Being a black beauty queen

BBC, Buzzfeed, Huffpost, Independent…. You name, she’s been on it. Since winning the title of Miss Universe Great Britain, Anguilla born Dee-Ann Kentish-Rogers has been all over the media, even trending on Twitter. And why you ask? Because she’s the first black woman to win the title and represent GB at Miss Universe later this year.

It’s an incredible achievement from an already overachiever – aside from pageantry Dee-Ann has just finished her final bar exam to become a barrister, and has already competed in two Commonwealth Games as a heptathlete.

After getting to know Dee-Ann over the four days we spent together competing, I can hands down tell you she won because of who she is, and the colour of her skin didn’t even come into it. It’s a sad state of affairs that it’s a more newsworthy story because she is black – I always saw her as beautiful, and our standards of beauty should be all encompassing. It shouldn’t be a shock that a black girl won. But, this is a positive news story. The good thing about Dee-Ann getting the press coverage she deserves is that it is shining a light on pageantry being a liberated, modern force for the good of women.

83B253A4-E15B-4612-8725-B2CDA189EF7F.jpeg

As quoted in the Telegraph, while pageants are somewhat criticised for a lack of diversity, Dee-Ann said her win shows there is change:  “I absolutely believe that diversity is increasing in pageantry and there are many examples around the world.

“Beauty standards are changing and it is an exciting time for all women of all backgrounds.”

Miss Universe GB is a contest for modern women. There were girls tall and short, petite and curvy, of different ethnicities and backgrounds. I believe that women are like diamonds – we come in different colours, shapes and sizes and from all corners of the earth. And, we are all beautiful. In other words, it is our differences that make us special, unique. And we should celebrate that. Dee-Ann embraced her beauty, embraced herself for who she is and stayed true to her identity. This is why she won.

I saw on BBC Newsbeat that she was asked whether pageants are a good influence for young girls, given that they are heavily based on looks. Firstly, everyone knows to Miss Universe GB, you need to knock the judges out with your closed door interview beforehand. That’s how you get noticed. Secondly, it’s energy and presence that will get you the title. Dee-Ann had that from embracing who she was. She said she gets the questioning, but, just like me, would encourage all women to give it a go:

“As someone who’s gone through the system, I would advocate for it for young women. Most of the women who I’ve known or have come into contact with through pageantry have grown exponentially since the pageant. They’ve pursued their goals relentlessly and have achieved what they’ve set out to do.”

“The buzz that’s surrounding my victory in Miss Universe Great Britain is the first indication as to why it’s so important today.”

“If I can say that to a young black girl, an Asian girl, any girl of any ethnicity in the United Kingdom, especially in this post-Brexit, post-Windrush era, then I would be ecstatic because I would have done my job.”

And that ladies and gentlemen, is how we’ve got our first black Miss Universe Great Britain, and from meeting her, I think she could be our first ever Miss Universe hailing from GB. Stay tuned to follow Dee-Ann’s journey because I will be pestering her for more coverage a lot!

*Photo by Kev Wise

 

 

 

Advertisements

Isn’t that sexist?

At a friends wedding this past weekend, inevitably the conversation turned to my hobby, my passion, a real dream… Miss Universe GB. Now, to run a news site focused on feminism, that might come as a shock to some. 

Look through some of the amazing women I’ve interviewed on here – all of them are friends I’ve got to know through pageantry. Whether it’s Charlotte challenging the tampon tax or Meg sharing her family’s cancer battle, these are incredible, empowered women who are part of the pageant world. I deliberately didn’t mention their involvement in pageants because I wanted the focus to be on them, and for readers to want to look back on their interviews and see them for who they are, no judgement. 

So when at this wedding I was asked, “Isn’t that a bit sexist?”, I relished telling them my answer. Because I’ve been asked this a million times, along with things along the lines of that I’m too smart for pageants and is that all I want to achieve with my life. It’s shocking really that people can make such a quick judgements really. Also, I’d never turn around and tell someone they were too dumb or smart or didn’t they want to do better things with their time – I’d never tell anyone to do anything other than what makes them happy. 

