For those of you in the back who haven’t heard about Davina Bennett, Jamaica’s representative for the Miss Universe competition, allow me to enlighten you. 🙂
Davina won 2nd runner up in the competition, making her the first black woman wearing an afro to advance that far in the competition. An afro. (Black women have won the competition before, but not wearing an afro.) Now, that might not be a big deal to you, but let me tell you why it is to me.
Representation – Why It Matters
You see, there’s this thing called representation. Representation is the way groups, communities, ethnicities, ideas etc. are portrayed in the media. Positive representation in the media, especially of so-called ‘minority’ groups (disabled communities, racial minorities, etc.), has powerful benefits. It serves as a source of inspiration and it creates role models for its members to look up to.
Effects of Black Representation in the Media
The natural movement has been growing, and more and more women are embracing their natural hair. But still, a lot of us have deep-seated negative beliefs about our hair. If it’s out in an afro, it’s wild and unpresentable. For some, an afro is not associated with beauty. In order to be beautiful, it must be blown out, twisted, braided or straightened (whether permanently or temporarily). Bear in mind, I’m not saying everyone thinks that way, but in general, people’s attitude towards afros have been less than favourable.
This negative view has been subconsciously ingrained in us by our parents, hairdressers, family members and other members of society. It is also reinforced by poor representation of blacks in the media. Afro hair and professionalism, beauty or desirableness are rarely ever presented in the same context. This lack of representation affects people’s view towards afros and natural hair on a whole: 1. People with afros feel left out as a result of not being represented and tend to want to change their appearance to match what they see in the media. 2. People without afros won’t want to wear their hair naturally or in a fro because it is not recognised as ‘conventionally beautiful’.
I know some people may be thinking that this is the least of anyone’s problems and people should just get over their insecurities instead of caring about media representation, but stick with me.
We’ve already established that what we see in the media causes us to subconsciously form opinions, especially about ourselves. It follows, then, that an excellent, positive representation of a black woman wearing her afro would have a tremendously positive effect on black women and children. Whether we like it or not, the media has a profound effect on us. Since we tend to subconsciously idolise what we see in the media, then it’s important for the media to have role models that people of all sorts can look up to. That is why it’s so important that Davina wore her afro. She became a role model for many of us black women (I don’t speak for everyone, but I know a lot of people who were impacted by what she did).
Davina Bennett’s Choice to Wear Her Fro
When Davina rocked her afro on the Miss Universe stage, somewhere out there, it made a young girl fall deeper in love with her afro. It likely made a young girl fall in love with her fro for the first time. It gave young black girls the chance to look at their TVs and see someone who looks like them. Somewhere out there, it made a black woman realise that she can look beautiful and desirable with a fro. It made a naturalista with short hair in the in-between stage realise that she didn’t have to have long hair to look beautiful.
On a personal note, I’m one of those who were ecstatic to see someone who looks like me on the big screen. I’ve been natural for quite some time now and am deeply in love with natural hair. I love admiring other women’s natural hair, whether in real life or on social media. Every time I see someone rocking their beautiful natural hair my heart flutters with love (LOL). But although I feel so much love for my hair and have come to accept it, I know deep down that it does not match up with ‘conventional’ eurocentric ideals. And although I’m okay with that – with going against the ‘norm’ – it can sometimes get exhausting. So seeing Davina rock her afro was refreshing to my eyes. It was as if she helped to redefine the ‘norm’, thus making my battle with going against the ‘norm’ easier.
Her choice not to wear her hair straight like many black contestants usually do (not a jab or offensive comment, simply stating an observation) pushed boundaries and defied the norm, thus showing the world that afros are beautiful and acceptable. You can wear an afro to an international beauty competition and do exceptionally well. There’s no need to attempt to blend in with others to look more acceptable.
Davina, You Are My Miss Universe
As a Jamaican, I am proud that you represented us so well. As a young black woman with natural hair, I am proud that you represented us so well. I wish I had someone like you to look up to when I was younger and struggling to accept my hair. But I’m happy that what you did will make it easier for young girls who currently face that same struggle.
You did not win the Miss Universe crown, but you wear a much more beautiful one by comparison: your fro. I wish you all the best with your aspirations and future endeavours.
Love and light,