“Tonight a door was opened and I could not be more grateful to have been the one to have walked through it,” Miss Universe 2019, Zozibini Tunzi, told the media after her triumphant win on Sunday night (h/t BBC News). “May every little girl who witnessed this moment forever believe in the power of her dreams and may they see their faces reflected in mine.”
Tunzi, competing for South Africa, took the title over more than 90 women competing in the pageant, which was broadcast live from Atlanta’s Tyler Perry Studios, the new queen beat Puerto Rico’s Madison Anderson and Mexico’s Sofia Aragon in the final three.
Notably, this year’s competition also included its first openly gay contestant, Miss Myanmar, Swe Zin Htet—whose home country criminalizes homosexuality. And of course, Miss USA 2019, Cheslie Kryst, was also in the running for the crown on Sunday night (and yes, we’re a little confused as to why Puerto Rico and the USA remain separate titles). While she didn’t take the title, Kryst notably included a nod to Maya Angelou’s “Caged Bird” in her American woman-centric costume for this year’s competition.
Of equal significance to black American women? With Tunzi’s win, all four major 2019 pageant titles now belong to black women, as she and Kryst are joined by Miss America 2019 Nia Franklin and Miss Teen USA 2019 Kaliegh Garris. The 26-year-old public relations professional and activist is the first black woman to be crowned Miss Universe since Angola’s Leila Lopes in 2011; Lopes congratulated Tunzi in an Instagram post, writing: “Congrats girl you did us very proud.”
Also worth being proud of is the newly crowned winner’s platform, which is focused on fighting gender-based violence and advocating for natural beauty, according to her pageant biography, which reads:
Zozibini Tunzi is a passionate activist and engaged in the fight against gender based violence. She has devoted her social media campaign to changing the narrative around gender stereotypes. She is a proud advocate for natural beauty and encourages women to love themselves the way they are.
“Society has been programmed for a very long time that [it] never saw beauty in a way that was black girl magic, but now we are slowing moving to a time where women like myself can finally find a place in society, can finally know they’re beautiful,” said Tunzi onstage on Sunday night (h/t People).
With deep brown skin and short, naturally-textured hair, Tunzi’s win also represents an increasingly shifting paradigm in beauty standards, even in the world of pageantry, which has been oft-criticized for upholding unrealistic and Eurocentric beauty standards. After telling host Steve Harvey that she’d spent the week preparing for the pageant by singing Beyoncé’s “Brown Skin Girl” each morning, Tunzi’s crowning is understandably a moment of validation for black women around the world.
“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,” Tunzi, who wore custom gowns from South African designer Biji throughout the night, told the press corp after winning the coveted tiara. “I think that it is time that that stops today.”
But in her final question of the competition, when asked what we should be teaching young girls today, “leadership” was the new Miss Universe’s answer:
“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 labeled women to be,” she told host Steve Harvey.“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,” she added, as the audience roared in agreement.
...and in agreement with the beauty queen was none other than the “queen of all media” herself.