and Cheslie Kryst won Miss USA in May — joining Nia Franklin, who was named the 2019 Miss America last year — it was the first time three of the titles were held by black women.
Together, their wins showed how the competitions have evolved from typically only validating features associated with white women, like lighter skin and straight hair. That evolution could influence communities globally, where blackness is rarely held as the standard of beauty, Noliwe Rooks, professor of Africana studies at Cornell University, said on Sunday.
The fact that five of the winners of major beauty pageants are “identifiably black women really does say something about a level of comfort of black skin in the public,” said Professor Rooks, who recently taught a course on race, fashion and gender.
Representatives of Ms. Singh’s team in Jamaica referred questions to the Miss World organization in London, where the competition was held. Miss World did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Sunday.
Ms. Singh, 23, studied women’s studies at Florida State University from 2014 to 2019, the university said. She was president of the Caribbean students association on campus and aspires to become a doctor, according to the Miss World website.
“To that little girl in St. Thomas, Jamaica, and all the girls around the world — please believe in yourself,” Ms. Singh said on Instagram on Saturday. “Please know that you are worthy and capable of achieving your dreams. This crown is not mine but yours. It’s for you to truly understand that no matter where you’re from and the cards you’re dealt in life — your dreams are valid. You have a PURPOSE.”
Pageants have recently sought to put more emphasis on the offstage lives of their contestants, highlighting their accomplishments and charity work instead of only their appearances.
Last year, the Miss America Organization announced it would end the swimsuit contest, among other changes.
Pageants have also expanded who is allowed to participate. The Miss Universe Organization, which runs Miss USA and Miss Teen USA, for example, began allowing transgender women as contestants in 2012.
Many have long criticized the underrepresentation of black women in the competitions.
Vanessa Williams became the first black woman to win the Miss America title in 1984.
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