But in enthralling my audience on how I run a feminist news site dedicated to sharing women’s stories, I also explained my job in financial journalism (a male dominated industry) and how I’m making waves in that field for women, as well as my work campaigning on getting more women into parliament. 

They were happily taken aback, with one person asking me whether it was my full time because of the amount of work I put in, which made me pretty proud. 

Finally I reminded them that in this patriarchal society, pageantry shouldn’t be the first thing to target as sexist. For me, changing my surname for marriage doesn’t sit right, in the way many who will happily become a Mrs would feel about pageants. We are all allowed to have different opinions after all! 

Pageantry is a celebration of external and internal beauty. It’s not just about being hot, that’s for models. It’s about being role models. So this is me, a proud feminist, telling you after six months of running this site, that I’m a Miss Universe GB finalist, and damn well proud of it too! 

Can you be a feminine feminist?

Women are not one dimensional beings. We can be bookish and like Benefit roller lash mascara. It seems so strange to some that we can be interested in lots of different topics and hobbies that don’t, according to media moguls and people who love a stereotype, typically go together. Make-up and feminism are one of these so-called oddities.

I read a really interesting article by Lucy Mangan which compared a ‘non-serious’ thing such as make-up to football – Make-up being perceived as silly while boys and their football were treated differently:

“I noticed they could like, say, history and football. But then it was complicated, because the things that boys liked were automatically a bit more serious than the things girls liked, anyway. 

“Football was featured in respected bits of the newspapers and got loads of special programmes on the telly. Make-up didn’t.”

Ironic really considering men were dying of lead poisoning like women were too back in the day from the amount of powder they puffed on their faces. But there you go. 

I get where Lucy is coming from – you’re pigeon holed from an early age. Look at your school days, what clique did you fall into and you’ll see whether you were judged for caring about your appearance, and how much. 

It’s easy to fall into the trap of absorbing these polarising views and become part of the reason why there are stereotypes. Ten years ago I was afraid of identifying as a feminist, because I’d been fed the line that I was too girly to be one, and I wasn’t a militant man hater. Plus, sometimes the box you’re put in by society is easier to stay in, safe from change, ridicule and questions. I field questions on a regular basis now because of calling myself an empowered woman, but am judged for choices such as modelling. It’s exhausting! Luckily in 2018, we are seeing change slowly but surely to these attitudes. 

Wearing makeup doesn’t make you a bad feminist. I don’t think we should ever refer to people as bad feminists, as long as you believe in gender equality, then in my book, you’re doing the right thing. Make-up for me is the perfect representation of women, we are so multi-dimensional and make-up allows us to dress up as all of our different facets. 

As Lucy says: 

“The choice of different faces to present to the world every day gives me joy. Not because it disguises who I am, but because it reflects that we all contain multitudes.” 

10 facts about football

It’s the World Cup don’t you know? I’m not an avid football fan, nor do I hate the game, but I get surprisingly into the World Cup. But there isn’t just one World Cup every four years. It’s easy to forget women play football too in England, and we are actually pretty awesome at it too!

So here’s a little reminder that the beautiful game is for men and women too…

  1. The women’s team is arguably better than the men’s

England won bronze at the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2015. A year before, the men’s team didn’t even get out of the group’s stages. Cheers Fabio. Just saying. The last time England’s men’s team got as close as the women’s success, was fourth place in 1990. Our women’s team is so ready for the 2019 World Cup, qualifying with an epic 6-0 win over Russia.

  1. It also used to be more popular

Women’s football grew in enormous numbers during wartime Britain. When Dick Kerr’s Ladies played St Helen’s in 1920 a 53,000 strong crowd turned up to watch at Everton’s Goodison Park, with plenty locked outside the gates listening to the match. Everton’s men’s team still draws in lower numbers (39,000 highest attendance in 2014/2015).

  1. The FA banned women from football for FIFTY years

According to the FA, “the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged.” Doctors even agreed that playing football posed a serious risk to women’s health. A group of men legislating what women do, doesn’t sound familiar at all right?

