This Miss Universe Contestant Gave The Perfect Response During The Competition

When beauty pageants began, they were designed to rank women on their physical attributes. As the years passed, however, they started to become more modernized with separate competitions that test talent, personality, and intelligence.

In 2019, there was a Miss Universe contestant named Zozibini Tunzi who proved there was more to the competition than her outward appearance by giving an educated response to a rather difficult question. Her answer was so powerful that she was awarded the title of Miss Universe 2019.

Understanding Beauty Pageants

three women holding trophies after competing in a beauty pageant
Mladen Antonov/Getty Images
Mladen Antonov/Getty Images

Those who aren’t familiar with how beauty pageants work should know that every competition is different. Some of them put most of the focus on how competitors look, while others are more concerned with a mixture of categories including personality, swimsuits, posture, and talent.

There are competitions for all age ranges, and some children are put in pageants before they can even talk or walk. Pageant winners usually receive some kind of prize, including trophies, tiaras, sashes, scholarships, money, and more.

What The First Beauty Pageant Was Like

women competing in a pageant on the beach in the early 20th century
Imagno/Getty Images
Imagno/Getty Images

Beauty pageants date back to Medieval Europe. For example, May Day celebrations would always crown a May Queen, with young and beautiful women competing to serve as the symbol for the community.

The term “beauty queen” comes from the Eglinton Tournament of 1839 where the 13th Earl of Eglinton crowned the Duchess of Somerset, Georgiana Seymour, as the “Queen of Beauty.” About 15 years later the famed circus showman P.T. Barnum tried to run an official American beauty pageant, but public protest stopped it from happening.

The Evolution Of Pageants

a winner of a 20th century pageant waving with her trophies
George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images
George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images

Toward the end of the 19th century, America started seeing a rise in pageantry and this led to the first Miss America contest in 1921. Miss America is considered to be the oldest pageant that’s still running and its main purpose was actually to attract tourists to visit Atlantic City, New Jersey.

The popularity of the Miss America pageant prompted countless other competitions such as Miss World, Miss USA, and Miss Universe. With more pageants came more conflict.

The Complete Outrage Over Beauty Pageants

members of women's liberation protesting pageants in the late 1960s
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

It shouldn’t be a total shock that there was a lot of criticism that swiftly followed these beauty pageants. Feminists were outraged that women were seeking out their worth primarily based on their physical appearance.

When pageants showcased their winners, it put more pressure on other females to conform to standard beauty conventions. This leads to actions such as spending more money on the latest fashion trends or cosmetic surgery. While there are negative effects of beauty contests, researchers found that there are some positive aspects as well.

The Times They Are A-Changin’

a beauty pageant winner standing barefoot on a table filled with men
Mirrorpix via Getty Images
Mirrorpix via Getty Images

Since beauty pageants date back several centuries, they have evolved to keep up with the times. The outrage from feminists led to new studies that showed the good side of these contests.

They found that these competitions can strengthen important skills including public speaking, confidence, and camaraderie. Young girls and boys can aspire to be like pageant winners for their poise, empathy, and insightful responses to issues that face current society. Many past winners have exemplified these positive qualities.

Why Miss Universe Is Still Going On

an early miss universe from the 80s
PL Gould/Getty Images
PL Gould/Getty Images

The Miss Universe competition is the largest beauty pageant in the world. It airs in almost 200 countries with an audience of over 500 million people.

There were a few trial runs of the pageant before its official start date of June 28, 1952, but events such as the Great Depression and World War II put it on hold. It has become one of the most diverse pageants because each competitor represents a different country around the world.

Notable Past Winners Of Miss Universe

armi kuusela black and white portrait
Archive Photos/Getty Images
Archive Photos/Getty Images

Once a contestant is crowned Miss Universe it can completely change their whole life. Women can only compete in the pageant after becoming winners in their home country. The very first winner was Finland’s Armi Kuusela. She was only 17 years old at the time and a year later she gave up her crown to marry a man from the Philippines.

The crown that was used by the competition for 1952 and 1953 was actually owned by the well-known Russian royal family, the Romanovs.

