Beauty pageants aren't known for being inclusive. Only recently have they embraced change — and we can't give any credit to Sandra Bullock. Instead, the spotlight belongs on Justine Clarke. She's the very first contestant to compete for Miss World while in a wheelchair.
Earlier this week, Clarke competed in the South Australian final of the Miss World Australia competition, a preliminary pageant that leads up to the official Miss World showcase. What set her apart from the rest of the women competing wasn't a showy dress or kickass talent routine. Instead, it was the fact that Clarke was the very first person in a wheelchair to ever make it to this level of competition. To put that into perspective, the Miss America pageant has been around for almost a century and has never had a contestant with a disability.
Glamour reports that Clarke is wheelchair-bound due to a leg deformity. "I was so nervous about entering the competition as I’ve never done anything like this before, but I was also really excited," she told the magazine. "I'm surprised by how accepting and supportive everyone has been. It’s really nice to know so many people around the world are supporting my cause."
That cause isn't just to empower young women. Yes, Clarke is showing the world that a wheelchair isn't an obstacle. But she also wants to bring attention to the families affected by disabilities, too.
"I know how challenging financially it can be to be disabled and I want to help families who are burdened with that stress," she told The Advertiser, a local paper.
Clarke didn't progress to the next round of competition, but that doesn't mean that it's the end of her pageant career. Thanks to an initiative called Beauty With A Purpose, Clarke can still compete in the final round. All she has to do is raise money for children's charities. The contestant who collects the most money will land in the finals.
"For somebody in a wheelchair to be able to compete is a big thing," she said to The Advertiser. "I really hope it sends a message that no matter what your race, size, or disability — whatever makes you different — you are beautiful."
Even if she doesn't raise enough money to earn the Beauty With A Purpose spot, Clarke assured everyone that she won't just fade away: She intends on competing again next year.