Miss USA almost didn’t compete with her hair natural after overhearing criticism

Rebecca Corey
·Writer, Reporter and Producer

“Through Her Eyes” is a weekly show hosted by human rights activist Zainab Salbi that explores contemporary news issues from a female perspective. You can watch the full episode of “Through Her Eyes” every Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET on Roku, or at the bottom of this article.

Miss USA Cheslie Kryst recently won one of the top beauty pageants in the United States, but as the daughter of an African-American mother and a white father, she says she wasn’t always sure she had the look — or the hair — of a beauty queen.

“When I first started, I wasn't sure who could win,” Kryst said in an interview with the Yahoo News show “Through Her Eyes.”

“I wasn't sure what that winner looked like,” she continued. “And I wasn't sure if there was sort of a one-note look that was always successful, because I hadn't seen very many women with naturally curly hair competing.”

Kryst described overhearing a particularly pointed remark that made her doubt her ability to compete with natural hair.

"I remember I was watching a competition, and a woman was wearing an Afro,” she recalled. “They were like, ‘I really liked her, but I just wish she would've flatironed her hair.’ And I just thought, Maybe I can't do that either. Maybe I can't wear my natural hair.”

[See also: “Miss USA ‘not sure’ she would compete in Trump-owned pageant”]

Although Kryst now exudes confidence onstage, she said it took time for her to reckon with her biracial identity as a child growing up in North Carolina.

“It was hard to figure out what my identity was, because I grew up in a time when we didn't have ‘mixed race’ or ‘biracial’ as a choice on those boxes that asked you to identify what your race was,” she said. “You could be black, white or other.”

“Eventually I learned to just identify as a black woman. I still identify as a black woman.”

Kryst made history when she was named Miss USA on May 2, becoming one of three African-American women to be crowned Miss USA, Miss America or Miss Teen USA in the same year. She now says she sees a gradual cultural shift in the way women of color and natural hair are perceived, reflecting what she describes as “new standards for beauty.”

“It's a slow trend, but I think we're getting there.”