Image Credit: New York Amsterdam News
On Sunday night, Kaliegh Garris took home the 2019 Miss Teen USA title and did so while proudly wearing her natural curls.
The new titleholder spent the night before finger coiling her hair, making the deliberate hair choice to make a statement. “I know what I look like with straight hair, with extensions, and with my curly hair, and I feel more confident and comfortable with my natural hair,” she shared with Refinery29. As contestant after contestant took a spin in the hairstylist’s chair, I love that Garris chose to instead style her own hair in the way that made her most comfortable. Every choice she made Sunday night paid off, as she took home the crown.
Image Credit: Business Insider
Image Credit: WUSA9
The 18-year-old’s hair journey is one that a lot of black girls and women can relate to—getting a relaxer at a young age because their hair was a lot to handle, maintaining straight hair to keep up with people who had pretty straight hair, and switching things up when they’re older. For Garris, a friend from art school changed her perspective on her hair, telling her she should go natural after seeing her roots on a day she didn’t straighten her hair that well. That conversation led her to doing the big chop and going natural, a decision that makes her feel unique as she gets older.
As the Connecticut native entered the world of pageantry, she encountered the strict beauty standards that definitely force black women to conform to Eurocentric standards. “There were a few naysayers saying ‘You look better with straight hair,’ or ‘You should put in extensions and straighten your natural hair,” she shared with Refinery29. Fortunately, she paid those opinions dust and put her natural curls on display. She hopes that her win will inspire women to be proud of their natural hair and step outside of the box, defining beauty for themselves in spaces that try to force you to assimilate. "As Miss Connecticut Teen USA, there are girls who would look at me in awe because they've always had the image of straight hair in pageants. Being able to spread the message of diversity, being yourself, and being confident in your curly, natural hair is something that I'm really looking forward to with my new national title."
Image Credit: Business Insider
Kaliegh Garris’s Miss Teen USA win and natural hair moment follows in the footsteps of Miss USA 2016 Deshauana Barber, who wore her natural fro when she took her final walk. "If I take a small [step] by showing my natural 4C hair, the next girl will take one, and then we'll ease our natural hairstyles into the pageant community," Barber said. It was also a beautiful moment to behold when Barber passed down her title to the 2017 Miss USA winner Kara McCullough, who was not only also from the District of Colombia but was also wearing her natural hair that night.
Image Credit: BET
Image Credit: HuffPost / Essence
This imagery is so important because it shows young black girls that they should be proud of their natural hair, to wear it proudly especially when people make you feel like you need to hide or dismiss that part of you. From schools to corporations to the pageant world, black women are more often than not unable to truly express themselves with their hair, being told that their hairstyles aren’t appropriate or are too distracting. Seeing Kaliegh and Deshauana and Cara step out in confidence in these spaces full of carbon copies and assimilation, receiving titles and recognition and praise is so amazing to see. Black hair is beautiful, and we should be able to showcase it proudly and without backlash, especially in the whitest of spaces!
Hopefully, we begin to see so many more black women and young girls in beauty pageants that are inspired to wear their natural curls with confidence.
& congratulations to Kaliegh Garris for her Miss Teen USA win!
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