When Brianna Mason, a 23-year-old Nashville native and Murfreesboro grade-school teacher, was crowned Miss Tennessee on Saturday night, she became the first Black woman in the statewide pageant's 80-year history to own the title. It was a history-making moment to be sure, and this wasn't the first time she competed for the title. "I've attempted to win this competition four times," she told Refinery29 in an interview. "The amazing career and scholarship opportunities gave me the drive to keep trying." In the end, her perseverance led her to the crown and a place in the Tennessee history books.
Mason's history-making win is one of many "firsts" in the pageant world this year. For the first time, the reigning Miss USA, Miss Teen USA, and Miss America are all Black women. The trifecta marks a massive shift in the pageant world, where non-Black women often dominate competitions. "When those women were crowned I was over the moon," Mason tells R29. "I immediately set a drawing of all three winners as my phone screensaver because it gave me so much motivation," she says. "It's about time Black women get the recognition they deserve in this industry."
The newly-crowned Miss Tennessee also considers her title a victory for representation. "To be able to be a positive representation of Black women and for young Black girls is so powerful and special to me," she says. "The Miss Tennessee winners who have come before me are all amazing, talented women, but none of them look like me, and representation in today's society is so important."
Mason's experience as one of the few Black women competing in Tennessee echoes the trials many other Black women have in professional environments. "I've always been one of a few," she says. "Even this year, only one other Black woman was competing for the title." Mason acknowledges that the lack of diversity in the pageant world can feel isolating, but she uses that as motivation to keep advancing. "Always being the minority can feel alienating, but being able to break the glass ceiling and open up doors for other Black women makes it a positive and rewarding experience."
Mason is taking that positive attitude to the Miss America stage, where she will represent the state of Tennessee on Sunday, September 9. There, she's most excited about the opportunity to learn from her fellow contestants. "Being around other young women who are all hard-working and tough is so exciting. It's the opportunity of a lifetime."
As she plans for the nationwide competition, Mason is practicing regularly on the piano for the talent segment and sticking to a simple skin-care regimen. "I usually do my hair and makeup for any pageant, so when I am not competing, my main focus is my skin," she says. "If your base isn't taken care of, everything can be thrown off."
The pageant-winner turns to regular dermaplaning, an exfoliating procedure that uses a medical-grade blade to remove dead skin and peach fuzz from the face, to keep her skin smooth for makeup. "In between, I use African Black Soap and Pixi Glow Tonic, which helps me with hyperpigmentation and acne that I get on my chin and T-zone," she says. Mason also credits Fenty Beauty Pro Filt'r Instant Retouch concealer and Maybelline's Fit Me range for her flawless complexion during competitions and photo shoots.
While the recent wins for Black women, like Mason, mark changing times in the cookie-cutter pageant world, there is still room for growth in the international system, which pushes extreme ideals of beauty (leading some contestants to plastic surgery) and still lacks diversity overall. However, achievements like Mason's are an important step towards a more inclusive pageant space, where Black women can thrive. "I want other Black women like me to know that even though you're in a room with people who don't look like you, don't let that create doubt in your mind," she says. "Use that to fuel your fire."