Get To Know Zozibini Tunzi

zozibini tunzi wearing her miss south africa sash with a red jacket
Oupa Bopape/Gallo Images via Getty Images
Oupa Bopape/Gallo Images via Getty Images

Before Zozibini Tunzi won the title of Miss Universe 2019, she had been crowned Miss South Africa 2019. She was born in Tsolo, Eastern Cape on September 18, 1993, and raised in the nearby village of Sidwadweni.

She and her three sisters moved to a suburb in Cape Town so she could get a degree in public relations at Cape Peninsula University of Technology. After landing an unpaid public relations internship as a graduate, she turned to modeling. This led her to begin a pageantry career in 2017.

The Award-Winning Question

steve harvey and tunzi on stage
Paras Griffin/Getty Images
Paras Griffin/Getty Images

Tunzi was more than a conventional beauty queen at the Miss Universe pageant in 2019. She exhibited true grace and elegance throughout the contest, but that isn’t what caused her to win.

During the interview portion of the competition, host Steve Harvey asked her, “What is the most important thing we should teach young girls today?” Tunzi was far from hesitant to give a response because this was a topic that she was very familiar with.

This Is What She Said

steve harvey and tunzi on stage
Paras Griffin/Getty Images
Paras Griffin/Getty Images

A lot of people would fold under the pressure of being asked such a complex question, but Tunzi was more than prepared to give an answer. She took a moment to compose her thoughts and responded, saying, “I think one of the most important things we should be teaching young girls today is leadership.”

She continued this thought by stating, “It’s something that has been lacking in young girls and women for a very long time – not because we don’t want to, but because of what society has labeled women to be. I think we are the most powerful beings in the world.”

How The Public Responded To Her Answer

tunzi in front of the audience
Paras Griffin/Getty Images
Paras Griffin/Getty Images

As soon as Tunzi finished speaking, the audience met her with an uproar of applause. The judges were also impressed with how eloquent and thoughtful her answer was. They had a gut feeling she would be the winner.

She showed true courage speaking on the benefits of empowering women in a place where females have historically been viewed as objects. People around the world related to her words of wisdom and she ended up coming out on top.

A Winner Is Chosen

final miss universe contestants on the stage
Paras Griffin/Getty Images
Paras Griffin/Getty Images

Shortly after Tunzi and the rest of her fellow competitors were finished in all aspects of the pageant, the judges were ready to crown a winner. The women lined the stage in bright, sparkling dresses and awaited to hear the big announcement.

It was finally time for announcer Steve Harvey to reveal the winner. The contestants looked around in anticipation as he called out that Tunzi, formerly Miss South Africa, had won the Miss Universe 2019 competition.

What Winning Meant To Tunzi

tunzi winning the crown at the miss universe pageant
FOX via Getty Images
FOX via Getty Images

There hadn’t been another African American winner of the Miss Universe pageant in eight years, and she’s also the third person from South Africa to win the title. And even though her pageant days were now behind her it didn’t mean she was going to disappear from the public eye.

Tunzi is still focused on her mission of including positive representation of women in all aspects of life. She wants others to know that females are more than just stereotypes and that they deserve an equal place in the world.

What Her Win Means To The World

tunzi wearing a yellow sweater and miss universe sash
Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images
Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images

When Tunzi was chosen as the winner of the 2019 Miss Universe pageant, it exemplified that so-called “beauty contests” are moving in a better direction. She was able to speak freely on crucial issues and was awarded for sharing her bold opinion.

Her win could mean that in the future pageants will either focus less on physical appearance or possibly get rid of those categories altogether. Tunzi was able to inspire a new generation of women who are in agreement that equality is needed for all.

How Much Progress Has Been Made?

tunzi riding on a double decker bus
Phill Magakoe/Getty Images
Phill Magakoe/Getty Images

Although it seems like pageants are beginning to take a turn in what they stand for, that doesn’t mean people should forget the events of the past. If Tunzi had given her same answer 30 or more years ago it’s safe to say that not as many people would’ve openly agreed with her.

On the bright side, there are other pageants throughout the world that focus on what it truly means to be beautiful inside and out. For example, the Miss Howard University competition awards someone who’ll be an “ideal” community member and advocate for human rights.

The Inspiring Women Who Came Before Tunzi

women in long gowns competing in a pageant
Donna Connor/Sygma via Getty Images
Donna Connor/Sygma via Getty Images

Tunzi wasn’t the first person to make a difference in the pageant community. There have been several influential women who won beauty pageant titles who didn’t fit into the stereotypical version of a beauty queen.

