For Deshauna Barber, Miss USA 2016, the hardships that came along with pageantry were more complex than just Vaselined teeth and never-ending rehearsals. As a WOC contestant, she faced adversity specific to the color of her skin.
While competing in the Miss Universe pageant, these burdens became all the more prominent. "I had no idea how much racism I would experience from an international standpoint. They'd send me monkey emojis, and say that my skin looked like a poop emoji and tag me in photos with apes," she said. "I didn’t speak about it, because I didn't want to deter anyone from competing. You want to make it seem like everything is happy and hunky-dory, but there are a lot of very challenging moments."
While the internet has revolutionized our lives in so many ways, the speed and access with which we can disseminate information makes hateful communication that much easier to accomplish. Barber cites her confidence as instrumental in drowning out the hatred. "If they’re ignorant, then they're ignorant. There's nothing I can do to fix that," she said.
Her final walk as Miss USA tells a touching story about her connectedness to her mother. For her own big reveal in 2016, Barber's mother urged her to walk out with her natural hair. Barber "didn't think I would be crowned Miss USA if my hair was in its natural state." In 2017, keeping it a secret from the production and staff, she walked out on stage with her Afro, a defiant act that surprised both the audience and crew simultaneously. It was a tribute to her mother, who had died two months after her win the year before.
It was then Barber urged Kara McCullough to wear her curls in the last leg of the pageant. In a moving transition of power, Barber, with her Afro, crowned a natural-haired McCullough as the new Miss USA.
"That moment felt so good not only to embrace diversity of races and backgrounds, but diversity of appearances and hair textures, too," Barber said of the moment. "For me to walk out in my natural hair and to crown someone with natural hair broke down walls. It opened up a world for the girls who feel they need to straighten their curls and add long extensions."
(Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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