This past Sunday, 18-year old Kaliegh Garris made history when she took the crown as Miss Teen USA wearing her naturally coily afro.
The Joseph A. Foran High School student from Milford, Connecticut made the natural hair community proud as not since Miss Jamaica Davina Bennett wore her short fro to the 2017 Miss Universe competition, did the pageant world witness a contestant so bold and brave to do this.
After the win, Garris told Refinery 21 of her hair regimen before that day.
“The night before, I finger curled every single piece of my hair in the shower, which led to a very long shower, but it was for the greater good,” she said. “I know what I look like with straight hair, with extensions, and with my curly hair, and I feel more confident and comfortable with my natural hair.”
Boy did it pay off!
It’s been a long time coming…
Vanessa Williams, a black woman, winning the title of Miss America back in 1983 was amazing but because she had very fair skin, light eyes and loose curl pattern hair, it was not yet a big accomplishment to black women of darker complexions because she didn’t have the typical negro female archetype of features, kinkier hair, darker skin and dark eyes.
We got close, 10 years later in 1993, when Kenya Moore, a cocoa complexioned beauty won the Miss USA crown, but she too has light eyes and loose curl pattern hair, so compromise, yet still progress. Why do we look to these competitions for validation anyway. *le sigh*
Close to 20 years would pass before that pageant would crown another dark brown.
Miss DC, Deshauna Barber won the top title in 2016 and set a new standard but not during her winning year, but the following year when she encouraged the 2017 Miss USA winner, another Miss DC, Kara McCullough to wear her natural curls and not straighten her hair the way Barber had done the year before.
I love what she wrote in an essay on Refinery 21:
People don’t realize that I’m the one who told Kára she should wear her curls onstage. Kára is my good friend. D.C. is very small, and the pageant community is even smaller. We’ve competed against each other for years. So when she came to my Miss Universe sendoff party with her hair curly, I looked at my director and said, “I think she should wear her hair like that.” Kara was hesitant at first. But after some convincing, it separated her from the group. People could relate to her being comfortable with her natural hair. I think there’s something beautiful about that.
“For me to walk out in my natural hair and to crown someone with natural hair broke down walls.”
When they called D.C. this year, I almost had a heart attack. I crowned her when she won D.C., and I was so excited to crown her when she won Miss USA. That moment felt so good not only to embrace diversity of races and backgrounds, but diversity of appearances and hair textures, too. For me to walk out in my natural hair and to crown someone with natural hair broke down walls. It opened up a world for the girls who feel they need to straighten their curls and add long extensions.
And now that curly fro love and acceptance is spreading to the younger pageants and it remains a winning strategy with Garris confidence and win!
It’s sad though what Barber confessed in her essay: “If I take a small one by showing my natural 4c hair, the next girl will take one, and then we’ll ease our natural hairstyles into the pageant community. Because in all honesty, I don’t think that the pageant community is ready for a braided-up Miss USA.”
We are inching forward though, I believe! Someday!