  1. It’s not always easy to watch women’s football

There’s a real lack of female sportspeople on television, and football is no different. Thankfully, times are changing. In 1989 Channel 4 started to provide regular coverage of women playing football.

  1. But the sport is growing

Encouraged by our Lionesses success, the number of UK female players has grown five fold since the 1980’s. 3.3 million people tuned in to watch the Euro quarter final against France, which is the highest number ever for women’s football.

  1. The unlikely heroine

Lily Parr is arguably the first famous female footballer. Six foot tall, openly gay and a chainsmoker, Parr’s pay as a footballer was supplemented by packets of cigarettes at her request. Football historian Gail Newsham told Clare Balding in her documentary on the game that a professional male goalkeeper teased Parr that she wouldn’t score against him. Apparently she broke his wrist.

  1. The sport grew alongside the suffragette movement

It makes sense that the sport grew increasingly in popularity when 8.4 million had recently got the vote.

  1. It helped numerous charities too

Women’s teams raised money for veterans to striking miners. The game was being perceived as revolutionary, helping causes many in political power didn’t want to. When banning women from playing football in their grounds, the FA also said that the money made from women’s games was inadequately allocated to charities. In other words, charities weren’t supported enough! Ironically, no obligations to donate to charity existed for the men’s clubs.

  1. US caught the football bug from us

Yes everyone knows England is the home of football. But after the FA banned women’s football in the UK, leading ladies team Dick Kerr’s headed across the Atlantic to play men’s teams as the women’s game was brand new to the States. The US became the home of women’s football to many, winning three World Cups and four Olympic gold medals. Imagine if that 50 year ban hadn’t of been in place – that could have been our success. You’re welcome America.

  1. And our girls can multitask too

While for most men, playing top level football is a full time, all-encompassing filthy rich career, a lot of pro female players have to juggle more than one ball. Jenna Schillaci works full time 9-5, trains three nights a week after her day job and plays pro on a Sunday.

Maybe it’s my love for the film Bend it like Beckham that makes me so interested in women playing football. It certainly isn’t my ability – I played once or twice and think I did a few too many own goals to ever stand a chance of winning. Or maybe it’s my own mini Meghan Markle moment – when I was younger and asked for my school to let the girls choose better PE alternatives than synchronised swimming for girls while the boys got cricket, rugby, tennis and yes, football. Sexism bothered me at 13 years old, and it still bugs me immensely now.

Or maybe it’s because I’ve recently become inspired to see more women in sports such as football because of my friend Natalie Cutler’s documentary ‘Married to the Game.’ The film follows Wolverhampton Wanderers captain Danny Batth out to Jharkhand India – which is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be born a girl, to follow a school using football to keep girls out of child marriage and in Education. YUWA is a girls school set in a rural village where girls are expected to be married off to men twice their age by the time they are 12-13 years old. Watch her film: https://www.entreprenher.co.uk/film/married-to-the-game.html

Invisible women

In 2016 a study by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative showed that the ratio of men to women onscreen was still 2.3 to 1. With the #metoo movement originating from the Harvey Weinstein scandal, there is definitely deep rooted problems in Hollywood and the wider film industry of how women are treated, respected and represented, or underrepresented it may seem.

Talking to a colleague at work who is ten or so years older than me and she said that films don’t try and market to her now. She’s an invisible woman. It got me thinking. Because of her age and the fact she is single, she said she can list off her hands the films made about women, for women like her. Never mind films actually MADE by women, but that’s another blog post in itself. In other words, it’s very rare to find a film featuring women a) being the lead and b) not about being young and falling in love. And to be honest, I struggled to think of more than a few too, especially with groups of lead women in.

It’s easy to see why Hollywood ignores certain groups of people. Because let’s be frank, so does society. On the topic of invisible women, it’s not hard to realise why Hollywood has a problem with sexism when it’s perfectly acceptable for young sometimes teenage actresses to be expected to audition in hotel rooms for producers. It’s prompted SAG-AFTRA, the actor’s union, to issue new guidelines on the safety of performers during auditions, deeming hotel rooms high-risk locations. Many accusations against Weinstein allege the harassments or assaults took place in hotel rooms, under the pretence of a professional meeting. These voices were ignored and stifled for years with gagging orders, or simply brushed under the carpet.

