Inclusivity in Pageants

Written by Elizabeth Tran and Andromeda Peters

Pageant History was made with Black Girl Magic

When Chesli Kryst was crowned Miss USA 2019, it was not only a celebration for her, but a celebration of diversity, especially for black girls across the USA. For the first time in history, the four reigning national titleholders for the most coveted pageants – Miss USA, Miss Teen USA, Miss United States, and Miss America – are all black women.

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Many pageant fans were excited to see Miss USA, Miss America, and Miss Teen USA in an exclusive interview on CBS discussing this historic moment. I also loved seeing different pageant systems come together and not deem eachother as “competition.” Fun fact, Miss America’s attorney is actually Miss USA!

While Miss United States was missing from that particular segment, Lady Code is excited to have her on our blog again to share her insight on inclusion and diversity. Andromeda has such a unique background and inspirational story. She has defied all odds, and is a prime example of beauty in being your best self.

Beauty in Diversity through Andromeda Miss United States

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As a woman of many backgrounds, how has that shaped your life today?

Coming from this cohesion of cultures has allowed me to grow up to be more open minded: a sure advocate for equality, intrigued by so many different cultures. A lot of my friends are also first generation Americans like me. They come from the Philippines, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Guyana, El Salvador, Ecuador, and one of my best friends is from Japan! I also have many close friends from Puerto Rico. I love being immersed in culture: different foods, fabrics, and languages. I have more of a worldly mindset. Aside from my “Your Mind Matters” movement (my platform for self care and mental health awareness), I do a lot of advocacy for the LGBTQ population and will even be apart of DC Pride this year.

 

Did you ever feel like you should identify yourself with a particular culture?

I feel like I’m everything in the rainbow! I felt like I was apart of so much and it makes it a little tricky for me to explain my background to people. As a kid I was always taught that I come from a lot of different places: with my father being an immigrant from Ghana (Fanti tribe) and on my maternal side, Wampanoag and Black Foot Native American, some of my family growing up on the reservation before leaving as adults, British, and Filipino. I grew up closer to my Ghanaian and Aboriginal American roots from pow wows, music, spiritual connection to nature, to Fanti food and music. My father was a musician playing African High Life and also to my LGTBQ family. I was raised by 2 moms. My mom came out as being lesbian when I was 10 and as I grew up shared that she is actually transgendered but wanted to wait until I was older to transition. So I have two dads! I’m my dad’s biggest fan and supporter who is also an advocate and speaker for the Trans community. I remember being little and in awe at the beauty and confidence of drag queens and my family would celebrate our diversity at our Massachusetts Pride Parades! I’ve had such a rich upbringing so it made sense that I was drawn to many friends with different cultural backgrounds and friends in the LGBTQ community! Even my fiancé’s family has Cherokee roots.

I’ve always felt like I never belonged to one particular group or classification. People never understood that because I’m black so many assume that means checking off one box. I never liked those surveys that I took as a kid that would ask me what I was. I would tell my parents that I never knew what to check off if the directions said “check one” and they would tell me “you don’t have.” I grew up knowing that yes I’m black and proud of everything about me but there is so much in my blood and upbringing that can’t fit in a box. Later as a kid, the surveys did change to “check off as many boxes that apply” on surveys and that meant checking off almost the entire form even though I still felt that so much was missing! My family and I would have a laugh.

 

How do you feel being one of the four national titleholders making history?

I feel so honored. My journey into pageantry began only four years ago. From the beginning I was given advice from a lot of coaches who meant well but would say things like “because you’re black, remember you can’t …” or “you should…” I’m a free spirit and because I can’t fit into one box, that same attitude stayed with me as beauty queen. When I won Miss United States, I wore royal blue which was a darker color, and I did everything I wanted because I liked it! I have a great team who appreciates my free mind but the symbolism between having 4 black national titleholders is the message it sends to other girls that “you are black but you don’t have to do anything different because of it”. You are beautiful, intelligent, and accomplished because you are you! Beauty is diversity and that’s what we represent which is an honor for something much bigger than me. It’s important to see positive images of yourself because unfortunately black men and women in the media are often portrayed as stereotypical characters and not always highlighted for our strengths as a culture of black American people.

