Thoughts from a former pageant girl

Photo by Ashleigh Kutryb from Pexels

I originally wrote this article on May 4, 2019, after history had been made. Miss USA, Miss Teen USA, and Miss America were Black women. As a former pageant girl, this was an amazing moment in history, and I wanted to express my emotions.

January 30, 2022. Miss USA 2019, Cheslie Kryst, lives her last day on Earth. With a deep battle of depression, the former beauty queen, lawyer, fashionista, media correspondent, daughter, sister, friend, and inspiration to Black women all over made her final leap to find peace.

Her suicide hit me as I knew her personally, even though I did not. But our connections were very close. I had been following Cheslie on Pinterest for her chic and fashionable looks for quite some time, and then she became Miss USA, a title, the Teen version, I once strived for myself.

The connection gets even closer as she is an alum of the University of South Carolina, where my husband currently works. In fact, he spoke to Cheslie last year during a virtual panel event of alumni who were extremely vocal in renaming many of the campus buildings named after well-known racists and slave owners.

Cheslie was an instrumental voice within that virtual panel that I watched from my husband's laptop, ensuring I was out of camera sight and very vocal on social media about her love for her alma mater but distaste in their decisions to support certain building names.

Behind the activism and beauty lay a little girl who had pain so deep that only she knew how to relive it.

Her death put a lot into perspective for some, but while I grieved, I was thankful she found the peace she was desperately looking for. It shouldn’t take someone taking their own life to find that peace, but that was her story.

Most folks love to say, “check on your strong friends.” I say that’s bullshit. Check on the people you love, period, no matter their strength. If you know someone is battling with something, showcasing unusual behaviors, or has expressed to you they are seeking professional help, check on them.

It doesn’t have to be “hey friend, I am checking in on you”; it’s much more than that. But also know that sometimes even checking in on someone isn’t enough. I’m sure Cheslie had folks checking in on her.

Your beautiful spirit will be deeply missed Cheslie, but I pray you have found the peace you have been searching for.

I am dedicating my 2019 article to the legacy you are leaving behind that will never be forgotten. From one former beauty queen to another, I see you. Always have and always will.

The New Black Beauty Queens

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For the first time in HISTORY, Miss America, Miss USA, and Miss Teen USA are all BLACK WOMEN!

As a young girl who competed in beauty pageants from the age of 1, this is a world I can relate to entirely. Yes, I did baby pageants!

I was often the “only” girl of color in beauty pageants, especially competing in larger pageants. But the smaller local competitions in Baltimore, my hometown, were typically filled with Black and brown kids. But those competitions never gained steam, which is unfortunate because I remember competing with some amazing young girls who had the beauty crown dream but couldn’t afford to enter the larger competitions.

Participating in these competitions helped me develop social skills, and it laid the foundation for my confidence. Being only five years old, walking into a room full of hundreds of people in “evening wear” and being asked a question can be intimidating. But I did it, and I loved it.

I remember one time on stage, my question was, “What do you want to be when you grow up, and my response was “Rich.” The crowd roared with laughter. Hey, at least I was honest.

But there were times when that only syndrome kicked me down hard. I remember one beauty pageant I was staring at myself in the mirror because I looked so different from my competitors.

My hair was big. My features were more profound. I had a curve to my newly formed body others didn’t.

I also saw that some of these younger girls were wearing heavy makeup or hair extensions, and I remember asking my mom, “why can’t I do that.”

She would say, “Jemia, you do not need any of that. Think of all of the beauty pageants you won being your natural self”. Thanks mom!

But when you are a young teen, that goes in one ear and out of the other. I wanted to sit on the ground with the other girls to talk makeup, hair, and boys.

My mom moved us to Phoenix, Arizona, and I was away from everything I knew as a child. I knew my mom LOVED being a pageant mom, especially since her child was a winning contestant. I quit pageants for a while out of rebellion.

My response to her taking something away from me was taking something away from her, the beauty pageants, until I got approached about Miss Teen Arizona USA.

I had never done a pageant where the crown came with a nationally recognized title. I was used to Maryland and regional-based competitions. I felt like I was in the big leagues.

And you know, the first thing I noticed when I walked into day 1 of practice. Black girls, Latinas, Asian girls, and a young girl from the Middle East. I saw diversity. I saw something in a pageant I had not seen before.

Now don’t get me wrong, it was only about 7 or 8 of us out of maybe 45 girls, but I was used to a meager number. I was in heaven having young girls I could relate to.

So when Cheslie Kryst was crowned the winner of the 2019 Miss USA pageant, my eyes watered. I felt like the circle was complete. I couldn’t believe it. I had to go back and check the winner of Miss America, Nia Franklin, again to make sure I didn’t miss something.

And watching 2018 Miss Teen USA winner Hailey Colborn, a Black woman, crown another Black winner, Kaliegh Garris, made me ecstatic. Not to mention the natural curly fro that Kaliegh was rocking. Such an amazing inspiration to young black girls.

We, black people, do not see this every day. We do not get to see the right representation in these pageants.

But wow, what a time to be alive. The representation is beginning. This year the entire Top 3 of the Miss USA pageant were ALL women of color! I am getting teary-eyed typing right now.

Because when I have a daughter, I want her to know that you can do anything you set your mind to. There are girls who look like you, doing what you want to do. And you can do it too!



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Journaling since ’99. Coffee lover, even when it goes cold.