By Naomi Grewan
The Miss South Africa finals took place on Women’s Day this year. As we celebrate the victory of Zozibibi Tunzi, our Miss South Africa 2019, it is only fitting that we reflect back on some of the milestones that made this years’ pageant so groundbreaking.
The Miss South Africa organisation did their best to make sure that this year’s top 16 finalists were a diverse group of women; aiming to celebrate women from different backgrounds with different body types. For the first time, two of the top 16 finalists were plus-size models. Also for the first time, the pageant included a contestant who identifies as queer.
Beulah Baduza and Sasha-Lee Olivier are classified by the industry as plus-size models. Regardless of what that definition of plus-size is, it is good to see the industry in South Africa trying to redefine what beauty is and what it can be.
Olivier took home the prize of first runner up last Friday. The 26-year-old from Johannesburg was not only one of the first two plus-size finalists in a Miss South Africa pageant but now she is the first plus-size contestant to place.
Baduza, a 23-year-old from Pretoria, said to The Sunday Times that many women feel too fat because of what is portrayed by the industry. Olivier said, also to The Sunday Times, that there are many misconceptions because anyone over a size zero is labelled as plus size.
They both hope that speaking about these issues will help other young women understand that they too are welcome in the industry regardless of the label they are given.
Sibabalwe Gcilitshana became this year’s first openly queer contestant, making it into the top ten finalists. The 24-year-old from Cape Town also made it into the finals with Baduza and Olivier. Despite the backlash she faced, Gcilitshana wanted to remind people that her sexual identity isn’t her entire narrative.
Gcilitshana said to Times Live in July that she hopes for a future in which the Miss SA finalists won’t have to be labelled by their sexuality but rather just as finalists themselves. Gcilitshana refused to be affected by the fountains of homophobic remarks and stuck to what she believed her purpose was; she is hoping to use the opportunities given to her as a way to teach people about diversity and individual rights in South Africa.
Bringing it closer to home, I interviewed UCKAR’s very own Iviwe Mzandisi, our first transgender Miss Varsity Shield contestant, about what she thinks of the representation of the LGBTQ++ community in the Miss SA Pageant.
Iviwe described the pageant as “generic and cis normative.” She felt that even though the pageant committee was trying to diversify their runway, they didn’t succeed.
“… The ‘plus-size’ women were plus-size in the modelling industry. Plus-size is 40+ and I didn’t see that,” she responded when asked about whether this runway represented the women of South Africa.
“I think she [Gcilitshana] needed an angle to make her stand out and she used it. I will rejoice when I see an openly transgender womxn run.”
Other members of the LGBTQ++ community from around campus had varying opinions. Many describing that they were proud and are glad that South Africa is actually taking the LGBTQ++ community into consideration more and more.
“This is definitely a positive thing. You will definitely get people that will be negative towards it, but you can never satisfy everybody. Just keep your comments to yourself and just be accepting of other people’s life choices," said Dylan, a proudly gay man from Pretoria.
Although the progress is slow, it is there and it is making a difference. As the global structures are taken apart every aspect of diversity becomes more and more representative.
Iviwe also pointed out that last year an intersex womxn ran, so really only time will tell.
The hope would be that one day pageant contestants who are plus-size or members of the LGBTQ++ community will be seen in equal light to those who aren’t, and their participation won't be so groundbreaking.