These iconic females became world champions because they were confident, poised, intelligent, outspoken, and fully prepared to win. Each of them represents the positive side of this industry that isn’t usually shown in the mainstream media. They captured the hearts of millions by just being themselves.

Get To Know H’Hen Nie

H'Hen Nie wearing a costume made of bread on stage
Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP via Getty Images
Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP via Getty Images

H’Hen Nie was born on May 15, 1992, in Vietnam and is the third out of six children. She started her career in the beauty industry when she began working as a model and pageant contestant after college.

She comes from the Rade ethnic minority and didn’t even speak Vietnamese until she was in eighth grade, which was the year she was expected to get married. Instead, she got an education and worked odd jobs until getting discovered on Vietnam’s Next Top Model.

What Came Next For Nie

h'hen nie on stage with steve harvey
Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP via Getty Images
Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP via Getty Images

When she was 25 she earned the coveted Miss Universe Vietnam title and proved to everyone back home that she was capable of accomplishing anything she set her mind to doing. After being awarded $10,000 in prize money she donated all of it to philanthropic organizations.

This led to newfound fame and more opportunities in the entertainment industry. Within a year of her win, she was able to pay off her entire family’s debts and build an educational library in her hometown.

Why Deidre Downs Started Doing Pageants

deidre downs in a blue dress and crown
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

When Deidre Downs was growing up, pageantry couldn’t be further from what she wanted to do. She went to college on a volleyball scholarship in hopes of working as a physician. When she transferred schools she lost her scholarship, so she decided to enter herself in pageants for the prize money.

Her plan worked, because within a few years she earned her way toward winning the crown for the Miss America pageant in 2005.

Downs Was Still Able To Follow Her Dreams

deidre downs and the mayor of las vegas
Doubble Troubble/Getty Images
Doubble Troubble/Getty Images

Now, Downs is an accomplished physician working in obstetrics and gynecology. Throughout her Miss America campaign, her platform was about finding funding for cancer research and healthcare for children. Many fans didn’t know that she was also hiding a huge part of her identity.

When she was competing in the mid-2000s she was still in the closet and couldn’t come out due to the world’s conservative views on the subject. In 2018 Downs showed the world her true colors when she married her now-wife, Abbott Jones.

Wendy Fitzwilliam Proved Her Worth

wendy fitzwilliam and a man seated at a table
Gonzalo Marroquin/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images
Gonzalo Marroquin/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

Before becoming the Miss Universe 1998 winner, Wendy Fitzwilliam spent her early years modeling and participating in local pageants in Trinidad and Tobago. During the Miss Universe competition she had been neck and neck with Miss Venezuela.

The judges came to the conclusion that she would be the better fit because she had a “regal air and a perfect evening gown.” Fitzwilliam was also the very first Miss Universe contestant to win wearing a two-piece in the swimsuit portion. Contestants weren’t allowed to wear bikinis until 1997 because of Roman Catholic protesters.

Fitzwilliam Got The Recognition She Deserved

wendy fitzwilliam holding a microphone
Sean Drakes/LatinContent via Getty Images
Sean Drakes/LatinContent via Getty Images

Fitzwilliam didn’t only focus on her physical appearance throughout the competition, but used her new public platform to advocate for important causes. After winning Miss Universe she was honored by the United Nations and became an ambassador for HIV/AIDS education and awareness.

A couple of years later, Fitzwilliam passed the bar and became a lawyer in her home country. Her other projects have included being a judge on Caribbean’s Next Top Model, serving as the Red Cross Ambassador of Youth for the Caribbean, and hosting numerous local pageants.

Sushmita Sen Gave It Her All

Sushmita Sen with the two runner ups after her miss universe win
Romeo Gacad/AFP via Getty Images
Romeo Gacad/AFP via Getty Images

A Miss Universe contestant named Sushmita Sen made history in 1994 after becoming the very first Indian woman to win the competition. Before pageant life, Sen and her siblings were raised by an Indian Air Force Wing Commander father and a jewelry designer mother.

She got interested in pageants as a teenager after competing in the Femina Miss India contest. This qualified her to be able to compete in the Miss Universe pageant the same year.

