The National Carnival Queen Show, which takes place in St. Georges, Grenada tonight (7th August, 8pm, AST) is a platform for young Grenadian women to compete for the title of Carnival Queen. Writer and Poet Sherry Hamlet a.k.a. The Wordy Phoenix seeks to discover the motive behind women entering pageant contests.
Sherry Hamlet Photographed by Teddy D. Frederick
I am a Caribbean woman with a visual impairment and albinism. My journey to self-love and acceptance has been a long one with many pit stops before hills and valleys of overcoming depression, anger, insecurity and nonchalance, to a place of adoration and acceptance. Society has never been interested in difference much like it is today. Modern media exalts uniqueness, showcasing it as something to be proud of and aspire to. We’re now being told to embrace our natural hair, redheads are being praised for their rarity, freckles no longer noticed as flaws and a social media meme culture dispersing the message that ‘men like women with curves’. A very contradictory message compared to the magazine covers and music videos of the past few years.
Photograph by Teddy D. Frederick
Although these are positive changes, this positivity surrounding unique beauty was not present when I was growing up. When I looked in the mirror or at family photos all I saw was difference that was not being gloried by the media. Even today on the streets of my own country, where over 80% of the population are of African descent I continue to be verbally and sometimes physically harassed in public, but I am fortunate to have grown with the love of a mother who has never once made me feel indifferent. I was always told I have my father’s nose and long fingers and my mother’s high cheekbones, tiny waist and broad hips. My mother stands beside me at all times fighting for my right to equality and for me to be happy with who I am. Beauty is not about proving that I am worthy, I do not ascribe to the battle for the right to be called a woman, wear lipstick, heels or a skirt, for I have given myself the right to live and look however I feel.
Photograph by Teddy D. Frederick
Which leads me to why I have never liked beauty pageants, viewing them as another opportunity for women to be placed in a box and judged. In my opinion, beauty is to cultivate a culture of self-love from within. But growing also means that you must consider multiple perspectives, even the one you inherently mistrust, hence my curiosity to discover more about the pageantry world.
In the Caribbean, queen shows or pageants continue to be crowd-drawing events. The contestants represent their country or village and venture before bright lights and scrutinising stares in the hope of ending victorious. I have always wondered what makes a woman wake up one day and decide to compete for the title of beauty queen. So much so she is willing to stand before a panel to be judged for the cause.
National Queen Show contestants via www.facebook.com/Discover Grenada
In my home country Grenada, we are currently getting ready for the ensuing carnival season, part of which sees the crowning of the Carnival Queen. Leading up to The National Queen Show held tonight at the National Stadium, there are also community-organised pageants held in parishes across the island.
Earlier this month, The St. Andrew Developmental Organization (SADO) hosted the Rainbow Caribbean Queen Show, which took place in the parish of St. Andrew.
To answer my burning questions about the motive behind pageantry, I decided to speak to two contestants who took part. Nikesha Phillip and Jaynell Phillip residence of the parish of St. Andrews are in their late teens. Jaynell, an experienced pageant girl, shared her experience of competing in pageants in the Caribbean, confessing that her enthusiasm grew from a small voice of motivation heard from her parents, then echoed in her community. Jaynell admitted that her first pageant experience was stressful without a sponsor, but her determination was fueled by her belief that pageantry is not just about displaying external beauty.
Nikesha and Jaynell Phillip (far left) and the other Rainbow Caribbean Queen Show contestants pose with Soca artist Patrice Roberts
‘It’s not just a fashion show’, and when asked to comment on what makes a woman beautiful she said, ‘when you feel beautiful you emanate beauty.’ Jaynell went on to share that the impetus to show an open-minded crowd the beauty a body can convey from the inside through the vehicle of pageantry, makes the entire experience worth it. With her continued participation in such activities she serves to motivate young women to believe that beauty is much more than styling and clothing but ‘poise, character, posture, intelligence and dignity’.
For Nikesha, a first timer, this is more of a personal journey. Nikesha admits her primary motivation contrasts the experience of her pageant mate Jaynell and sums up her motivation as fear. But her fear is not of being judged or failing. Nikesha challenged herself to find the desire deep within to push herself to the forefront in order to tackle her fear of public speaking and to gain hands-on life experience. She explained that preparations leading up to the Rainbow Caribbean Queen Show have taught her about her health and body and the ability to traverse her own country and get to know popular touristic sites.
What I found interesting was how pageantry had given her newfound perspective on self-worth and respect as a woman. She admitted that being a part of the pageant has made her more aware of her body language and the message she conveys with her choice of clothing and words. ‘The most beautiful thing about a woman is her mind’, Nikeshia declared. She hopes the experience will help her educate her peers about the importance of being a noble woman who inspires youth and members of society to appreciate themselves.
Indeed, heavy is the head that wears the crown as it does not simply sit upon the head of a woman who sees herself as worthy to be the fairest of them all, at least this is not the case for participants of the Rainbow Caribbean Queen show. For these young women in Grenada, a pageant crown is recognition of individuality, community support and self-worth. It is a collective vision and lifestyle of self-acceptance. This crown, although given on a stage, sets the stage for motivating and uplifting other women despite the harsh realities of their lives.
No situation is ideal; there will always be those who see this opportunity as one to gain attention, but it reassure me at the very least, there are those among us, who are driven to pageantry for a much more humanitarian cause and that the fight to unbox beauty is the motivation of some women within the beauty industry and pageantry itself. I’ve learnt that some of these women, are silent soldiers poised for battle in gowns with weapons at their disposal; their actions and their voices.