More than a Tiara? A top five Miss South Africa contestant’s account of the pageant

By Jasmine Tidimalo Sehlako (@purelyjazz)

Standing on the stage and counting down to the minutes before this baptism would end, I realised that as a contestant for the biggest platform there is to be an ambassador for this country, the issues that I stood for were all in theory. As they announced the name of the lady who took the crown for Miss South Africa 2014, all I remember thinking was that “I am not ready”.

Who will walk away with the crown this year? These were the words in my mind as I filled in and sent through my application to be a participant in the Miss South Africa 2014 competition. At that moment, the possibilities were endless and I believed that I had everything needed to be South Africa’s next female ambassador.

I knew enough to have an engaging conversation about South Africa’s current affairs. I was educated and also easy on the eye. One would think that would have been enough to walk away with the coveted title. On the contrary, I would learn, there is a lot more that is required to earn the title but the experience acts as a baptism of fire to expose you to yourself and to the things you’ve always known to be your strengths and the things you need to work on to master.

The Road to Miss South Africa beckons a woman of concentrated excellence and undoubtedly mesmerising looks. She must believe in South Africa, be willing to invest her time and efforts into tackling some of the socio-economic issues that we face but to also do this with integrity and humility. I was introduced to South African women who were more than able to reach and surpass this standard.

And with that came my first realisation, the importance of relating and engaging with this country. The experience became a growth point that forced me to swim upstream and navigate the myriad lessons that were those six months in The Road to Miss South Africa.

I came to these five defining questions that would define the time I contested for the crown. The first: What is my identity – who am I or who am I becoming? The second: What does it mean to be a South African female ambassador? What makes me proud and grateful for being South African? What is relevant to the South African woman? And finally, what is my X Factor?

I needed to unpacked them and find the answers for myself within the South African context. I realised that I could not turn a blind eye to the challenges we face as a society and how those challenges shape our different identities. With this realisation, I have spent the last seven months since the pageant carefully understanding myself as a South African, a South African women and as a global citizen.

In the past seven months, my head has been overwhelmed by one conundrum that affects the trajectory of the questions asked above. And that is, what kind of world do I want to live in?

I came to the conclusion that it was simple for me. I don’t want to live in a world where being born a black female means being subject to inequality, poverty, social injustice, a lack of education and the burden of ‘great expectation’ against all odds. This has become the reality for a significant number of  black South African women. It has become a maliciously paralysing cycle that will continue to produce a compromised caliber of women and men if there is no intervention. Its continued breeding in our society has resulted in a brutality that often belies some aspects of the complex relational dynamics that we as women often experience when we come together, evidenced by how we often seem to want to break each other down as opposed to working together.

An increasing amount of women are ruthlessly asking questions about their seat at the table. Inequality is becoming an intolerable aspect in gender issues and more women are waking up to the potential of their power to change South Africa.

I also realised that I didn’t need a crown and a title to be moved to action. More especially as I live in our twentieth year of democracy, the dynamic of what shapes me as a young black South African female is evolving as a result of my exposure to pro-female activism. It has become clear-cut for me. I have become more comfortable in declaring how much this environment affects me and my development.

What shapes our identity as South Africans involves a myriad of cultural and social textures. The contributions come from our family structures right through to our educational exposure. As an ambassador for the country, a Miss South Africa must be brave to engage with some of the not-so-sanitary issues we face as a society and also celebrate the progress we are making.

Standing on the stage as part of the top five and counting down to the minutes before this baptism would end, I realised that as a contestant for the biggest platform there is to be an ambassador for this country, the issues that I stood for were all in theory. As they announced the name of the lady who took the crown for Miss South Africa 2014, all I remember thinking was that “I am not ready”.

In that moment, I realised that I fitted the pageant tick box but my grounding in the issues that I would have to engage in order to make my reign a meaningful contribution to this country was not enough. At least by my standard, I did not believe then that I was grounded enough.

Since stepping off that stage, I have challenged myself to unpack and answer all these questions through action. One of my greatest realisation was that I am responsible for my country’s future and where it is going and I can play an active role in that direction. If the Miss South Africa pageant can inspire me to challenge myself in this manner, to understand these issues for myself and how I can contribute better to the development of this country, then surely it is still relevant in some way.

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