How has the pageant community reacted to your reign?

When I first won there was a lot of excitement around be being a black national titleholder. I was the first to be crowned out of the 4 of us. I received so many messages especially since there has not been a black Miss United States since Candiace Dillard in 2013. There are 4 black Miss United States in total including me. I also had a very exciting win! I took home highest score in interview, highest score in evening gown, and highest score in on-stage question which were rapid fire questions for us. So I was so proud of myself and received so much support in my winning performance. It was also my dad’s 50 birthday the night that I won!

On the other side I’ve been getting even more support for my mental health and self care movement. Aside from entertainment and being a beauty queen, I’m also a licensed psychotherapist! I’ve been holding self care workshops for women, self care workshops for therapists, teaching my self care curriculum in classrooms, and going on air to teach my 4 step process to managing self care on-the-go! It’s so fulfilling to be able to put a face to therapists and let our country know that asking for help makes you brave.

 

What is the biggest obstacle you had to overcome?

The therapist in me highlights overcoming every obstacle as a milestone but I know I should just name one! One of the biggest obstacles is one that led me to pageantry in the first place. Growing up I was raised in the arts, my grandmothers and their mothers and so on were singers on my maternal side, my father being a musician from Ghana which led him to America, my step mom being singer and composer. I knew I would always do something in music and the arts with my writing and cartooning. As a teen I became drawn to modeling! People had been telling my family apparently since I was a baby to put me in modeling and once I saw America’s Next Top Model it was a wrap! So pageantry helped me to refine a lot of my skill set. I have been in theatre since I was 11 and can’t remember a time where I wasn’t singing.

However competing in pageants was not my idea. My fiancé’s mom (boyfriend at the time) encouraged me to compete. She loves pageants and I never grew up watching them. I had just overcome homelessness that I experienced in college. My family had hardship financially as a result of mental health challenges which my families has since overcome. At the time I had been in survival mode: internship, job, Dean’s List, extra-curricular activities, until graduating. I couch surfed a lot and it was hard and then one of my best friends took me in while I went to grad school. During this experience, I joined AmeriCorps, raised money to go on mission trips, and volunteered with Habitat for Humanity. I knew someone somewhere had it worse than I did and I was still capable of giving back even though my family was going through a rough patch.

After grad school, I moved to the DC area where my fiancé is from and began my training as a therapist (getting my independent license over a year ago). It was then that his mom encouraged me to compete again.

Pageants became my own healing arena where I could connect back with a pizazz that had come secondary to my needing to survive and help others realize that challenges do not define who we are. Every year I felt more like myself: a little “Sasha fierce” meets the classic style and humanitarian work of Audrey Hepburn. Each year my heart healed more, my confidence rebuilt, and winning the Miss United States crown to me symbolized a new life: the beginning of everything I want. This is my beginning and it feels nice to make a little history along the way :).

Elizabeth’s Take as an Asian-American

riyomori.jpgOn a personal note, my heart beams with pride to see American pageants embracing and celebrating women of color. As an Asian-American, I remember as a little girl how shocked I was when Riyo Mori won Miss Universe. That an oriental lady who looked like me, with slanted brown eyes and black hair could be deemed beautiful. I can only imagine the excitement young black girls felt, when they saw Miss Teen USA and Miss USA win with their natural hair and mic-dropping on stage questions.

When I started competing in pageants, I had a close family member tell me I would never place in a national pageant, because I was Chinese. Yet, I have been blessed with the amazing opportunity to represent the USA in two international pageants.

Competing overseas, I was constantly asked why I was representing the USA if I was Chinese. I initially was offended, but I realized it was an opportunity for me to share with people around the world how the USA is a melting pot. I could also share my pride of my parents pursuing their American Dream. I know that acceptance is growing and I am proud to be part of that growth.

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Conclusion

We wrap this article up to say how grateful we are to be part of an industry that is willing to be more accepting of women from all walks of life regardless of where they come from. Representing the USA as a minority showcases one of the most beautiful aspects of America, and that is its diversity. As we try to figure out who we are, we do not let our race, background, and family upbringing define us, rather be what makes us unique and incredible individuals working together.

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