How Pageants Changed Sen’s Life

sen holding a microphone
Parveen Kumar/ Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Parveen Kumar/ Hindustan Times via Getty Images

During the Miss Universe 1994 pageant, Sen wasn’t sure she would win because Miss Colombia and Miss Venezuela were earning better scores than her at first. Much to her surprise, she ended up with the crown.

All of this fame came to her at only 18 years old and led to some amazing job opportunities. Sen went on to become a famous Bollywood film actress and model. Now, she has become quite popular on Instagram by sharing her life as a mom to two adopted daughters and the story of finding her new love interest online.

Janelle Commissiong’s Humble Beginnings

Janelle Commissiong black and white portrait
Sam Chan/South China Morning Post via Getty Images
Sam Chan/South China Morning Post via Getty Images

She’s now 66 years old, but fans of the Miss Universe pageant still remember when Janelle Commissiong competed in 1977. She came from Port of Spain in Trinidad and Tobago and immigrated to the United States at 13.

After high school, she settled in New York City to study fashion at the Fashion Institute of Technology. As she was finishing up her college education she was selected to represent her home country of Trinidad and Tobago at the 1977 Miss Universe pageant.

Commissiong Paved The Way For The Future

commissiong wearing a costume
Sean Drakes/LatinContent via Getty Images
Sean Drakes/LatinContent via Getty Images

The year Commissiong competed in Miss Universe was monumental because she ended up being the very first woman of African American descent to take home the crown. She was the first black woman to win the coveted Miss Photogenic prize in the competition as well.

Her historic win garnered her international attention and she got massive praise from her home country. Trinidad and Tobago awarded her the Trinity Cross, the most country’s most prestigious award. Also, she was honored with three postal stamps and became the chair of Trinidad and Tobago’s biggest tourism company.

How Cecilia Bolocco Got Started In The Beauty World

Cecilia Bolocco wearing a crown
Harry Langdon/Getty Images
Harry Langdon/Getty Images

Cecilia Bolocco had originally imagined a career in civil engineering after spending a year studying it at the University of Santiago, Chile. She dropped out to pursue a new passion for costume design and this led her toward the entertainment and beauty industry.

In 1987 Bolocco was chosen to compete in the Miss Universe pageant after being crowned Miss Chile. Her work paid off because she beat out 67 other contestants for the title, but her dreams were far from complete.

What Came Next For Bolocco

bolocco surrounded by microphones
Claudio Reyes/AFP via Getty Images
Claudio Reyes/AFP via Getty Images

Bolocco used her newfound fame to become one of the top Spanish-speaking broadcast journalists. She has worked for CNN, Telemundo, and other famous networks, and earned two Emmy awards. Her television work didn’t stop there because she is also an actress who has starred in many Spanish-speaking roles.

In her personal life, she was married to the former leader of Argentina, Carlos Menem, with whom she shares a son. Looking back at her early days growing up in Santiago, Chile, Bolocco has accomplished a great deal.

The Roots Of Ximena Navarrete

Ximena Navarrete wearing her crown and sash
Gerardo Zavala/Jam Media/LatinContent via Getty Images
Gerardo Zavala/Jam Media/LatinContent via Getty Images

Former beauty queen Ximena Navarrete was born in Guadalajara, Mexico on February 22, 1988. She and her younger sister grew up with a father who worked as a dentist and a mother who worked as a housewife.

She began her modeling career when she was 16 years old and went on to major in nutrition at Valle de Atemajac University. When she won the Nuestra Belleza Mexico pageant in 2009 she was able to qualify for the 2010 Miss Universe competition.

Navarrete Chose To Do Something Special After Winning

close-up shot of navarrete
Manuel Velasquez/LatinContent via Getty Images
Manuel Velasquez/LatinContent via Getty Images

On August 23, 2010, Navarrete became the new Miss Universe champion. She was only the second Mexican woman to win after Lupita Jones in 1991. Her win gave her many new opportunities such as becoming the face of L’Oreal Paris and Old Navy.

When she returned to her hometown, she worked with Children International to do humanitarian work that helped over 12,000 impoverished children. A few years later, she started an acting career, working mostly in Spanish soap operas, or telenovelas.