A group of South African women has written to the Miss South Africa Pageantry, raising issues of diversity and inclusivity.

The open letter, titled Dear Miss SA,  highlights women’s challenges in the standards set out by the contest, which has run for over 60 years.

The women say they acknowledge great strides made by the organisation in recent years, but call for more changes to promote inclusivity.

The annual crowning of a new beauty pageant queen, fuels many young girls’ dreams, to one day, achieve the same. Toronto Malawu (26) had that dream. But aspects of her appearance dented her confidence.

“I decided to enter Miss South Africa because mainly I have always wanted to enter as a teenager but also felt like it was a space I don’t belong in. There was always that fear that you don’t belong in this space,” explains Malawu.

She adds that: “I think another barrier was that I have scars all over my body, so I thought to myself imagine me in a bikini. When I decided to enter, I wanted to shake off that fear. When I walked in, I saw all those tall, flawless women and here I am, this tiny woman who has scars.”

Group of women raise issues of diversity, inclusivity in Miss SA pageant:

Malawu entered the competition twice but was rejected on both occasions. She is calling on women to challenge the historic prescripts of the ideal pageant contestant.

“I think in terms of the external beauty – there are still standards of beauty that are distorted by society because we also contribute to the conversation. Media also contributes to the conversation and the can be poisonous,” she alleges.

“If we don’t enter Miss SA as the people that feel excluded, the only people that will enter will be the people who feel included in the competition and we will continuously see the same type of woman being crowned.”

Nelisiwe Xaba supports the Dear Miss SA Initiative.

“The five pillars we spoke on are representation, beauty standards, duty and social investment. Those things we questioned, what are their values and how are they pushing Shudu’s (Shudufhadzo Musida, current Miss SA) platform further,” Xaba says.

“Why am I not seeing South African women that look like me? Already in your mind, you disqualify yourself. I will, however, say that the last two years have been a breath of fresh air. But what exactly are these women doing?,” asks Xaba.

The group also criticises the Miss SA organisation’s lack of support for those who are crowned.
Xaba referred to reigning Miss SA Shudufhadzo Musida’s recent online mental health initiative launch.

“The minute we started asking questions, we started getting backlash. It is not about that…it is not about Shudu or trying to pull down her work. We want to magnify her work. This is someone that we voted for. When the cyber-bullying happened that was aimed against Shudu, they didn’t say anything. It took months for them to respond, we went deeper and started questioning the work that Miss SA does as an organisation,” Xaba explains.

The group of women met Miss SA organisers this week and expect a response early next week.

Miss South Africa organisers could not be reached for comment at the time of publishing.