How Revolutionary is Abena Appiah’s Choice to Wear Natural Hair at Miss Universe?

“The Miss Universe Organization (MUO) is a Donald J. Trump and NBC Universal joint venture which uses its global grassroots reach to empower women to be self-confident and strive to be their personal best. MUO believes that every woman should be “Confidently Beautiful.” The MISS UNIVERSE®, MISS USA®, and MISS TEEN USA® beauty pageants provide an international platform through dedicated partnerships with charities, sponsors, and brands around the world. During their reign, our winners are given the tools to personally and professionally enrich others by providing humanitarian efforts to affect positive change, all while developing their personal career goals.”

A appiahIn two weeks, 21 year old fashion design student Abena Appiah will be competing on one of the world’s largest stages as she vies for the Miss Universe crown. That in itself is unremarkable, as Ghana has participated in the Miss Universe pageant since 1991 and has sent 17 of the country’s most intelligent a beautiful women to represent the best of the country and of themselves. What is remarkable about Abena Appiah is that she is the first Ghanaian woman to compete while sporting her natural hair.

I’m not into pageant culture, and couldn’t tell you definitively what differentiates Miss World from Miss Universe other than who owns each pageant’s franchise; which is why I culled Miss Universe’s mission statement and posted it. Though the execution of most of these pageants are the identical at the core, Miss Universe’s mission to “reach to empower women to be self-confident and strive to be their personal best” is what makes it the perfect platform for Ms. Appiah to dare to compete with her natural hair – and make no mistake: it’s daring and risky!

miss ghThe world of beauty is notoriously Eurocentric in its standards. We’ve discussed this at length, and there is certainly no need to flog a dead horse. However it must be re-stated that it has only been within the last decade or so that Black women’s choice to wear natural hair in the workplace (or church, or to baby showers, or to one’s own wedding!) has become acceptable in the mainstream. Despite all these gains, there are certain arena’s where our gravity defying follicles are still met with stares, skepticism and flat out questions of “Why?!!?” By and large, people assume that a Black woman wearing her natural hair is making some sort of political statement, which is why I predict that depending on how far she advances in the competition, Abena Appiah’s coiffure will illicit no small buzz once the event is televised. Remember when Viola took off her wig on HTGAWM? Yeah. It’s that big.

popWhen it comes to pageant hair, there is little deviation from the prescribed norm. Pageant hair is straightened, barrel curled, side parted, sprayed and fluffed. There are no afros, braids, twist outs or pompadours. Pageant hair is glossy and shoulder-length (at least). It does not float above the nape of the neck as though it possessed its own orbital pull. What is Abena Appiah thinking? Is she crazy? I say she’s crazy…crazy like a fox about the run up on a hen house full of unsuspecting, slumbering old layers. Those folks in Miami won’t know what to do with her or that good Ghanaian grade hair, and I LOVE it!

As any natural sister knows, there are certain hazards that come along with sporting non-chemically processed hair, and these become more evident depending on the season. Winter is particularly hard on ethnic hair (God, I hate that term!) as the dry air coupled with the constant rubbing on winter fabrics like wool and tweed robs our hair of moisture. Fortunately for Ms. Appiah, she’ll be competing in Miami where it’s nice and warm and sunny all year round. Her strands should be safe. The other thing she must consider is styling, and I’m sure that Abena and her team have carefully sat down to consider how every style she sports must compliment the outfit, occasion and eventually carry the Miss Universe crown should she get that far. There is SO much potential to showcase the versatility of natural hair, which is why I think Abena Appiah is crazy like a stone cold fox for attempting to pull this off!

At the end of the day, this is a competition about judging women based on their talents, developing career goals and how good they look in a bathing suit. While I’m sure (and glad) that Abena Appiah’s hair will be a central focus, I am hoping it will not be the only one. She is also an accomplished musician and dedicated student who pursues excellence. Once the judges and her fellow competitors get over the shock of seeing a Black woman compete in a beauty pageant without some Pakistani/Indonesian grade weave sewn onto her scalp, it is those qualities that should become the central focus. And while her natural hair should be no big deal, there is no disputing that it is. I don’t know what makes wearing the hair that grows out of your scalp “revolutionary” and “daring”, but that’s the world we live in and if Abena gets on that stage and shows out like I suspect she will, we’ll be talking about those moments for months to come!