Alescia Hollowell

Like many hopefuls, Alescia Hollowell saw pageantry as an opportunity for personal growth and character development. The 25 -year -old Detroit native wanted to broaden her reach, using years of dance training to bolster her platform “Reducing Childhood Obesity: The Benefits of Physical Activity and Healthy Eating.” But Alescia’s heartfelt platform was not her only memorable distinction when she competed at the national level in 2012. The former Miss Black Michigan USA decided to compete wearing her natural hair.

This, to be frank, rarely happens in the world of pageantry. It’s rare that one will see a beauty queen with a short style, let alone a natural style. But this move for Alescia was a no brainer. “(I compete with natural hair)100% of the time – being that I have only competed in one pageant,” laughed Alescia, continuing that the feedback she received was very positive. “The comments ranged from ‘Your natural hair really made you stand out’ to ‘I appreciate that you are comfortable competing in your natural hair.'”

Kimberly Brown, historian.

Many African American women know that wearing their hair in its natural state can be seen as a political statement, whether intended or not. Adding notions of popularized beauty standards and competition to the mix can make the decision to wear natural hair in a pageant complex. Kimberly Brown, also a former beauty queen and a historian in Washington, D.C., understands the complexity of pageant competition as a woman of color with natural hair, touching on similar topics in her blog The Blackberry Preserve.
“Constructs of beauty can be narrow, and even in acknowledgement, (narrow constructs) can be difficult to break.” Kimberly continued stating that though there are many reasons styles are selected, some African American women choose to straighten their hair in a competition for supposed ease and function, while some may be responding to negative generational, cultural, and historic attitudes toward natural hair.”For others, coiled hair in its natural state or any other non-altered look might suggest ‘messiness’ or feel ‘undone.’ While more African American pageant girls choose long, straight, or weaved styles than not, pageants like Miss Black USA tend to accept all and everything in between.”

Kimberly continued, “This precarious image obstacle—involving aesthetic partialities for various groups— can create a deep desire to disguise or taper or modify natural behavior and art forms in order to pursue standards that have historically proved more conducive to success in American society— pageants included.”

Jalissa Meredith

Jalissa Meredith found herself weighing her styling options in the 2011 Miss Black USA pageant cycle. Jalissa, a former Miss Black Illinois, has always wanted to be a beauty queen. “I remember watching the Miss America, Miss USA, and Miss Universe pageants on television as a little girl,” said the Oswego, Illinois native. “They completely amazed me. These women had such great style, poise and sophistication, and I knew that one day, I would be just like the crowned queen.” When crowned Miss Black Illinois, she found herself in that reality, but a  hair maintenance mishap fatefully changed her approach to the national competition.

Jalissa with Miss Black New Jersey USA 2011.

“On the state level, my hair was relaxed. Halfway into my reign, I applied a “gentle” box relaxer on my hair by mysel
f. After suffering chemical burns and breakage, I pushed my nervousness aside. I cut off all of my hair about four months after that disastrous box perm. I left about three inches of natural hair.” 
Jalissa arrived in the District of Columbia post Big Chop a few months later. She was thrilled to find another young woman, Miss Black New Jersey 2011, also wearing her hair natural in the competition, but admits to some doubts before hitting the stage. “It was still very short and I contemplated wearing a wig during the pageant. But I said, ‘No. I am beautiful the way I am.’ I thought being natural in the pageant would not only give me confidence about my God-given beauty, but also, it would distinguish me amongst the other contestants.”

Miss Black USA Pageant 2012, Top 5.

Alescia shared a similar view point. “In the end, it worked out in my favor.” After a stirring talent performance, Alescia rounded out the Top 5 of the 2012 Miss Black USA pageant. “Those who do choose to wear their natural hair provide the judges with an element of diversity. Does this affect scoring? I guess it depends on the judge, pageant system, etc. Natural hair is such a shift from the typical pageant hair. I think my choice to wear my hair in its natural state was a step outside of the box.”

This is definitely bigger than pageantry,” said Jalissa, commmenting on the multi-layered topic of natural hair in beauty pageants. “But hair is just hair.” Both Alescia and Jalissa would love to see more women compete with their natural hair, especially in systems like Miss America and Miss USA. “I think we have to change the pageant hair norm,” said Alescia, “and be bold enough to be fierce, fabulous, and flaunt our hair.” 

Have you ever competed with natural hair? Want to share your pageant story? E-mail for more details!