The beauty pageant becomes an unlikely political platform for the evolving face of global beauty.
ariana Miyamoto isn’t a beauty queen; she’s a beauty revolutionary. In March, the Nagasaki-raised model, who is half Japanese and half black, became the first biracial person to compete in and be crowned Miss Universe Japan.
Unfortunately, along with the tiara, sash and title came a startling backlash as Miyamoto was attacked by social-media trolls for not being “Japanese enough.”
Japan is one of the most homogenized countries in the world: Less than 2 percent of the population is hafu, or mixed race. And in a country where fair skin, thick, straight black hair and red button lips are traditional hallmarks of beauty, Miyamoto’s caramel skin and curly, afrotextured hair marked her as an outsider long before she stepped onto the pageant stage. “I was criticized by my classmates. Everyone would avoid holding hands with me on field trips,” says Miyamoto. “I was told to ‘go back to America,’ even though I was born and raised in Japan.”
Even in the multicultural melting pot that is the United States, pageant contestants who don’t necessarily resemble Drop
Dead Gorgeous’ Kirsten Dunst or Miss Congeniality’s Sandra Bullock struggle to find a niche onstage and off in a world that—intentionally or not—seems to sideline those who look different.
“I grew up watching Miss America, and I genuinely felt that I couldn’t be in this world because I didn’t look a certain way: the stereotypical blond-haired, blue-eyed girl you might associate with the pageant,” says Nina Davuluri, from Syracuse, N.Y., who in 2013 became the first Indian American to win Miss America, a competition she entered with the hope that other little girls wouldn’t experience the same isolation. Afterwards, she was called a terrorist and “Miss Muslim”—she’s Hindu—on social media. Davuluri ignored haters and has since launched a “Circles of Unity” social-media campaign to encourage discussions on multiculturalism. Miyamoto, happy that “Japan has taken one more step toward globalization” by choosing her as Miss Universe Japan, wants to travel and lecture on cultural unity.
There are still many hurdles, but Paola Nunez Valdez, who in May became the first Miss Universe Canada of Latin American descent, argues that pageants now offer a more evolved message of race and beauty—especially in Canada. “I am grateful that I live in a country that accepts people from all over the world regardless of their appearance, race or religion,” says Valdez, who was born in the Dominican Republic and moved to Canada with her family when she was 10. Pageants, she adds, are more about empowering women than the “perfect 10” face and body anyway. “The reality is that we are not all perfect nor [do we] fit a normative definition of beauty.” And that revelation is a beautiful thing.