Zozibini Tunzi is crowned by her predecessor Catriona Gray of the Philippines during the 2019 Miss Universe pageant at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, Georgia, US. Picture: Reuters
Zozibini Tunzi is crowned by her predecessor Catriona Gray of the Philippines during the 2019 Miss Universe pageant at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, Georgia, US. Picture: Reuters

What seeing a sister being crowned Miss Universe means to me

By Modibe Modiba Time of article published Dec 11, 2019

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It goes without saying how proud South Africans and Africans at large are of their daughter Zozi Tunzi, the newly crowned Miss Universe. As some of us fortunate enough not to be affected by "loadshedding" managed to wake up during the wee hours of the morning and sit in front of our televisions supporting one of ours, a sister and a fellow African.

With emotions running high, anxiety kicking in, our sister proved to be a force to be reckoned with, oozing confidence and ushering in inspiration. But as I sat there watching her fluently and in a relaxed manner answering her questions, I could not help but think about what it would mean to have a black South African girl from rural Eastern Cape being crowned Miss Universe 2019.

As that thought was lingering in my mind, with time passing by, while sitting on the edge of the couch biting my nails hoping that she wins, she was eventually crowned Miss Universe 2019. 

Now her win does much more than what meets the eye. For a young black girl in Africa, who is forever exposed to western forms of beauty, who plays with white Barbie Dolls and is constantly indoctrinated by media, for her to see a fellow young, dark skinned African with hair similar to hers, win and being crowned the most beautiful lady in the world does a lot for the positive imagery of black African girls and has a positive impact on that young girl's outlook on life and about herself and fellow sisters.

However Zozi’s win has sparked numerous debates on social media, especially regarding her hair and African girls wearing weaves, which some see as being anti-black and reflecting a form of self-hate.

Now the phenomenon of weaves especially on young black girls, is one that has to be studied carefully and properly researched. We also have to look at what is constantly being portrayed on our televisions by media and the influence it has on society, especially African society. We need to critically reflect about how media influences us as time goes by, and how fashion and trends have a way of also proving influential in how we view ourselves as Africans.

The issue of African girls wearing weaves and even some bleaching their skin, needs to be understood in context. We can’t lie and not point out how colonialism instilled an inferiority complex amongst Africans, how media was used as a tool to portray anything black as negative, ugly and not beautiful, as well as how colourism has also found expression in our societies, because darker-skinned women aren’t seen as beautiful compared to lighter-skinned women.

As a young Pan African male living in this ever changing world, I’m asking myself, as woke as I might think I am, am I not influenced by media? Do I not buy a certain cologne because of what I’ve seen being advertised on TV? Do I not buy a clothing label because it’s seen as “cool”? Do I not cut my hair in a way which many young black guys do? Does fashion not influence the way I dress in a way? Now the answer to most of those questions would definitely be yes?

Now with that being said, does that make me less of an African? Or a form of self hate? I would argue not. I would argue not because as Steve Biko once said, “being black is not a matter of pigmentation, but a reflection of a mental attitude”.

Seeing a sister being crowned Miss Universe does a lot for my psychological outlook, as it shows me that I can simply be myself and still inspire others. We need to promote and make it fashionable for our sisters without dictating to them that natural hair is also beautiful. But what we can’t do, is make this an issue of whether the girls that wear weaves, hate their natural hair as that would necessarily be a lazy argument.

What we need to do is see more African girls like Zozi occupying spaces in our media, on billboards, on front pages of beauty magazines, on our TV screens, in our parliaments and occupying all spaces in this society that previously were denied to them and those who came before them.

* Modibe Modiba is a Pan Africanist, a writer, a current affairs junkie as well as a student at the University of South Africa studying towards a BA International Relations degree.

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