When pageant winner Kára McCullough wore her natural hair during the Miss USA pageant 2017 earlier this year, women of color took notice. It was deemed hugely significant, especially because Black women are still told that their natural hair is unprofessional and inappropriate for the workplace. During Miss Universe 2017, Miss Jamaica wore her hair in an Afro, and Twitter loved it. Online, the only question people had was a simple one: How would they crown her and get the tiara to stay put? I'm sure it would've been fine, but unfortunately for her fans, they didn't have anything to worry about — Davina Bennett was named second runner-up.
Still, her hairstyle was hugely significant. I've written about my complicated relationship with my natural hair and my battle to see it as beautiful. Every time I see a woman of color in a position of influence wearing her natural hair with pride, it tells me Black hair is nothing to be ashamed about. I also loved seeing Bennett on stage because I'm half-Jamaican and root for the island whenever I can. I was disappointed that she didn't win, but seeing her in the top three with her hair in a natural Afro style was still super significant. Twitter was quick to praise Bennett's elegance along with her beautiful hairstyle.
It may seem dramatic for people to be freaking out about hair, but if it seems inconsequential, consider how much this means to women of color. It's 2017, but so many women are still afraid of the consequences that'll result from them wearing their natural hair. Seeing natural hair recognized on an international stage is huge, and it's a reminder that our hair doesn't have to be neatly pressed and styled to look fashionable. There's nothing wrong with choosing to straighten your hair — I straighten mine — but there's also nothing wrong with choosing not to straighten your hair. Women who'd been told their natural hair wasn't good enough shared their stories on Twitter, using Bennett as an example of why natural hair haters are so wrong.
Bennett's hairstyle was more than a fashion statement — it was a political one. Women of color are slammed for choosing to wear their natural hair, so it's incredible to see a pageant queen ignore stigma and look radiant in the process. Bennett told the Jamaica Observer earlier this year that she hoped to challenge beauty stereotypes.
"We should allow our women to believe that they are beautiful and can fit in regardless of size," she said in the interview with the newspaper. "Another one is short, natural hair which I feel should be embraced more, and not ignored."
Most of the top tweets about Bennett were positive, but as expected, there were some problematic posts. "Jamaica could have won if she had prepared her hair for the crown," one user wrote. Someone else wrote, "Miss Jamaica, start braiding your hair." Thankfully, these responses were in the minority, and people were quick to call out any haters.
Even though Bennett didn't win, she accomplished a lot tonight. She started an international dialogue about natural hair and when it's appropriate (hint: always). I don't ever plan to participate in a pageant, but I'm glad that any young girls of color who do want to become Miss Universe one day now have a role model.
Pageants often seem superficial and boring to those of us who don't usually watch, and there's no denying that there are some problematic aspects. But Sunday's pageant showed us just how important representation is, and we have Davina Bennett to thank for the inspiration.