Nina Davuluri becomes First Indian to Win Miss America

Miss New York, Nina Duvaluri rejoicing after being crowned Miss America.

Miss New York, Nina Davuluri rejoicing after being crowned Miss America.

Nina Davuluri made history on September 15, 2013 when she was crowned Miss America.  In the pageant’s history she became the first Indian-American to win the coveted title.  Her win not only sparked controversy, but it has also re-ignited the conversation about the issue of race, skin colour and beauty.

Immediately after her win, people took to social media with hate, negative words and racist comments regarding her win.  If you were on twitter you would have read some of the negative tweets that came from Americans.

Here are a few examples from twitter:

Cade Minnick (@Cademinnick413) “Are you serious??!!! The Arab wins??!!! This is miss AMERICA!!! Not miss Arabia!!! Miss Kansas is in the army and is a country girl!!! C’mon

Jimmy Slimmy – @PolishPoundCake – “You have got to be kidding me… We have a black president, now Miss America is an ARAB. Maybe this world is really coming to an end.”

Anthis – @Anthis12 –  “I thought this was Miss America, not Miss Arab.”

Pookie – @Granvil_Colt – “And the Arab wins Miss America. Classic.”

These hurtful, hateful comments are evidence that even though the United States has come a long way with race relations, there is still a deep rooted hatred  by some against non-Caucasian Americans.  It also was a demonstration of the ignorance of many people.  Some even called her a terrorist.



Nina performs traditional dance during the Miss America talent competition.

Ms. Davuluri’s win also started a conversation among Indian people about if she would have even won a beauty pageant in South Asia.  I explored the issue of skin colour and beauty two years ago on this website and it is a big issue.  The reality is that in countries like India, light skin is favoured over dark skin.  Skin bleaching creams are the biggest selling beauty products in that country.  Women with lighter skin are often perceived as being more beautiful and are usually able to get a husband quicker than darker skinned women.  Some are also passed up for jobs in favour of a lighter skinned woman (It can happen with men too but primarily is happens to women).

At the time I wrote this post @suitablegirl on Twitter had been retweeted 153 times for commenting on the issue of being too dark skinned in South Asia:

Anna John ⚓ @suitablegirl

What’s interesting is Miss America Nina Davuluri would never win pageants in South Asia because she’d be too dark to be considered beautiful

O_o@suitablegirl Miss America Nina Davuluri wouldn’t win pageants in South Asia bc she’d be too dark to be considered beautiful”

Being considered too dark to be beautiful is something that Black women around the world have talked about in media many times.  Darker women are often not perceived to be as beautiful as light skinned women.  With Davuluri’s Miss America title, it will surely bring the same issue to light regarding South Asian culture and the desire to be light promoted in mainstream media.  If you’re from a South Asian background you already know about the deep rooted issue of shades of skin.
This video below is an advertisement that airs in South Asia promoting a product made by Garnier to give women the appearance of lighter skin.
Despite all the controversy surrounding the win there is some good.  For all the negative tweets, posts and comments there were many who came to the defense and support of Davuluri winning the title.  Several celebrities including Tyra Banks, Lance Bass, Bette Midler and Mindy Kaling spoke openly about their support.  Shortly after winning Davuluri told the press, “I’m so happy this organization has embraced diversity.  I’m thankful there are children watching at home who can finally relate to a new Miss America.” 
Sophia Bush responded to the backlash by tweeting something many Americans fail to recognize; the country was built by immigrants.

All the racist commentary following crowning of #MissAmerica 😢 ALL Americans are immigrants, you insensitive idiots 

For Americans who are of Indian descent, this win was symbolic of a new hope in the standard of beauty and acceptance in America.  It’s not just an issue of Black and White.  Many people of other minority groups face harsh criticism in many elements of American society.  Armandeep Singh is a professor at Lehigh University who told the Toronto Star that when an Indian woman wins a pageant like this it resonates.
Over the history of the Miss America Pageant seven Black women have been crowned the winner and one Filipina woman born in Hawaii won 12 years ago.  In a time when many Americans don’t know the difference between an Arab, Indian, Pakistani or Sri Lankan, this win is an opportunity to teach people the difference.  It is an opportunity for the public to embrace beauty in all forms.  It may also serve as a moment to show the people of South Asia that dark-skinned Asians are just as beautiful as lighter skinned ones.
Beauty is diverse.


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