The Rise and Fall of Miss Universe Winners: Controversies, Platforms & Everything In Between
The Miss Universe winners have had some stories to tell
The news is in: Zozibini Tunzi, South Africa’s bet for arguably the most anticipated annual pageant, has joined the ranks of dozens of other Miss Universe winners. Started in 1952, the crowning of Tunzi by Catriona Gray marked the 68th edition of the sometimes controversial competition—but its controversial nature is an argument for another day.
Tunzi’s words, shared countlessly over social media and read over and over again by millions around the world, are quickly becoming iconic. We know what she believes in and what she wants to fight for.
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“I think the most important thing we should be teaching young girls today is leadership. It is something that has been lacking in young girls and women for a very long time—not because we don’t want to, but because of what society has labeled women to be. I think we are the most powerful beings in the world and that we should be given every opportunity. That is what we should be teaching these young girls…to take up space.”
But while we wait for Tunzi to start making her mark and grabbing every opportunity that is now within her reach, let’s have a little look at the organization’s colorful history. After all, not every crown is gracefully worn by its entrusted Miss Universe winners and—let’s be honest—its organizers.
Catriona Gray (2018)
Where else should we begin but with Catriona Gray, Miss Universe 2018?
Before being crowned, Gray was a model, singer, visual artist and beauty queen. While most of us know her for her multiple brand affiliations in the Philippines, it should be noted that she used the international platform to raise awareness and champion education for underprivileged children, as well as support medical aid in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Gabriela Isler (2013)
The winner of Miss Universe 2013, Gabriela Isler of Venezuela, began as a model before joining pageants. Now, she’s the CEO of the Universe of Blessings Fund, an organization that is all about empowering young women and decreasing the rates of adolescent pregnancy. She’s also an ambassador for the Scalabrini International Migration Network, which fights human sex trafficking.
Oxana Fedorova (2002)
Crowned in 2002 and the first Miss Universe from Russia, Oxana Fedorova reigned for 119 days. It was set on the record that she was dethroned from the position simply because she couldn’t make the time to fulfill the duties that were required of the winner. Fedorova said herself that her main focus at the time were her “studies and career in Russia”—which meant traveling around the world just wasn’t a priority.
Her crown was passed to that year’s first runner-up, Miss Panama Justine Pasek.
Alicia Machado (1996)
Most known for her battle against Donald Trump, who reportedly threatened to take away her Miss Universe crown for her weight gain, Alicia Machado made it clear that the glitz and glam of the beauty pageant world isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. During her reign, she was watched with a close eye as she did diets and workouts—and continuously suffered in the years after.
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“Over the past 20 years, I’ve gone to a lot of psychologists to combat (anorexia and bulimia),” she told CNN in 2016.
Janelle Commissiong (1977)
During her reign as the first black Miss Universe, Janelle Commissiong advocated for black rights in countries of African ancestry that still faced racial discrimination. For all her work, she was awarded the Trinity Cross, Trinidad and Tobago’s highest honor, after the pageant.
There’s a lot of bad and good that comes with winning the coveted Miss Universe crown—and we’re likely never to know the full story. And while the last few years have proven that it ~finally~ takes more than a pretty face and slim body to win, we still have a long road to travel before we’re where we want to be. After all, if you search the “best winners of Miss Universe,” you’re still bombarded with articles on the most iconic looks and most beautiful faces.
Makes you think, huh? Apparently that’s what “best” still means.
Art Alexandra Lara