Easier to see still is that if society thinks it is okay to elect someone to public office who thinks he can ‘grab women by the pussy.’ Yes America I’m looking at you.

Closer to home on this side of the pond, we’re no better. We don’t see women represented equally in films. We don’t see women represented equally in very much to be frank. Fewer than 1/3 of MP’s are female, and all chancellors to date have been men. 90% of PLC executive directors are men, women have not yet served in military close combat, and maybe most shockingly, it was only in 1991 that the House of Lords made rape in marriage a criminal offence in the UK.

And that’s just in the UK, a place where I am proud to be from and love. Imagine being an oppressed woman elsewhere in the world, with much less human rights? Hollywood’s crass lack of female-led films is not a disease, simply a symptom of a wider societal problem called sexism.

This tendency to ignore women and discount certain groups of women in Hollywood unfortunately can trickle down into society. But women can be central to blockbusting films and make a buckload for the industry too, so I don’t get why these isolated films are treated with a litmus test. Hidden Figures beat Star Wars movie Rogue One and topped $200 million worldwide for example (also Hidden Figures is an INCREDIBLE film and you all must watch immediately). Ocean’s 8 took $41.5 million (around £31 million) in its opening weekend in the US, more than any previous film in the Ocean’s franchise.

Oceans 8 actress Sarah Paulson said: “It makes me feel proud. I don’t think there have been many opportunities to show a group of so many women on film who are rooting for each other.”

There are plenty of films about groups of guys, so why is it a shock when it’s a group of women, like some revolutionary new thing. Us girls actually have a whale of time when left unattended by our male minders. So come on Hollywood, catch up with us and showcase these amazing women’s stories! As Buzzfeed entertainment reporter Alanna Bennett says:

“Hollywood studios may be sluggish to learn that it’s worth investing long-term in stories anchored by women. That’s on them, and tracking the evolution of Hollywood’s relationship to women is a worthy pursuit. But there was nothing to prove in the first place. These stories have always been worth telling, and there have always been audiences craving them.

Confidently beautiful

33C285DF-4DB7-4EF2-809B-6A4B6D7CA579.jpeg
Your worth is not measured by the size of your body.

With a super busy job, busy social life, a big ol’ white wedding to plan and a ton of important deadlines coming up, I’ve been feeling super guilty about not sticking to a strict diet and fitness regime.

To some of you that might surprise you because I’m at the gym 5-6 days a week. I also eat pretty well, although I have to curb my sugar addiction. So you’re wondering why I’m feeling so bad? I know I’m not fat fat, but this guilty feeling is something lots of us deal with.

Regularly on social media I have people trying to sell me weight loss programs, cleanses, diet pills etc. I know it’s a business, but it reinforces this idea we need to do this. At a time in the UK where gym memberships are soaring, so too is the obesity crisis. Doesn’t make sense right? I have a feeling it’s because these quick fixes aren’t sustainable and many of us are struggling to live at a happy medium.

For a long time I thought I didn’t have a ‘beach body’, comparing myself to other people and not enjoying looking in the mirror. I think it’s taken a few years of growing up mentally and physically to accept me as a whole. There isn’t a quick fix. And there are bigger problems in the world than dress size.

I’ve seen close friends and family have surgery for serious health reasons, life or death matters. It means that while I take of my body for health reasons, I don’t beat myself up punishing my body with a tiny calorie restricted diet or a workout that makes me ill. I’ve been there, done that. I now appreciate my wholeness.

I’m not the definition of beauty, but I’m feeling confidentially beautiful. They always say fake it ‘til you make it and so as I’m showing the world I’m comfortable in my own skin, I’m starting to believe it.

There’s no such word as can’t

74668F56-E0DD-43A8-A212-EE4551ABEA91.jpegThis was a saying my parents often used when I was a child. But I didn’t realise how relevant it would be now, in my late twenties to not just me, but so many others. This week I’ve gathered examples of when we’ve been told we can’t do something because of gender.

