Does This Look Like A Beauty Queen To You?

Photo: Courtesy of Miss Universe.
In case you missed it, Paulina Vega (a.k.a. Miss Colombia) was crowned Miss Universe 2015 this past Sunday. Typically, the annual pageant comes and goes with very little drama. Some will watch, others will mutter over the idea of judging women based on their looks, and then everyone will return to work on Monday without a second thought. But, this year was a little different. Shortly after Vega was crowned, Twitter exploded with people expressing outrage over the fact that Kaci Fennell (a.k.a. Miss Jamaica) didn't win. Fennell, a pixie-haired 22-year-old, earned the spot of fifth runner-up — not too shabby, considering how many girls compete. But, by the end of the night #MissJamaicaShouldHaveWon was a trending topic on Twitter.

Fennell was a crowd favorite in the competition early on. She won viewers over with her confidence, carefree attitude, and short hair. In a sea of long-maned women, Fennell stood out. But, it's her pixie cut that had people questioning why she was overlooked for the title of Miss Universe. Fennell's grandfather has even spoken out, claiming that his granddaughter's hair is the reason she didn't snag the crown. 

It's true — most women who participate in pageants have longer, blown-out hair, thanks to either nature or extensions. And, one could definitely argue that longer hair is traditionally seen as being more "beautiful" and "feminine." When Karlie Kloss famously chopped her locks into a bob back in 2012, mere hours before the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, she was sent down the runway with a head full of extensions. It's plain to see that long hair equals sexiness and beauty in today's society. 

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Photo: Courtesy of Miss Universe.
Akiko Kojima, the first Japanese woman to win Miss Universe, in 1959.
Does this standard extend to the judging of these pageants? "I personally loved Miss Jamaica's elfin crop," Louise Roe, who was a judge for this year's competition, told us. "It was cute, bold, and sexy." Of course, these women aren't judged solely on their hair. But, Fennell is the contestant with the shortest hair in recent memory. So, we have to ask: Does Miss Universe have a hair-length bias? 

We did a little digging into the history of Miss Universe winners to see whether many short-haired women have been lucky enough to capture the crown. Interestingly, three out of the first four winners of the pageant, which was founded in 1952, were women with short hair. This was, of course, a popular style of the 1950s, so we're not quite sure we could call this a coup for the pixies. 

But, that's not to say there weren't ladies who shook up the competition in other ways. In 1959, Akiko Kojima became the first Japanese contestant to win Miss Universe. She also had hair that was above-the-shoulder, but typically took to wearing it up, as was the style back in the '50s. The competition didn't see its first Black winner until 1977, over 20 years after it first began. Janelle Commissiong hailed from Trinidad and Tobago. (Her mane? On the short side and feathered.)

Photo: Courtesy of Miss Universe.
Chelsi Smith, the first multiracial winner of Miss Universe, in 1995.
In 1994, Sushmita Sen became the first Indian Miss Universe. Just one year later, Chelsi Smith became the first multiracial woman to be crowned. The competition has become more and more racially diverse as the years have progressed. But, the beauty standards still remain. Both Sen and Smith had longer hair that was either worn down and curly, or high in an oversized bouffant.

In fact, the last woman with shorter hair to win the title of Miss Universe was in 1997 — almost 20 years ago. Her name was Brook Lee, she was from Hawaii, and her hair sat comfortably at shoulder-length. Since Lee won, every single winner has had long, flowing hair — and so have most of the competitors. 

None of this is to say that Vega did not deserve to win. For one, she adds ethnic diversity to the competition. And, the truth of the matter is, she won fair and square. The judges voted, and she came out victorious. You could also argue the fact that since Fennell didn't even place close to first, the entire point is completely moot.
Photo: Courtesy of Miss Universe.
Kaci Fennell during this year's competition.
But, facts are facts. Just looking at the numbers, women with longer manes have won more Miss Universe titles than those with shorter crops. (We'd venture to say, at a much higher proportion than the occurrence of the long-locked in the regular population.) And, statistically speaking, they have generally won the titles regardless of the trends of the time — even in the '60s, when Twiggy's pixie was widely imitated.

This speaks to a greater issue. It's no secret that, as a society, we have a very specific set of qualifications for what is considered "beautiful." For example, issues of body diversity in the competition also run amok. During a behind-the-scenes tour of the pageant this year, Paula Froelich of The Huffington Post heard the same sentiment repeated over and over: "The Miss Universe organization loves all body types!" But, when she asked whether there was a plus-size girl competing this year (or any year in the history of the competition, for that matter), the answer was no.

So, yes, we as a society have beauty standards that are askew at best, and seriously fucked at worst. But, the wheel of progress doesn't always turn quickly. Did Fennell deserve the crown? Possibly. Was her short hair to blame for her snubbing? Also a possibility. But, hair bias is also not the only issue here. 

The Miss Universe pageant has a real opportunity to move the needle when it comes to these issues. Some would argue that the competition itself is the larger problem, but it could also be the solution. Maybe next year the competition will see its first plus-size contestant. Maybe, one day, that glittering crown will be placed on the head of a woman with shaved hair. But, the more we question and discuss why our standards are the way they are, the closer we will get to uprooting them. 

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