Ex-Beauty queens say pageant life is a challenge for Black women after Cheslie Kryst’s death

  • Insider spoke to former Black beauty queens. PageantBlack women have had a difficult life for a long time. 
  • Two contestants who were once part of the historic win team claimed they received death threats and hate mail. 
  • Black pageant contestants are now in the spotlight following the death of Miss USA Cheslie Krast.

When Day Gardner —  the first Black woman to place as a top ten semi-finalist at the Miss America pageant in 1977 — first told her mother she wanted to get into pageantry, her mom said to expect to be called the N-word.

“Your mother is right. They’re not going to let you win,”Gardner’s father explained it in the 1970s, during a time when US beauty competitions were not common. “only won by white girls” “only white girls participated in them.”

“He said, ‘Everything your mother said is true — now let’s go get your gown,’ “Gardner was reminded. 

Gardner, now at 66, said that Insider is looking back. “It’s hard to believe, but everything that they said happened. And that’s what I didn’t expect.”

“There were ongoing racial slurs and a number of death threats,”She said that she added: “Those years were the happiest, scariest, most disturbing, most joyous, years in my life.”

Gardner, a former black beauty queen in the US, says pageant life has been difficult for Black women since the suicide of Miss USA Cheslie Kryst (30 years ago). 

“The pageant itself has progressed. All of these pageants have progressed. The problem is that the rest of the world has not,”Gardner stated. 

Former Miss Delaware Day Gardner.

Former Miss Delaware Day Gardner.

Courtesy Day Gardner


The odds were against Gardner when she became Miss Delaware 1976 for the first time as a Black woman. 

“I entered the Miss America pageant system way back when it really wasn’t cool to be a Black pageant girl,”She said this, noting: “There was no internet back then, but the backlash was extreme nonetheless.”

Pageant board members “were so upset”Gardner was elected Miss Delaware. 

“You’re not the type of girl that we would want to represent Delaware,”Gardner stated that she was told. 

Gardner remembers reading a stack mail addressed to them in her Atlantic City hotel suite before the 1977 Miss America pageant.

Some letters “were well-wishers,”Gardner stated. “And then you got the other ones with the racial slurs.”

There was only one “threatening letter”You were warned, Gardner “dared”To get in the car to drive to Miss America pageant “I wouldn’t make it to the end.”

“It’s hard to believe they were talking about killing me because of a pageant,”She said.

Gardner stated that she told her parents years later about the death threats. 

“I didn’t want them to know that people would not love me, would not want me,”Gardner shared with Insider that she was constantly choking. 

Detroit-native Carole Gist, 52 — who made history in 1990 by becoming the first Black woman ever to win the Miss USA crown — had a similar experience with hate mail. 

“Social media wasn’t around when I won, so there were letters sent and there were calls made, but I was shielded from it,”Gist shared Insider. “I had death threats, they just didn’t tell me about it.”

“I thought the security was just regular,”She said. 

Gist discovered the extent of the racism backlash only afterward. 

“I just chose to focus on those who were open and I tried to turn a blind eye to the negative people,”She said. “I chose not to give them the power to make me operate in fear or be anything other than my authentic self.”

Former Miss USA Carole Gist.

Former Miss USA Carole Gist.

Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images


Former Miss Michigan, recalled that a man once called out to a woman in a crowd. “racial slur”He shouted that she wasn’t the “ideal”Image of beauty 

Racism “was there,”Gist. “I just chose to not let it get under my skin. And I’m grateful that I didn’t have social media, because I don’t know how the women after who did could endure if they got it bad.”

The following is an Essay last year for Allure, Kryst — who authorities say died by suicide on Sunday — detailed being the target of internet trolls who ridiculed her looks as she got older. 

“Pageant girls are supposed to be model-tall and slender, don bouffant hair, and have a killer walk,”Kryst was a lawyer who was Emmy-nominated and a TV reporter who won Miss USA in 2019. 

“But my five-foot-six frame won with six-pack abs, earned after years of competing in Division I Track and Field, and a head of natural curls in a time when generations of Black women have been taught that being ‘too Black’ would cost them wins in the boardroom and on pageant stages,”She said. 

Kryst, added, “My challenge of the status quo certainly caught the attention of the trolls, and I can’t tell you how many times I have deleted comments on my social media pages that had vomit emojis and insults telling me I wasn’t pretty enough to be Miss USA or that my muscular build was actually a ‘man body.'”

Insider was told by Gist that she understood what Kryst was going through.

“I didn’t feel comfortable wearing my hair any other way that I had to straighten it,”She said. “I love wearing my hair natural. But I only felt like I would be accepted or looked at as glamorous in that arena if I did that to my hair — like I didn’t have a choice.”

Cheslie Kryst.

Former Miss USA Cheslie Kryst.

John Lamparski/Getty Images


Gist, who has been in touch with Kryst through past pageants, found out about Kryst’s death and said that she was in. “disbelief.”

“We’ve all had our moments, a lot of my sisters queens,”


depression

After giving up the crown in many ways,” Gist said, adding, “It was something I had to go through.

Gist stated that young Black women should enter the world of pageantry today. “be you.”

“Do you, you know? Just go and represent yourself to the best of your ability,”She said. “You don’t have to change to be anybody else’s standard.”

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