Back as a kid I used to sneakily think of ways around this ‘can’t’ phrase, such as if my Mum said: “No you can’t have chocolate”, I’d then retort, “But you said can’t wasn’t a word….” Despite being a little precocious, I did know that they trying to bring my confidence up with telling me nothing was impossible. I agonised over maths, telling myself I couldn’t do a simple equation when faced with numbers on paper. But they got me through my GCSE that I honestly thought I’d failed, and I’m so grateful to them.

However, while my parents instilled in me a belief that I could achieve anything, there’s plenty of other people and institutions out there in the world telling us, typically a lot of the time, telling women, that we can’t do something.

Ever been told you can’t wear that outfit, or you can’t walk home late at night? I roll my eyes at these, because it’s kind of putting the blame on you if something happens. How about we should tell perpetrators they can’t hurt women? Just a thought – and in that context I’m totally cool with using the word can’t.

Here are some examples I’ve gathered of women being told they can’t do something

“You can’t be interested in politics if you like fashion”

Recently my close friend Sam Merritt was told she couldn’t possible care about politics if she read Vogue. Yes, because us girls really are one-dimensional. How does understanding about fashion journalism mean you can’t engage in a conversation about Trump is beyond me. I’d also love to know if a guy who reads GQ would be treated the same.

“You can’t travel alone”

PT Miranda Antoniou was told she couldn’t possibly dare to travel solo as it was too dangerous. Miranda was also told she couldn’t weightlift, and is proud to say she travelled by herself and has even made a living from weightlifting. I get that travelling alone might statistically be riskier, but there’s no need for obstacles – there’s ways to stay safe and enjoy the experience.

“You can’t become a lawyer – you’re an ethnic woman”

Nicole Henao’s school teachers, peers, tutors and university recruiters all forced this messaged onto her. Now she’s about to take her final law exams and have a training contract with a leading law firm. Bye bye glass ceiling.

And now, a few examples about sport – this seems to be a real area of concern. Why is it so toxic?

“You can’t do judo”

Ursula Carlton was told at five years old she couldn’t go to judo class with her brother. She just wanted to join in with her brother and was told it was just for boys. Ursula is now a boxercise instructor and uses her classes to promote self-defence and healthy lifestyles for women. Kick ass!

“You can’t join the boxing club”

Megan Robinson wanted to join her local boxing club as a child because again, it was for boys. The instructor made her wear the smelliest, most disgusting gloves to put her off. She turned up the following week with her very own pair of new pink gloves and continued to go for six years after. A sucker punch indeed.

“You can’t play cricket”

This was my mini Meghan Markle moment. Have you heard about how the new Duchess of Sussex changed a soap commercial because she thought as a child it was sexist?

Well, I had that moment when I was forced to do synchronised swimming for PE, while the boys got to rugby, cricket, football. Why was I being made to rush to my class from the rec centre that was so far away, all clammy and still damp from leaving a pool and at risk of getting a cold because the hairdryers didn’t work with wet hair dripping down my back, while the boys rocked up casually from their fun and games in the sun. I don’t hate swimming, but I loathed that the boys and girls had different PE subjects.

Weirdly, this wasn’t the case at primary school, we all participated in swimming galas and sport day. At secondary school, it’s when it became apparent that being able to hold your breath under water was a desirable female trait, while smacking a ball was manly. Enough.

I spoke to my parents, and luckily, they weren’t the type to write a snotty letter to my teachers. They told me to do something about it. So I did. We gathered enough support from other students and went to the PE teachers and explained it wasn’t fair.

Girls were also refusing to do swimming at this point, and dance too, because as a teenage girl, wearing a swimming costume or dance leotard wasn’t fun for us body conscience youngsters. The teachers listened. I wanted us to play cricket. We got rounders. A compromise is a compromise.

This early lesson is why I’m keen to get more into politics, why I always look at helping women in the workplace (ever been told you can’t do anything about the weird office perv, come talk to me) and why I still believe the word can’t doesn’t exist. Every time someone says it to you, just whisper, just watch me.