Reshaping ‘Western’ beauty ideal

The unnecessary controversy that followed Zozibini Tunzi’s crowning as Miss SA at the weekend must serve as a reminder that the struggle to liberate our collective mind from mental slavery is far from over.

In a free South Africa, there is still a sizeable portion of our society that has what our Miss SA termed the “Westernised” idea of beauty.

Jazz singer Gloria Bosman could have very well been talking about such people in a poem accompanying McCoy Mrubata’s Romeo & Alek Will Never Rhyme:

Intoxicated, indoctrinated/

Assimilated and cajoled/

Trenched in drunken stupor of self negation/

In seasons rough and in seasons calm/

In thought and in spirit/

The image of black beauty surpasses many.

Released in 2000, the song was celebrating the beauty of South Sudanese-British model Alek Wek, whose arrival on the international stage challenged Caucasian aesthetic.

Miss SA 2019 Zozibini.

Little did they know that many years later, in their own country, there would still be people who think if you are a dark-skinned African woman with “kinky hair”, you cannot be beautiful; that a black radio station would see it fit to hold a poll questioning your looks.

Like Alek, Tunzi was unfazed, telling this newspaper that “beauty is subjective” and that she was happy “to go and introduce a different kind of beauty on a world stage”.

We are encouraged, too, by how most South Africans reacted to all the negativity by fully embracing her and affirming what we have always known: that beauty comes in all shades and shapes.

Miss SA 2019 Finalist Chuma and Miss SA 2019 Zozibini.

Every time the Miss SA pageant takes place, there are always questions about its relevance and whether the very idea does not perpetuate sexist stereotypes. That debate is likely to rage on for years to come.

But what we would like to celebrate the most about this year’s version of the competition is that the organisers and judges were brave enough to make the public re-examine their idea of beauty.

Tunzi, runner-up Sasha-Lee Olivier and fellow contestants Kgothatso Dithebe and Chuma Matsaluka all represented the kinds of beauty that challenged the minds of the indoctrinated.

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