Letter to Miss SA Challenges the Beauty Paradigm

By: Precious M. Lesupi

Asonele Phiri’s letter to the Miss South Africa pageant has questions the dynamics of the broader beauty industry from selection criteria to issues of exclusion and the industry’s definitions of gender and beauty.

In her letter, which she has explained is purely observational and not as personal as a lot of people may think, she highlights a problem of the industry having a linear definition of what a transwoman should be and what makes one “pass” as a woman. “Thick and curvaceous women, transwomen and gender nonconforming folks hardly get the chance to walk on those big stages because of engrained beauty standards”, Phiri wrote. She further mentioned in an interview with us that, she had been exposed to a lot of women empowerment seminars that have been excluding transwomen because of the definition society itself has attached to transgendered people.

“Question here is, does one need to surgically transition to be considered? If that is the case, we are telling transwomen to compromise their dignity for likability. We are telling transwomen to be invisible to make other people feel comfortable. We are telling every young girl that womanhood is monolith,” she wrote.

“Society’s conversations as a whole affect what happens in the boardroom”, and for Phiri, this is what fuels the gendered systems and heteronormativity she fights to challenge. For her, it is important that we reject any logic that links one’s worth to their appearance and that our history should depend on what one brings to the table and not on the basis of genitalia and one’s body. “I am not asking you to perform inclusion, I am asking you to challenge exclusion,” she said.

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