Home Black History Black Beauties: Network Looks Back at How Blacks Used Beauty to Forge Power
Black Beauties: Network Looks Back at How Blacks Used Beauty to Forge Power

Black Beauties: Network Looks Back at How Blacks Used Beauty to Forge Power


by TRN Staff

Beauty Pageants have been around for more than a century.  The Miss America Pageant grew from a little beachside competition into an industry that defined the essence of a woman and her beauty.  For years, that meant Blacks and women of color were not allowed to compete–beauty was defined by Whites and the competition was for White women only!

Blacks were allowed to attend the event dating back to 1923 when according to PBS.org “slaves” were brought onstage for a musical number.  It would take another 50 years before a Black woman would be allowed to go onstage as contestant.  In 1970, an Iowa woman named Cheryl Brown  was the first Black woman to represent her home state in the competition.  It would be another decade and a half before a Black woman would win the crown, but the victory was short lived.  In 1984, Vanessa Williams became the first Black woman to win the title. She was stripped of the title halfway through her reign amidst a scandal that she posed nude years earlier for publications.

While Miss America was slow to create an environment that acknowledged Black women were beautiful, the cultural movement of the 60’s didn’t wait for history to change but changed history by creating their own Black beauty pageants.  Most Black women didn’t fit the mold of the White created European definition of beauty of light skin, straight hair, slim noses and lips.

A London, England exhibit honors the history of the Afro-Caribbean models title “Miss Black and Beautiful”.  The BBC produced film shows clips and photos of the women who dared believed that their dark skin and Afros were testaments of their beauty. While beauty pageants have been criticized by some as sexists and exploitative, the Black women who part in these contests used the competition as political statement.

Here’s a clip of that exhibit which includes an interview with exhibit curator Renee Mussai.


  1. You need to check your facts.. Dorothy Johnson representing the state of Idaho in 1964 participated in the Miss America pageant. She was featured in articles in both Ebony and jet magazines and several newspaper. A representation was significant because it took place in the same year that legal segregation was outlawed by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. She is still alive and was recently honored by the NAACP in Pocatello, Idaho. She also participated in “Conversations at C.A.A.M.” at the California African American Museum in exposition Park in Los Angeles, California

    1. @Robert Lee Johnson Thanks for your feedback Robert. The article was written based on information from the Miss America website and BBC of content in the exhibit. Thanks for fact check.

  2. Sistas, all black is beautiful and all chocolate taste sweet. It doesn’t matter if you’re white chocolate, cocoa chocolate, dark chocolate or Alec Wek chocolate. Remember this quote from Dick Gregory, “Chocolate means love, kindness, tastes good, is good.”

  3. We have to stop measuring our beauty by European/American standards. To put it in layman terms, we have to stop trying to act white and look white. No more weaves, wigs, plastic surgery, skin bleaching and buying $500 dollar purses and clothes. White owned advertisements are designed to do two things; One, make you feel sad and two, entice you to spend money! Constantly assuming that white is pretty and pure and black is dark and ugly leads to loss of self confidence and severe depression. Sistas always remember, black is beautiful and melanin is poppin! Please stop allowing white people and their devilish propaganda to tell you that you are anything but beautiful!

    P.S. For more information on the power of melanin, watch Hidden Colors Part 2

    1. @ NBA Hi NBA…Thanks for uplifting the race with such an inspiring comment. Hopefully every woman and man with walk away with a new perspective on their own value. You’re always a joy and contribute so much. Thanks NBA


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